How walkable is your Elgin?
This past Saturday included the Winter Market and all the other Window Wonderland activities – reindeer, roasting chestnuts, holiday shopping, and more. Last year, it snowed during the festival, making it even more magical. This year, after a rainy morning (perfect for finishing my final exam of the quarter), the clouds parted, and the sun came out. So I walked to downtown, as I often do on Saturdays. I perused the Market, admired the decorated storefronts, returned some library books, got some coffee, and generally enjoyed the day before returning home about 4.
Of course, as soon as I got home. I realized that I had forgotten about the tree-lighting, scheduled for 5 PM. I’m a sucker for Christmas lights, so I headed downtown again, on foot.
Sunday morning, a friend and I had brunch plans at the Elgin Public House, and we walked. The brisk air felt good, given how miserable early December can be. While at brunch, we talked about the walkability of Elgin. I was drawn to my neighborhood by its proximity to nearly everything I need: Metra, a grocery store, library, coffee, etc. It’s a blessing not to need to dig out my sloped driveway immediately after snow hits.
And while Downtown Elgin has come a long way in the five years I’ve lived here, there are still barriers to walking. In northern Illinois, the weather can be a big drawback, of course. I wimp out when the mercury drops below 20, or when there’s too much ice for my YakTrax to safely overcome. The city does a great job clearing their part of the National Street hill, but one of the business owners doesn’t, meaning it becomes a dangerously sloped ice rink. Plus, there are certain safety issues late at night, especially walking through some poorly lit areas. I could never give up my car entirely, but 7 years without a car in Chicago trained me to shop small and walk whenever possible, habits I’m glad I’ve kept.
Downtown Elgin’s WalkScore is about 82, or “very walkable.” The site calculates a score based on proximity to transit, schools, parks and several categories of businesses, including banks, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, groceries and entertainment. The database seems to have holes in it – it’s missing Butera, the Speakeasy, and others – but it’s interesting, nonetheless.
By contrast, New York is the “most walkable” big American city, with a score of 85. Chicago has a 73. Naperville a 74, Schaumburg 54. In each case, I input just the city name, and it calculated a score for the city center. In Elgin’s case, it appears to use the YWCA on East Chicago Street as the center point. You’ll get a different score if you put in a more specific address. My house has a score of 60.
What do you think? Is your part of Elgin walkable? What would make it more walkable? What keeps you from walking? What would encourage you?