Decatur was re-designated a "Silver Walk Friendly Community" this week by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, and, surely, a parade and cake-cutting are soon to follow. The Walk Friendly Communities website listed Decatur's community outreach programs, parking management and expansive crossing guard program as city highlights (cue back-patting). Despite the accolades, the city still has a long way to go in terms of car-free accessibility. Those programs are certainly spurs for community activity and health, but observers found that they service only a few specific parts of the city.
In terms of daily needs, downtown Decatur and a few downtown-adjacent corridors are the only portions of the city with meaningful pedestrian access. The overall walkability score for the city is a middling 54, based on an analysis by Walk Score. A 54 basically means most people in the city can walk to a couple of restaurants, which sounds fine if you own a car, but plenty of people aren't so lucky.
The city's website boasts that this is the highest score in the state, but that's largely a function of the city's size compared to its major center. Other cities, like Savannah, Athens, Columbus and even Roswell have significant outlying, almost rural areas to factor in, but their downtown corridors are just as walkable, bikeable and bus-able as Decatur's, if not more so.
Downtown Decatur has a Walk Score of 89, but the dropoff from there is immediate into the 50s and 40s. Savannah, Athens, Columbus and Roswell all have downtown scores in the 80s, but each of those cities is far larger than Decatur's four and ½ square miles. Beyond walking, Savannah and Athens are well ahead of Decatur in terms of bikeability. Decatur is ahead of those cities in terms of public transportation options, but that's largely a product of it's proximity to Atlanta. Basically, if Decatur had to take on all of its outlying address space it wouldn't look any better than an up-and-coming OTP suburb.
All of that being said, the city isn't totally unaware of it's position. The Community Transportation Plan, which was also praised by WFC, mentions most of the input it received related to child safety and impacts on senior citizens. It also mentions, specifically, that input from residents without cars was sorely lacking (what a surprise). In that light, the city is doing a great job of addressing community expressed goals. It also plans to expand bike accessibility, and new developments are coming up regularly. It's surely only a matter of time before Decatur's downtown progress connects with other parts of the city.
· Walk Scores Methodology [walkscores.com]
· ;Community Transportation Plan [City of Decatur]
· Decatur desgnated a walk-friendly community [Decaturish]