Study sees 'walkability' of Baltimore area declining in relation to other cities

A new ranking of urban "walkability" in major metropolitan areas found Baltimore will likely lose ground to other cities in coming years as positive downtown growth continues to be offset by suburban development geared toward driving.

Of the top 30 metropolitan areas in the country, the greater Baltimore region currently ranks 11th in terms of walkability, falling into a mid-range category of eight cities with "moderate walkable urbanism," according to the study, which is set to be released Tuesday by The George Washington University School of Business and the nonprofit coalition Smart Growth America.

However, when the future is considered rather than the present, the Baltimore area drops to 22nd, falling into a group of 13 cities with "low potential for future walkable urbanism," the study found.

Titled "Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America's Largest Metros," the study stresses the decline of the urban-suburban divide in modern planning circles and the rise of a new emphasis on walkable environments existing inside and outside major city centers.

The number and scope of those walkable environments will define walkability for people living in future metropolitan regions, the study found.

The eight-city grouping Baltimore currently falls within consists of fellow industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where a majority of walkable urban space remains within city centers.

"Many of these metros lack significant suburban walkable urbanism and have experienced decades of weaker economic growth and under-investment in their early 20th-century rail transit systems," the study found. "However, their center city walkable urban development has been impressive."

Nationally, as top-ranked cities move toward walkability in their city centers and suburbs, Baltimore's continuing trend of "driveable sub-urbanism" outside its city core will see its status drop, the study found.

Strong proponents of walkability exist in the region, the study found, but "comprise a distinct minority" of local politicians, civic organizations and developers.

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