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we need more walking

Lots of towns in Massachusetts didn't have school today because it's been so hard to get the snow cleared off of roads and sidewalks. In Bedford and Lexington, they decided they didn't care about sidewalks and went ahead with school anyways. I was glad because we can use the money, but from a sustainable transportation point of view I was disappointed, and all the more so when I heard teachers criticizing parents who walked with their children to school. "There's no sidewalk! They could've gotten themselves killed!" I refrained from shouting at them that cars aren't dragons, but I did calmly mention that some families might have just one car, or even (gasp) no car, and that "just driving" might not always be an option.

And of course, it shouldn't have to be. Yes, more people drive than walk so it's reasonable to clear the streets first; but at the same time, it's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. If towns don't clear the sidewalks for two months of the year—or even build them in the first place!—they foreclose the possibility of anyone making an alternative transportation choice.

My coworkers suggested that parents without a car of their own should get a ride with a neighbor, or even keep their kids home from school. Both are great ideas (although I don't know that the administration would approve of the second one). But I have another idea. More people should, in the absence of sidewalks, walk in the street. Wear reflecting clothing if necessary, convoy with friends to make a larger, more visible group; but show up, and show drivers that they aren't the only ones with a claim to the road.

This time of year away almost no drivers are going to stop for a crosswalk outside of town centers: pedestrians just aren't on their mental radar when it's cold. But that doesn't mean I'm going to just wait passively until there's a break in traffic to cross? Of course not! I put myself out in the crosswalk—not jumping in front of cars, but making sure that they see me and see that I'm planning on crossing. Too many still respond only by swerving slightly to get by me without passing to close, but I consider it a positive educational outreach regardless.

Am I being a jerk when I make drivers slow down? Maybe. But any kind of social change will always inconvenience the current privileged group, and that's ok. There are so many reasons to walk rather than driving that we shouldn't let peoples entitled habits—or crappy infrastructure, or poor snow removal—get in the way of making changes right now. When enough people are walking drivers will pay attention; and towns will be sure to plow sidewalks just like they plow streets now, or else let the kids stay home.


I (relatively recently) discovered a crosswalk in Arlington that has a little buckets on each side that hold orange flags for pedestrians to hold out. I wonder how effective that is. It certainly seems safer than using your body as a signal, but perhaps drivers still ignore it.

I've never seen anyone actually use these. This crosswalk is near a school, so I assume it's mostly used by kids and parents walking to/from school.

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