By Bill Adams / UrbDeZine San Diego
Walk San Diego rated La Mesa as 2013′s most walkable city in San Diego County. The number one reason for the City’s walkability happened 100 years ago.
It’s the traditional town pattern of it’s historic center. It’s a pattern that is relatively rare in Southern California but seen everywhere in the East and Midwest U.S.:
- narrow streets (even its main commercial street La Mesa Blvd.),
- small densely (for suburbia) developed lots,
- human scaled and architecturally diverse development,
- pedestrian amenities (e.g., the “secret stairs”), which were created when that was the primary form of short distance travel,
- and a railway (now trolley) through the center of town.
You can read more about the Walk San Diego’s walkable city selections below:
La Mesa Receives Top Score, National City and Imperial Beach Close Behind
The Regional Walk Scorecard measures how San Diego’s regional cities are doing to respond to the call for more walkable neighborhoods. There are many ways to measure walkability, and the Scorecard emphasizes two of these: current walking conditions and policies and projects in place to improve walkability in the future.
La Mesa emerged as the top scoring city for several reasons. The city has (a) extensively catalogued local walking conditions, especially around transit stations and schools, (b) consistently upgraded intersections and other facilities to better alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians, (c) instituted a host of incentives to reward developers for designing buildings and neighborhoods with walking utmost in mind, especially in their downtown and transit station areas, and (d) instituted a robust program to educate students and families about pedestrian and bike safety and encourage them to walk and bike to school. In addition, La Mesa has protected its downtown grid network of streets, which allows for a mix of walkable destinations, including transit stops.
National City came in a close second. Our top scoring city last year, National City continues to aggressively add pedestrian-friendly facilities and amenities throughout the city. Like La Mesa, National City has extensively inventoried the walkability of streets and neighborhoods to identify areas needing improvement. Ironically, National City has the highest rate of pedestrian collisions in the region, but overcomes this negative with the high number of residents who walk or use transit to get around.
Imperial Beach moved up from fourth to third place in this year’s ranking. This city is like the Little Engine that Could. It has quietly added numerous traffic calming installations and pedestrian enhancements throughout the city. One result is the remarkable increase in residential, shopping, and visitor amenities on or near Seacoast Drive, its cozy “Main Street.” Visit this area soon to see how increased pedestrian comfort and convenience can turn a place around.
The two cities that scored lowest in the 2012 report—Santee and El Cajon—continue to hold those rankings. Whereas these cities received higher marks this year for walkability improvements and pedestrian safety education programs, other cities simply outpaced them. In addition, Santee and El Cajon have not updated the policies analyzed for the Scorecard, such as Complete Streets and Transit Oriented Design policies. This is not to say there are no such policies – indeed, both have focused on increasing walking, bike safety, traffic calming, and transit use in key areas such as residential neighborhoods, Main Street corridors, and trolley stations. However, their policies lack the strong language and incentives we found in the other cities.
Three scoring categories were created and analyzed: Status of Walking Index, Policies and Implementation, and BestWALK Field Data.
Status of Walking Index – This measure combines two indicators related to how walkable each city is currently: (a) the total percent of residents whose commute mode was either walking or transit in the years 2000 and 2010 according to Census data, and (b) the pedestrian collision rate calculated per population and per miles of street. In general, cities that ranked high in this category tend to be more compact, have a dense network of safe walking routes, and a variety of land uses near residential neighborhoods. Other cities that ranked high have generally fewer people walking and a resulting lower rate of pedestrian vehicle collisions.
Implementation and Policy – For this category, WalkSanDiego gathered data on projects happening on the ground and balanced these with big picture goals we consider critical to enhancing walkability. Policies and implementation were intentionally combined to strike a balance between cities’ established big-picture goals and on-the-ground projects, recognizing that written policies are not always implemented and completed projects are not always initiated as a result of a policy.
BestWalk Field Data – For this category, WalkSanDiego developed a smart phone application (BestWALK) to allow residents across the region to collect and upload (“crowd source”) data regarding the walkability of streets and intersections through the completion of fact-based questions (“Is there a painted crosswalk?”) and perceptual questions (“Do you feel safe here?”).
Approximately 1,500 intersection and street assessments were completed. Due to this relatively small sample size, and because the BestWALK app will be improved over time, the field data accounted for only 10% of the total Scorecard score.
Go here for the scorecard of all communities.