12/5/07

Miami-Ft. Lauderale Ranks 8th in Walkability! Huh?


The good news is, a recently released Brookings Institution report claims that the number of walkable locales is growing in many metropolitan areas across the country. It’s great to see that people are rediscovering the kind of urbanism that allows high quality pedestrian environments to thrive.

However, the Brookings report itself has some major flaws. I know I’m going to sound like a major hater here, but somehow out of 30 metropolitan regions nationwide, the Miami-Ft Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro ranked 8th place - above metros like New York and Philadelphia! For anyone who knows anything about cities and metropolitan regions, this should immediately raise a red flag.

So how is such a ranking possible, you ask? It comes down to Brookings' flawed methodology for calculating walkable areas in each metro. Instead of calculating the percentage of area that is walkable in each metropolitan region, the Institution instead chose to go by arbitrary districts or neighborhoods, which vary considerably in size and functionality. For example, both Center City, Philadelphia and Coconut Grove, Miami were chosen as walkable locales within their respective metros. However, despite Center City being much, much larger than Coconut Grove, the two areas count the same.

In New York, which had the highest number of walkable locales at 21, it’s even more arbitrary. Districts that roughly correlate with popular Manhattan neighborhoods were chosen, leaving most of the rest of the city out of the report. This, in effect, is saying that Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, home to dozens and dozens of the most walkable neighborhoods in North America, are less worthy than Dadeland or Sugarland Town Center in suburban Houston (that’s redundant, by the way). I’m sorry, but that is at best arbitrary and at worst completely inaccurate.

This is disappointing coming from Brookings, one of the most respected (and one of my favorite) think tanks that regularly deals with urban policy and smart growth principles. A much more accurate depiction of an area’s walkability would be to calculate the percentage of both the city and the metropolitan area that is walkable. This allows for a fair, one-to-one comparison between all cities and metropolitan regions regardless of size or population. If this had been used instead as apart of the report’s methodology, I’m sure that only a very small fraction of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro would be considered walkable.

Alas, it is very encouraging to see walkability becoming more mainstream again. It’s amazing what happens when A) people become disenchanted with the soullessness of sprawl and B) quality urbanism is built instead. Believe it or not, this is what Miami 21 is all about - making the City of Miami more walkable and pedestrian-oriented. This is why it is critical that we support it, because even though it is not a perfect code, it is far, far better than anything in place right now. Furthermore, it gives us the only fighting chance at actually making Miami into a high quality, pedestrian-oriented city.

10 Comments:

Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal said...

I could not agree more. The report should also take vehicle ownership, car/bike sharing availability and use, commuting patterns, etc. into consideration. Otherwise, you're creating a list of easily disprovable fallacies...

Just a side note: Philly's car sharing program reached 35,000 system users...Miami? zero...

Adam said...

I sometimes feel like the people that write these reports (approve transportation budgets, design projects) have never walked or taken the train in their life.

It's so arbitrary, it's like there's a book of rules that was written in the 70's explaining "The Two Types of Communities" and nobody has gone outside to check whether that is actually true or still relevant.

Quick, let's install a Traffic Circle. With no pedestrian crossing. On US 1. The book said it would calm traffic.

Dave said...

Gotta love how Midtown Manhattan was given equal significance with Downtown Dadeland. Both count as 1 walkable place. It does bring up a good point. The Miami area does have a bunch of walkable places, unfortunately they are all small and far away from eachother and not well connected by Transit (or by anything else for that matter).

C.L. Jahn said...

Quick, let's install a Traffic Circle. With no pedestrian crossing. On US 1. The book said it would calm traffic.

The thing is that you're describing two different problems: bad terminology and pedestrian crossing.

What is "traffic calming?" Never heard of it; it's a nonsensical buzz term. Traffic either FLOWS or JAMS.

Traffic circles absolutely improve traffic flow and ease congestion. By keeping traffic moving, you not only improve transit time, but fuel efficiency as well.

But they don't do a thing for pedestrians.

Ryan Sharp said...

Traffic circles, when designed to certain standards, can definitely make an otherwise hostile intersection more friendly for pedestrians.

Also, you're falsely looking at traffic calming in terms of black and white. Traffic can certainly be be calmed without jamming. It can also be flowing at safe speeds. You can find examples of this principle in action all over Miami-Dade County. A really simple example is the little traffic circles all over Coral Gables. These are most definitely traffic calming devices that serve to slow down thru-traffic, but it doesn't inherently create traffic jams, especially on less-traveled side streets (which rarely ever have back ups). There's even pedestrian benefits to these simple, off-the-beaten path circles because they slow down traffic in the neighborhood without making crossings at intersections any more complicated.

Adam said...

my point is that the people designing many of the projects seem to just think about pedestrians as an afterthought. A traffic circle on US 1 is not the answer for pedestrians. A traffic circle on 27th and Tigertail would be great.

As for off-the-beaten-path traffic circles. I wonder if you are referring to the disaster at Shipping and Virginia that just went in. Let me rant a while, as I walk by there to take my dog to the park. That intersection went from an easily traversible four way stop, that--yes, somtimes people would roll through. to a pedestrian nightmare where a busy park lets out at a corner with 0 pedestrian friendly crossings (they are moved half a block up the street) that EVERY car rolls through, whether they are turning onto shipping or going straight, and instead of a nice sidestreet with no lane markings there is now a double yellow line coming out of that circle in all directions. It is not the very epitome of _not_ calming traffic, but again, some engineer read a book and designed it to "standards" instead of common sense.

"Oh, our new pedestrian friendly traffic circle isn't going to be safe for pedestrians to cross at the corner, that's fine, we'll just move the pedestrian crossings half a block away. Now drivers won't have to look where they're going at all."

sorry for the vitriol, but I hate to see this again and again and again.

Anonymous said...

I want to see a poll that shows what percentage of Miami Dade Transit employees take transit to work, I am not talking about bus drivers but administrators and decision makers. I mean they are housed in the government center, they should all be taking transit, but I bet it's less than 10%.

Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal said...

I can guarantee you it is abysmally low. CTA (Chicago) has an advanced fare card system that tracks use of the card. A recent report showed absurdly low transit use in their system for CTA administrators. Given that the CTA is far more extensive/efficient than system I can only imagine where our MDT would stand...

I'll try and find that article for you...

Richard Layman said...

I was at the luncheon presentation on Tuesday, and wrote it up a bit in my blog. The thing that Brookings hasn't made very clear, is that the study focused on walkable places _that offer regionally serving retail_ and _have capacity for infill development and new construction_.

So many other walkable places, i.e., in DC, Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park, weren't included in the results.

Ryan Sharp said...

Thanks for the clarification, Richard. Keep up the good work on you great blog, btw.