Is “walkability” realistic in Charlottesville?
We often get asked how easy it is to get around Charlottesville. The city has spent a great deal of time putting in walking/biking trails and paths and you can see many residents taking advantage of these trails on any given day.
In particular, the Downtown Mall and UVA grounds, including the surrounding neighborhoods, give many residents and students alike the option to be car-free. Other neighborhoods offer walking trails and are great to wander around, but their access to other parts of Charlottesville requires a car or bus.
Several years ago Walk Score.com named Charlottesville the Most Walkable City in the Commonwealth of Virginia. But, what exactly does that mean?
A Walk Score is a ranking algorithm for a house or apartment and it depends on pretty much everything people want to walk to — grocery stores, entertainment, schools, restaurants, etc.
According to the Walk Score.com website, its mission is to promote walkable neighborhoods. “Walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy,” they say. “We believe that walkable neighborhoods with access to public transit, better commutes, and proximity to the people and places you love are the key to a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.”
Anyone can plug in any street address in the country and be shown a walkability score from 0 to 100. Part of Walk Score.com’s effort is aimed at the real estate and apartment rental markets. “Our vision is for every property listing to read: Beds: 3 Baths: 2 Walk Score: 84,” the website continues. ”We want to make it easy for people to evaluate walkability and transportation when choosing where to live.”
Although Charlottesville doesn’t have the traffic problems of D.C. and Richmond, it can take a few more minutes than necessary around key traffic times throughout the day so knowing how to take short cuts is a must. If you’re within walking distance of your job this is definitely a plus.
Neighborhoods like Belmont, Park St., Rugby Avenue/Road and off JPA are close to UVA and Downtown or Barracks Road so people can walk to work, shopping, entertainment, restaurants and coffee shops.
How does the Charlottesville region measure up for walkability?
Walkability varies greatly in our area. For example, Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is deemed a “walker’s paradise” with a Walk Score of 100 out of 100, meaning daily errands can be run without a car.
Keswick, on the other hand, has a Walk Score of 6 out of 100 meaning the location is a car-dependent neighborhood with almost all errands requiring a car.
The city of Charlottesville has launched a major effort to build new loop trails for walking and biking as well as longer connections between parks, schools, and other public places.
The 2014 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Update aims to increase and enhance bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use trail connections within the city.
The city is also upgrading a number of crosswalks with specific signage and lights embedded in the pavement to alert drivers.
Apart from the Walk Score for a home, there is also just plain walking for health, recreation, and keeping the dog happy. Many developments that are too far from shopping, schools, and other destinations to have a high Walk Score, are still walkable. They may have sidewalks, pathways, play areas, or even dog parks that are good for walking. Neighborhood schools are another option for walking, including some facilities with tracks.
In some cases, developments include dedicated walking paths and trails with markers or notations indicating distance traveled. Others, such as Hollymead/Forest Lakes, north of town and Foxcroft/Mill Creek/Lake Reynovia, just south of Charlottesville, have their own walking trails and often these connect to an extended trail network.
Foxcroft’s own trails, for example, meet up with the Biscuit Run Trail, a somewhat rough, unpaved byway used by walkers and bicyclists. This trail runs behind the Mill Creek neighborhood north under I-64 to meet the Rivanna Trail at the Bent Creek Road Bridge off Fifth Street Extended.
Many other developments make a point to have walking paths within their grounds and to connect to nearby paths and trails. In the Pantops area, for example, Ashcroft has a number of walking trails. Although not open to the public, the Glenmore development east of Charlottesville offers its residents many trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.
One of the many reasons Charlottesville is a nice place to live is its well known reputation as a health-conscious city and this is definitely reflected in the number of people walking all around town.