Why Cleveland Rates with Walkers

Welcome to Cleveland. Now go take a walk.

We don’t mean to be rude. We’re just suggesting that walking is one of the best possible ways to enjoy our city. Whether it’s a promenade past the grand cultural institutions of Wade Oval; a stroll through one of our lively neighborhoods; or a ramble along the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland and its surroundings are among the most walkable regions in the nation.

Don’t take just our word for it. A 2014 report by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business, in conjunction with Smart Growth America, ranked the 30 largest U.S. cities by how walkable they are. Cleveland placed in the Top 10, along with urban hotspots like Portland, Seattle and Chicago. (You can read the entire list here).

That’s a pretty big deal, since researchers have determined that walkability is one of the simplest and best measures of overall quality of life. For instance, studies have demonstrated that walkability:

  • Raises property values
  • Is associated with reduced crime
  • Shows a statistically significant connection to improved health

Denser, more walkable urban environments also seem to spur more social interactions of the sort that encourage creativity, and promote higher levels of civic engagement. (Read more about the benefits of walkability here).

More recently, Walk Score, a research organization focused on promoting walkable neighborhoods, ranked Cleveland at a respectable No. 16 among the most walkable large cities in the U.S. Our highest scoring neighborhoods were Ohio City, the Detroit-Shoreway area, and Downtown, which was ranked “very walkable.”

Walk Score used data from Google, OpenStreetMap, and the U.S. Census to create its walkability scores, based on distance to amenities such as grocery stores, restaurants, and public transit, and “pedestrian friendliness,” which they measured by analyzing population density and road metrics such as block length and intersection density. “Walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy,” Walk Score researchers conclude.

In University Circle — home to restaurants, a grocery store, public transit and some of the region’s top cultural and educational destinations — pedestrian friendliness is guiding a major transportation-planning project. According to a recent story in the Plain Dealer, plans are in place to make it easier for visitors, residents, and employees to find parking, to get around on shuttles or bikes, to use mass transit, and to walk safely from place to place. Proposed projects include revamping 11 key intersections that pedestrians and vehicles have to share around Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

But when it comes to assessing Cleveland’s walkability, perhaps no one has her feet more firmly on the ground than Patience Cameron Hoskins, author of “Cleveland on Foot,” a 344-page compendium of 50 area walking tours in and around Cleveland, ranging from two-hour strolls to challenging full day hikes.

“Cleveland is a very walkable region,” says Mrs. Hoskins, a member of the Buckeye Trail Association and the Cleveland Hiking Club, and a Judson Park resident for the past 15 years. “Whether you are walking downtown, in a park, or in one of the neighborhoods, there is always something interesting to see.”

Her walking guide, now in its fourth edition, includes photos, maps, distances, difficulty ratings, and helpful hints, like where to find a restroom. “An awful lot of research into history, art, and architecture went into the book,” says the inveterate hiker. “I always envisioned someone walking beside me and asking questions about what they were seeing; I wrote the book in such a way as to answer those questions.”

And while urban planners point to the civic and economic importance of walkability, Mrs. Hoskins reminds us of the more personal benefits.

“The greatest value of walking is getting yourself out of your normal patterns: to see new things … to enjoy fresh air … to expand your vision. Walking is of great benefit — to both your physical and your psychological health.”

So what are you waiting for? Lace up those sneakers and start walking!

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