If you live in Fort Worth and like to walk, it’s been an interesting few weeks in cyberspace. Late last year, Walkscore, a website that ranks cities by how congenial they are to pedestrians, ranked Fort Worth as the fourth least-walkable city among America’s 50 largest, ahead of Oklahoma City, Charlotte, and bottom-ranked Jacksonville, but behind Arlington and Dallas, as well as a city as notoriously car-dependent as Phoenix. (L.A. scored surprisingly high on the list, by the way.) Last week, Tom Vanderbilt penned a series on Slate about why American cities were so hard to walk. Fellow Slate writer Will Oremus wondered about whether cities with low walkability and political conservatism were connected.
I found all this food for thought as a person who lost more than 30 pounds a few years ago by taking long walks. I chose walking largely because I didn’t want to buy exercise equipment or pay for gym memberships. This point has repercussions beyond me being a cheap bastard: Walking is the most inexpensive form of exercise, and the easier it is for people to do, the healthier our population will be, and the lower it’ll score on lists of America’s most obese cities.
I’ve stuck with my walking regimen because I’m committed to keeping my weight down, but I can’t help but compare my walking experiences here in Fort Worth to my experiences in other cities. I like to explore major American cities on foot when I’m on vacation, and I don’t like to rent cars. (Did I mention I’m a cheap bastard?) I’ve noticed that many other cities offer a superior walking experience. Granted, Chicago has the Magnificent Mile and New Orleans has the French Quarter, and we can’t reasonably expect Fort Worth to develop something like that overnight. But what all the cities I’ve visited have in common is a safe, clean, easy-to-use public transportation system that can deliver walkers to different neighborhoods, whether by train (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta) or trolley (New Orleans). If you’ll check out the walking heat map of Fort Worth above, you’ll find islands of walkability (the green spots) centered on downtown, the West 7th corridor, and the Cultural District. Yet there’s not much connecting those places except The T, which provides a single bus route between downtown and the Lancaster/University intersection (if you want to get to the museums) and two more from downtown to West 7th (not counting the circuitous Number 10 route). These routes run hourly, not frequently enough to entice walkers, and as far as the buses providing an inviting atmosphere, let’s say they leave something to be desired.
Plus, the Cultural District’s actually not that easy to navigate on foot. The museums themselves and the Will Rogers Center are separated from each other by considerable distances (a function of the facilities themselves being so large), and have you tried to cross the West 7th/University/Camp Bowie intersection as a pedestrian? I have, and it’s not an experience I’m eager to repeat. Actually, I’d rank the Near Southside as a more walkable neighborhood than the Cultural District, especially the stretch down Magnolia Avenue.
Dependably, Fortworthology’s Kevin Buchanan has weighed in on the subject and made some excellent points. So did Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth, a blog that can be technical to the point of wonkiness and only infrequently writes about FW, but frequently offers fascinating insights. By the way, Walkable DFW has also taken issue in the past with Walk Score’s methodology. I can’t help but wonder what came of the public meetings last winter for the city’s Walk! Fort Worth Pedestrian Plan. Since I’m not an urban planning expert, just a guy who likes to take to his feet every once in a while, I put the question to our readers: What can we do to make Fort Worth easier to walk?