Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lowell's Walk Score

I finally got around to seeing The Fighter, and was impressed to see some very nice sections of town far off of the main streets I know.  Many of them appear to be in the Outer Highlands on streets you're not going to find by accident.  A conversation with my girlfriend on the way home brought up where we'd like to live someday, and I would love to stay in Lowell.  However, there is a complex cross between her desires for a little more space and greenery and my desires to have interesting places to walk to.  So, into this equation comes is a site that you can give your address to and it uses I believe Google to figure out how many different amenities are within walking distance of your house.  They have full gradient maps of some of the larger towns, and Lowell is fortunate enough to be included:

Sadly, it is clear from the map that Upper Belvidere, the Outer Highlands, and West Pawtucketville are all bright, bright red, meaning very little is available on foot.  Dowtown, Back Central, parts of the Acre, Lower Belvidere, and Lower Centralville are all the most green.  But of course, those are Lowell's only real urban sections.

What do people think?  Is this tool fair?  It doesn't take into consideration deep parking lots and wide roads that impede foot traffic like exist on Rogers Street.  The method the map uses to find businesses is actually a little too liberal as well, as it only looks for certain words.  For example, it identifies some home-based business with the word "market" in it on Lincoln Parkway as a grocery store, when clearly it is not.  Personally, I am looking for a place that is about a 10 minute walk or less, on safe sidewalks through safe neighborhoods, from a cup of coffee, a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk, and an active-use park.  Where are Lowell's best options for this?


  1. Pretty cool site Corey. My suggestions are the Fort Hill neighborhood ie. Belrose Ave or Clitheroe/Wyman St's in Belvidere. Never timed the walk to downtown but both are very close to parks.

  2. I know it's not for everyone (and I know I sound like a broken record), but biking opens that map up quite a bit.

    I currently live in Pawtucketville but used to live right downtown. I really loved the convenience of living downtown, but due to some unfortunate circumstances (two serious break-ins within three months) felt like I had to move. Where I live now was definitely chosen for its feeling of security but when I moved I was pretty upset about the fact that I were moving "so far away."

    What really surprised me about the move was how accessible Pawtucketville really is on foot, but especially on a bike. Downtown is 3 miles away, and it's a very nice walk or ride (I've done both pretty regularly but prefer to bike - it's faster.) Wood Street and Market Basket and CVS are a half mile away (although crossing the Rourke Bridge is not particularly pleasant) and the Lowell State Forest is a little over a mile away. There is a LRTA bus stop a half-mile away. My polling place is less than a mile away. Also, if you like their coffee, Dunks is right on the Blvd.

    What surprised me the most about moving out to Pawtucketville and using my bike to get around was how small the circle of "where I go" really is. I think that the bridges create a false sense of distance in Lowell because crossing one in a vehicle, especially at rush hour, takes forever. The farthest place from my home that I go to on a regular basis is Phoenix Ave. and it's just shy of six miles from where I live. Yes, it's too far to walk but that distance is easily traveled on a bicycle.

  3. Thanks everyone.

    Yeah, that old corner of Belvidere down by Shedd Park/Fort Hill is definitely a place I've eyed over time.

    Pawtucketville has quite a lot going for it, bike or not, but the biggest negative, as you pointed out, is the bottlenecks caused by the bridges. Same with Christian Hill, which I otherwise like.

  4. Marianne, what's your take on how convenient/safe it is to tie up bikes places?

  5. It seems that the City doesn't take the steps to provide bike travel because the problems appear insurmountable with the narrow streets and on-street parking. But maybe by limiting the scope of any initiative in this direction it could be more feasible. I would suggest a few secure bike parking locations and several bike artery ways, maybe starting with the Gallagher terminal for secure parking, and an artery for bikes to connect to the downtown.

  6. In the winter walking or biking is not advisable! In better weather the area near Ft Hill is wonderful. If you walk up to the top and make a bee line for the back fence area you will find a big hole in the fence that will give you access to the woods above Lowell Cemetary. Not much more georgous that the Lowell Cemetary at night.
    I want to see "The Fighter" as I grew up in Lowell and boxed for years.

  7. I find it pretty convenient to lock my bike in the locations I frequent (mostly where I live and downtown.) At home, my building provides a bike rack and it is usually pretty full. If the weather is going to be really awful, I'll store my bike in my unit (I am lucky enough to have the space for this.)

    The city has put in some bike racks downtown - I've used the ones in front of Brew'd, the library and Mambo in the past. There is also a protected bike rack in the Roy Garage - I wish I could use this rack because it is perfect, but it is filled with a lot of bikes that don't seem to move. The city really should install another rack in the garage because there is definitely demand.

    When I am a work, I usually just lock my bike to one of those canal walk signs that are right downtown - there's one right in front of my building and they are really heavy and secure.

    Joe - there used to be a bike rack right inside the garage at the Gallagher Terminal. It's been years since I train commuted into Boston, is the rack gone? If so, that's a real shame.

    As far as safety is concerned, you need a good lock - something that you would use in Boston or another urban area. From my days in Boston/San Francisco I use a metal U-Lock and a Krypotonite cable lock, and my bike came with a cafe-style lock (similar to a Dutch bike) and I use all three. That's my default city set-up and when I first moved here I was was a bit lax and my bike was stolen.

    I've also noticed that some buses have bike racks on the front (something I loved while I was at school in Amherst) but it seems pretty random as to which bus has the rack and it also seems like it's often the downtown circulator which, imho, is too short of a route to warrant it.

    getyourselfconnected - I bike and walk in the winter and don't have a problem. Biking is almost easier because the roads are cleared pretty well but not everyone shovels their sidewalks.

    Oh, I also try to frequent businesses that provide racks - BeerWorks does, as does the Market Basket on Broadway and there are some others that I can't think of right now... One of the things that most surprises me about Lowell is that many of the schools don't provide bike racks. I visit a lot of schools as a part of my job and they are some of the hardest places to park my bike.

  8. If I moved out a bit, say to pville, a bike would be great. Even if you have to walk it across the bridges or the vfw/blvd on the sidewalks, not so bad. It's just always a bit scary to see the canals empty and noting the number of bikes down there. What, do people steal and joyride bikes?

  9. getyouselfconnected and JoeS - the bike rack at the Gallagher Terminal still exists.

    I have considered riding my bike to the train station, but I have been walking to and from station for the last 10 months. I think that it would feel weird to ride the bike!