posts tagged with 'pedestrianism'

hey kids, it's the day people won't try to kill you with their cars!

Today is "International Walk/Bike to School Day", and Bedford is observing it with all the care of a squeamish teacher pretending enthusiasm for the mealworms the kids are studying in science.

Led by Selectman Margot Fleischman and other volunteers, the Lane School walk from St. Paul’s to Lane School is approximately 1 mile long, and follows neighborhood streets. The bike ride will follow the Narrow-Gauge rail trail from Loomis Street to the school with police support for all the road crossings.

Note how it says "the Lane School walk" and "the bike ride"—that's because, rather than letting everyone make their own way to school (presumably they know how to find it) administrators are hoping to gather folks at a few central locations in order to have them all walk or bike together. I wonder how many of those kids will be driven to the assembly points?

My favorite part of the whole ridiculous mess is the title of the Bedford Citizen article I linked above: "Wednesday is Walk-Bike to School Day — Drive with Care!" Unspoken subtext: if you try to walk or bike any other day, you crazy hippies, you can just expect someone to run you down! It's funny because it's true... wait, no, it's not funny at all!


let's walk

Apparently Americans don't walk very much. That's actually not really news to me, and not only because the article I linked there is a year and a half old; monitoring the sidewalks around town makes it clear that most people in Bedford, at least, don't like to use anything other than a private automobile for purposes of transportation. That doesn't mean that people aren't out and about: there are plenty of joggers, dog walkers, and couples taking romantic strolls. But all that is recreational; whenever folks want to get anywhere—even if it's the Whole Foods less than a mile away—they hop in their cars.

Though I suppose I can't blame them. According to famous walkability-rating website Walk Score our address comes in at 43, which is defined as "Car-Dependent". "Most errands require a car", the report tells us. Whether that assessment defines or reflects people's behavior, they're going to be driving most places. Which is kind of silly, because as well as the Whole Foods we can also walk to another grocery store, a library, a post office, a wide variety of restaurants (including an excellent ice cream store), playgrounds, and swimming, all in under a mile and a half. What else? Hardware store, office supplies, two TX Company clothing stores, even auto parts are within striking distance of our little suburban home. Sure, a mile and a half takes up to half an hour each way, but think of all the interesting sights you'll see as you stroll. And if things were any closer, it'd feel like we were living in the city. We don't really want to live in the city, see, and we'll walk a bit more if that means we can keep our big yard.

Not that we always have to walk. Thankfully, we also have bicycles, and today saw an important first for our family: we took three bikes out on an errand. Harvey is as yet limited to not much more than two miles round trip, and to the sidewalks and bike paths (he's also not really a fan of big hills right now—though, to be fair, neither is Leah when she's hauling both boys), but that's enough to get him some useful places. Even better, the rack on his bike lets him bring things home with him—today his cargo was only a real-estate flyer, sure, but the concept is sound.

Even with a four-year-old moving under his own power our cycling speed beats walking (to say nothing of the reduction in effort required), and when he's riding with Leah our rate and range is obviously improved tremendously. That means that, contra Walk Score, we don't require a car hardly at all; as it is we largely only drive to the cheap grocery store the next town over, to church, and to outings in the country. "Only"—it still comes out to an outing by car at least every other day, enough that I don't have any desire to join the ranks of the "car-free". Plus, how would we go on vacation?! Which is all good, because I recognize that my own limits are just as arbitrary as those of my neighbors who want to drive around the corner. I could do without a car altogether, but it would make my life harder; they probably feel the same way about walking to Whole Foods. Totally fair—to each his own. I'm just glad we live in a place that makes it so easy for those of us who want to to buck the non-walking trend.


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.