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Can Northwest Columbus Become a Walkable Neighborhood?

 Alex Silbajoris Can Northwest Columbus Become a Walkable Neighborhood?
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My part of northwest Columbus is routinely dismissed as car-dependent, but is it, really? Recent improvements point to changes in urban planning, while some elements remain out-dated.

I’m in a 1960s neighborhood alongside Kenny Road, quiet, with leafy meandering streets. It was certainly designed as car-dependent, with no sidewalks, and a garage attached to every house. The street layout is not a grid; the streets loop around long irregular blocks to discourage traffic from using the area as a shortcut. The only direct routes are the arterials like Kenny and Henderson.

Both of those roads were 2-lane when we moved here in 1964, and Henderson had a grade crossing on the CSX rail line. Neither road was designed to accommodate foot traffic. Both roads were widened to 4-lane in the 70s, but still, neither had sidewalks. If you wanted to walk from Olentangy River Road to Kenny, your choice was to wander the neighborhoods (if you knew the way) or to walk a dirt path in the grass next to 50 mph traffic along Henderson.

Upper Arlington installed sidewalks along Kenny only in the last two or three years. The UA sidewalk extends a few feet north into Columbus, but it ends at the first business driveway apron. After that, it’s back to a path in the grass until the sidewalk picks up again in the White Castle lot at Henderson. From there, the sidewalk turns west on Henderson, but it ended at the end of the White Castle lot, and once again, back to the grass. Columbus installed a sidewalk and bike path on Henderson only this year.

So, I’m all set, right? New, safe sidewalk now runs west along Henderson, to Reed Road. But Reed is almost two miles miles from Kenny, and that points out another old design problem. If I need something simple like a bottle of milk, I can easily walk 6/10 of a mile to a convenience store on Kenny. I can even get something fancy from Penzey’s or Tensuke. A slightly wider selection is in the Walgreens at Henderson. But for general grocery shopping, my closest choice is the Kroger on Henderson, 2.1 miles from my house. And, once west of Reed, the sidewalks are hit-and-miss again.

By chance, I’m only 3/10 of a mile from Kenny, where I can catch the #18 or #60 bus lines to Downtown. It’s a far shorter walk than walking to Indianola or High Street from a mid-point of any of the neighborhood streets connecting them. Bus stops face each other across Kenny — but there are no marked crosswalks between Henderson to the north, and McCoy to the south.

Other crosswalks are incomplete. At Old Henderson, nice new curb ramps are connected by a sidewalk that goes nowhere else. On the east side of Henderson, foot traffic also has nice new ramps, but once again the sidewalks only connect the ramps. Someone wanting to walk south along Kenny then has to squeeze past the end of a fence, and walk a dirt path within arm’s reach of traffic. At Folkstone, the Speedway has a sidewalk and curb ramp, but the diner on the south side has nothing but grass, shrubs, and a sign.

So it’s a mixed bag of new and old efforts, showing gradual overall improvements. But there seems to be no master plan (at least nothing that MORPC is involved in), so it’s a piecemeal approach.

Photos by Alex Silbajoris.

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