In our town there is an weekly alternative newspaper. Most weeks the articles and subject matter are a little avant garde, even for me. This past week though there were some thought provoking articles all on the subject of walking, and specifically walking as a mode of transportation in a city.
In some ways, it still gets me that we look at walking as if we have a choice. Isn't that how are bodies are made- to move and to move in the form of walking? Of course we could roll on the ground to where we need to go or we could crawl on our hands and knees but that is not a desirable mode of transport.
One of the articles in the newspaper was written by a self proclaimed radical pedestrian. Whether he truly believes what he wrote or just trying to provoke, he does have some interesting points. When you are traveling at car-speed, sitting and driving in a car, you don't notice your surroundings. "At car-speed, building simply seem 'dilapidated' and people 'loitering' or 'hanging around'." When you are walking you get to see the surroundings. You decide to speak or not to speak with another person out on the street. You have the opportunity to interact with those surroundings and to elevate the inhabitants from "loiterers" to "people with stories, backgrounds, loves and sorrows".
We saw the difference of car speed vs. bike or walk speed when we travelled through the city on our bikes a couple of weeks ago. There were some areas that we went through that, if we had traveled by car, would have been seen as a blight in our city. We would have been anxious to get through that neighborhood and never give it another thought. Instead, because we were slowly traveling at bike-speed, we were able to have some conversations with the residents. They were not long, nor deep interactions but they were interactions nonetheless. The residents asked about our fund raiser and where we had ridden. As a society, each time we have these little discourses, we strengthen the ties that bind us together. Each interaction draws us a little bit closer in community.
The writer of the newspaper article wonders how much cars have kept our city segregated. He writes about the frustration of people talking diversity and intersectionality yet no one wants to get out of their cars and interact. "Facebook stokes fears so that people don't want to walk in certain neighborhoods." The irony is that if people did get out into the streets, the safer the neighborhood would be.
He also wonders if automobiles have subsidized the suburbs at the expense of the cities. He feels that if all roads were toll roads in order to reflect the true cost of the automobile- pollution, parking, construction and congestion- people would think again about walking. Interesting. Would that make people think twice about driving? He poses some radical thoughts.
I wonder, why does everything have to be extreme in America? Why can't we embrace and choose a middle road? Why can't we decide that for certain activities we will walk and not use a car? Especially for those of us that live in a more congested area. Does it have to come down to government regulation for us to function in the way in which we were designed? Why can't we decide when we walk and when we use a car? Yes, a car is certainly very convenient. (I can tell you that after walking home from the store with heavy grocery bags digging into the palm of my hands and my shoulders.) And yes, some people do not have the luxury of a car. (I guess the definition of a car being a luxury or necessity is also another debate.)
I know for me that walking and bike riding for errands are a conscious choice over just jumping into the car. I have to think about my schedule, how much time do I have, the weather, the distance, etc. It is not my default mode of thinking (yet) though it is getting there. I realize that by not making it my first choice, I might be losing out- missing community, interactions and exercise.
What about you? Have you ever thought about using another means of transport other than a car to get from here to there? What is your city or town like? Do you think that the car has segregated it?
This week, is there any time or opportunity for you to walk or bike ride instead of using the car for a specific errand? For instance, getting milk at the convenience store, dropping your kids off at a friend's house or meeting a friend for coffee? Are you up for some radical ramblings?