Defining Baltimore’s 20-Minute neighborhoods
NOTE: The term “20-Minute Neighborhood” originated in Portland, Oregon, and is really a simple idea: identify, promote, and connect places where it’s convenient to walk (or bike or take transit) to most of life’s daily needs within 20 minutes from home. The following is an analysis that could be applied to any city.
Just how walkable is Baltimore? The “heat map” from Walkscore.com (See below; Also available for many other metro areas throughout the US) indicates the neighborhoods that are walkable, and those that are not. Walkscore measures how many destinations and amenities — such as grocery stores, banks, post offices, schools, etcetera — are within walking distance of any address.
A clear pattern emerges of the most intense walkable “hot spots” (shown in green), emanating from Downtown Baltimore. Downtown itself, and surrounding close-in neighborhoods such as Mt. Vernon, Federal Hill, Fells Point, Highlandtown, Charles Village, Pigtown, and Hampden, all shown as very walkable.
A “heat map” of Baltimore, with more walkable areas in green. Frequent transit service is superimposed on the map. Image courtesy of Stu Sirota
Yet, large swaths of the city are not very walkable — despite the presence of sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly street patterns — because they lack the mix of uses or amenities that provide the incentive or reasons to walk.
So, what does Walkscore tell us about where 20-Minute Neighborhoods in Baltimore are (or could be)? Walkscore shows the relative degree of things available to walk to, and this is one of the essential ingredients in the 20-Minute Neighborhood concept and an important part of what makes a place livable.
Walkscore does have its limitations, however. The current Walkscore methodology does not take into account street design or urban design factors that affect the quality of the pedestrian environment. Despite this, it’s still a good surrogate and starting point for showing where existing 20-Minute Neighborhoods are. An improved version of Walkscore, called Street Smart Walk Score, is being beta tested, which provides a more accurate picture of walkability to include true street routing to destinations (as opposed to the current “crow-fly” method) and analysis of “intersection density” which provides a relative indication of pedestrian friendly street networks. Walkscore.com also includes Transit Score, which calculates the relative transit-friendliness of an address based on its proximity to transit stops.
Applying Transit Score to a particular address in conjunction with Walkscore may provide some additional insight, but it only tells us where transit is available — not how frequent, well-connected, or far it is from job centers, destinations, and other amenities. What is perhaps more useful is to overlay the Walkscore heat map with the “frequent transit” map.
This gives a pretty clear view of where walkable neighborhoods are in relation to frequent transit routes (the Primary Transit Network). While there is some alignment between the frequent transit and walkable neighborhoods, particularly in the downtown core and immediate surrounding area, the overlay image reveals the neighborhoods that are walkable but aren’t served by frequent transit, and the neighborhoods that are served by frequent transit but aren’t very walkable. This can be useful in identifying opportunities for 20-Minute Neighborhoods.
Stuart Sirota, AICP, is principal of the TND Planning Group in Baltimore. This analysis was posted on Envision Baltimore (envisionbaltimore.org)