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Walking as a liberative experience
July 30, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Writer decides to walk for a week in a place where cars are the rule.

Also nice historical perspective on walking and related current statistics about it.
posted by skepticallypleased (98 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I once walked from the Xerox PARC campus to my hotel in Menlo Park. It was a beautiful day, the sidewalks were wide and well maintained but I was the only person walking. People in passing cars were staring at me like I was from another planet.

This was in 1999, so I'm hoping things have changed but man was that weird.
posted by tommasz at 10:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


There have been times where, either for lack of gas money or just for exercise, that I would do everything by either walking or biking. I have to say, getting groceries was the biggest pain. Try carrying a gallon of orange juice and everything else you can fit in your backpack for miles to get home. Forget milk, by the way, if you live somewhere hot. It'd never make it.

Good exercise, not something I want to do everyday though. I prefer a car for some things.
posted by Malice at 10:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to say that I'd read this before as science fiction but he brings up the Ray Bradbury story in the article.
posted by octothorpe at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


At the 'major city' near where I live (ca. 25000 residents) you can only get to the Walmart by driving, or walking between a guard rail and four lanes of traffic. The entire strip of malls goes on for a mile with no crosswalks. You have to play Frogger to get to the grocery store. And that's if you live in the city. If you live outside the city you have to travel up to 15 miles to get to the grocery store.

We used to have town centers that were walkable up here in Maine, but rich people from away bought all the quaint houses that housed the people who would walk to the general store, and used them as summer homes. The businesses died.
If you ever wonder why people in Maine don't like people from away, it's because they have an order of magnitude more disposable income than we do, and they have the power to ruin our communities when they decide to come up here and play Mainer.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:30 AM on July 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


Oh, and public transportation categorically does not exist.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:30 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


A week? Expected poverty tourism, got spiritual tourism.
posted by thelonius at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2012


Has anyone here been to the site of Thoreau's cabin? There's a constant roar from the three-lane divided highway a few hundred feet further, and it's a stone's throw from a massive landfill dumped in a pond that was originally like Walden.

Suburban Massachusetts is the reason we humans do not deserve to live on this planet.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I walk a couple of hours every day, and I find one great benefit is that it helps you distinguish your Roman authors from your Greeks. . . .
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a good essay, but it's hard to bridge the gap between someone for whom pedestrianism is an experiment and someone for whom pedestrianism is a lifestyle. It's a PDF, but Walking on L.I. feels closer to my own experience of suburbia, where I couldn't walk the mile from the grocery store to home without getting honked at or offered a ride or warned about the dangers of walking . (It references, coincidentally, the same Bradbury story.)
posted by Jeanne at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tangentially related: Police crack down on street parking near Walden Pond (by morning swimmers)
posted by dhartung at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. Being reminded of how not walkable other parts of the U.S. are sort of makes me re-think all the "you have to buy a car to live here" advice that we give people on AskMe when they say they're moving to Los Angeles, since L.A. is far more walkable than places made up of tract mansion suburbs, divided highways, and megabox store chains by the freeway. Walking to my job would be a trek from my house 13 miles away, but I can easily walk to and from grocery stores and other shopping, as well as a really nice, very walkable, safe downtown area.
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


not something I want to do everyday though

...this is because the places you live are not designed for people, they are designed for cars.

This is something of a truism in some quarters, but it bears repeating. My lifestyle changed utterly when I moved to a city & neighborhood where there are four (soon to be five) groceries within a ten block radius (it's not NYC) and my neighborhood isn't even as walking-centric as some of the others in town.

20 minute walk to work. I really had no idea how fantastic it could be. Far enough that I'm not on-call, close enough that there are basically zero weather conditions that would dissuade me from walking. I probably should have paid more for this house than I did, because goddamn I owe the seller a big favor.

I still own the car, but it spends its entire life parked, except when I loan it to friends, or drive it for a bit to keep the battery charged & the engine functional. I can't bring myself to get rid of it yet, even though realistically it's a pointless expense.

It's reached the point that if I need to get some lumber from Home Depot, I actually carry it home tied together with plastic bags rather than drive there & back. The only exceptions thus far have been 4x8 panel goods, because I can't figure out how to carry them (I can barely handle them at all by myself) and multiple 2x4s (because I can't do 20 round trips and still get anything done that weekend, although I did consider taking 1 a day for 20 days until my other folks interceded and pointed out I was being a moron).
posted by aramaic at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


...since L.A. is far more walkable than places made up of tract mansion suburbs, divided highways, and megabox store chains by the freeway.

Man, I used to live in an L.A. county suburb, 30 miles north of downtown (which I have been informed doesn't count as actual L.A.?) and it was exactly like duncadunc describes.
posted by griphus at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Semi-related: Ivan Illich on Cars.
posted by byanyothername at 10:44 AM on July 30, 2012


Every time I leave the city I am thankful for the amount of safe walkability I have at home. We'll regularly walk two or three miles to go to dinner in another part of town, and my parents thought that this was insane when they visited the other week. We ended up walking the mile and a half or so from the restaurant back to their hotel, and they were surprised I was intending to walk the remaining way back to our home.

A few months ago I was on a business trip to Long Island, where I stayed at a hotel that was separated by the site I was visiting by one small office building. It was maybe a hundred yards door to door, yet I was the only one of the group that walked. Everyone else drove the short distance, and then had to cross a busy divided highway and go through two traffic lights to drive back to the hotel. I was in my hotel room and changed before they made it back to the hotel. Could not understand why they subjected themselves to that.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and on multiple occasions I have been on a 2-wheeled vehicle (moped, bicycle) and people have deliberately tried to run me over.

Germany has everything right. There are highways for cars, and highways for bicyclists, mopeds and pedestrians. People build their houses close together, which means yard are small but you can enjoy the green space. There is a Spar or a Billa in every village. Commuter rail? You're covered.

America is the land of 'everything is wrong'.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Man, I used to live in an L.A. county suburb, 30 miles north of downtown (which I have been informed doesn't count as actual L.A.?) and it was exactly like duncadunc describes.

Well, sure, but Valencia sucks. Maybe it's a question of whether it's new or old development. My town, an L.A. suburb 15 miles from downtown L.A., is a very old town, with little streets, sidewalks, and intimate little downtown areas that are never far from neighborhoods. Newer L.A. suburbs are both more distant from the city and less walkable.
posted by The World Famous at 10:47 AM on July 30, 2012


I drive 2 miles to the commuter parking lot, hitch a ride to the Pentagon, take the subway to within a mile of the office, and then walk the final mile, weather permitting. I get that same sort of subversive feeling the author mentions by my achieving a 54 mile commute by driving only 2 miles. I could walk or ride to the lot, but my commute already takes so much time that I value the time saved by driving that two miles more than the benefits of not driving. Although I have walked it when I was having car problems - the lack of completed sidewalk along a busy 6 lane road is also a factor.
posted by COD at 10:49 AM on July 30, 2012


Top ten most dangerous metro areas of USA with pop. over 1 million ranked by Pedestrian Danger Index.

1. Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
6. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
7. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
8. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
9. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Florida is no place to be out on foot.
posted by Winnemac at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going on 30 years alive without a car. I've lived in medium sized cities (400,000) with transit and in small towns (30,000) who were just getting transit. I'm now back in a medium sized city, although I live in the dead of the downtown and the reasons I'd need a car (especially now that Amazon and others deliver most consumer goods I need) have dwindled to only:

a) Going camping/hiking...but I'm usually with friends, so someone else drives and I kick in for gas.
b) Occasional mall shopping...for which a local car share works. I used it 4 times last year.

I walked in the dead of winter* in the small town from an industrial park where I answered phone calls for Apple to a small suburb twice a day, four times a week. It was 8k each way, almost all on highways. I also walked to university at the time which was 2k each way. In the summer I'd cycle, but the town wasn't friendly to cyclists and I never felt safe. I tried rollerblading but once across the hood of a car rolling a right turn was enough for me. People thought I was nuts for not just sucking up and buying a car, but really, I felt as physically and mentally fit as anyone I knew. It was built into my life to exercise, I didn't need to do otherwise (although I did because I wanted to build muscle too.)

I spent a ridiculous amount of time in transit between places. I didn't do some things because I couldn't get there. I only ever had apartments that were a few minutes from a grocery store (I'd walk further to work because I didn't have to carry anything/not having food was crap for my health.) I walked at 3am from a back shift and was occasionally accosted by the cops for being out so late.

I am happy to have done this, but really, I do not understand how someone who was 50+, disabled, had kids or who was not voluntarily doing it would cope. It's hard to live in places which are not built for pedestrians. As a young kid, you can certainly cope, but the amount of your life getting from point A to point B takes really would suck the life out of you if you didn't enjoy it. I was lucky enough that I did (lots of time for audiobooks, music, writing in my head, etc) but the degree to which life is hard when you don't have transit is tough to imagine until you've lived it.

*I remember a day that was -47C with the windchill and I walked home in a blizzard at 8pm while the CEO of the company drove by me in his SUV. He lived two streets from me and after the fact said "in hindsight, I probably should've picked you up..." and chuckled. What an ass he was. Don't remind me how little I matter to you if I haven't noticed it on my own.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


"It’s about twenty-one miles to drive from the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station to the Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland hills, a pretty straight shot on eight-lane Interstate 580 that should take, according to Google, twenty-three minutes.

To walk that route is slightly more of a challenge: thirty-one miles, fourteen hours, two days, pastures, hilltops, valleys, suburbs. I'd say it's definitely worth doing. Once."

America is the land of 'everything is wrong'.

I've had some good donuts. And bourbon.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:53 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I spent a summer in LA without a car or a driver's license. I lived in Venice and walked or biked to dance lessons and the market in Santa Monica; the people in my German class flat-out refused to believe I liked walking and would often trail me for a bit in case I changed my mind. There was no way I could have safely biked or walked to the museum I interned at, which required two or three buses which were rarely on time. While I enjoyed astounding people with my feats of derring-do such as "Biking six miles!" and "Wearing sleeves in the heat of an 80 degree day!" I suspect it would have been much harder if I weren't a very fast walker used to the dangers of a city, and used to hauling groceries. The sidewalks were rubbish in a lot of places and I almost got doored several times by cars.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:53 AM on July 30, 2012


I walk to work which is less than a mile and have people try to run me down in crosswalks pretty regularly. Drivers usually seem grossly offended that I'm trying to walk across the street in a cross walk. Never mind the signs that says "PA State Law: Pedestrians have the right-away in crosswalks".
posted by octothorpe at 10:54 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the line "a place where cars are the rule", and wondered to myself how this would compare to that year I was living in St. Petersburg. Click the link -- boom. Tampa.

I wasn't walking, but on a bike. I thought that was difficult and dangerous enough as it was. Walking there? Deliberately? Unnecessarily? Ye gods...
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:54 AM on July 30, 2012


the people in my German class flat-out refused to believe I liked walking and would often trail me for a bit in case I changed my mind.

When i lived in austria I was flat-out accused of lying when i said there was no public transport in my hometown.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:55 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


...a very old town, with little streets, sidewalks, and intimate little downtown areas that are never far from neighborhoods.

Oh, yeah, I am certain those sort of towns exist. However, I think the places closer to Valencia (strip malls and illogically-placed cul-de-sacs) outnumber them. Of course, I have nothing with which to back that up, nor even an idea as to how to find out.
posted by griphus at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2012


(FUN TIDBIT: Valencia is the town in which they shot Weeds, including the overhead shot from the opening.)
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


In June 1862 — 150 years ago last month — Atlantic Monthly published one of Thoreau's most famous essays, "Walking," in which he preached the virtues of communing with Nature on foot. His goal was sauntering, a word derived from the wanderers who roamed in the Middle Ages, living off charity under the pretense of going a la sainte terre, to the Holy Land.
This isn't true! But still a nice enough read.

I would have liked more, especially as somebody for whom walking (and biking) is the norm. There's likely so much I take for granted or normal that it would be good to know that it is surprising to a car driver. Like, half a mile to walk is just so...nothing that it's hard to believe he would never walk it, ever.
posted by Jehan at 11:00 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

Well, that's going to make me feel a lot more comfortable on my daily forty minute walk along a busy parkway to work.
posted by Redfield at 11:00 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
6. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
7. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
8. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
9. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX


Woo! We're number ten! We're number ten! We're number ten!!!
posted by item at 11:01 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Top ten most dangerous metro areas of USA with pop. over 1 million ranked by Pedestrian Danger Index.

I'm so glad you posted this. I slammed my truck into a stretch limo eight months ago and I never bothered to get a replacement. I catch rides sometimes, but mostly I walk. I walked seven miles the other week just to get a root beer. (Although powdered milk is pretty much my new reality.) My calves look AMAZING. But people look at me like I'm from the moon.

I'm primarily selecting my next place to live based on walkability, and conversely, doing my best not to end up splattered on some fenced-in boulevard. There are so many places I'd like to live, but I'm crossing a lot of them out because they simply couldn't work on foot. The triangle differences between home and groceries and social centers and work is too, too great.
posted by mochapickle at 11:02 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't drive so whenever I leave NY I tend to try to walk everywhere. Hilights include:

Walking several miles through vacant lots populated exclusively by feral dogs to get to a bar in Las Vegas, but time I got there I couldn't decide whether I wanted to just turn around or never leave. I decided to drink all the goldschlager they had.

Walking several miles to a consulting gig, wearing a suit, in a shithole town in upstate New York. Why the hell didn't you people tell me that when you siad you were 2 blocks from the train station that each block is 2 fucking miles.

Walking miles down MoPac to the 7-11 ,and back, to buy cigarettes every day. Should have just bought cartons. I suppose if the hours every day spent choking down exhaust by the side of the highway in 100 degree heat didn't force me to quit nothing will.

Walking to the gas station every day in Normal Il to buy cigarettes and a "cappuccino" I walked roughly infinite percent more than anyone I knew there and still gained weight.

Walking from 168th street to the beer garden in queens. I don't know why I did that.

Walking from the town of Mystic connecticut to a restaurant called "The Steak Loft", I convinced my girlfriend at the time to do this with me, it took 6 hours round trip.

Walking from City Island to 125th street, this was my girlfriend at the time's revenge for The Steak Loft, the last laugh was on her, she got poison sumac walking through the somac forests by the side of the highway.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:03 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm really surprised that the Philly metro area isn't included in that top ten list. Is Camden not considered part of the greater Philly area? And even if it isn't, damn, there's some scary shit there.*

*note: I am a native Philadelphian
posted by item at 11:05 AM on July 30, 2012


Winnemac: Florida is no place to be.

FTFY.
posted by mfu at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Walking several miles to a consulting gig, wearing a suit, in a shithole town in upstate New York. Why the hell didn't you people tell me that when you siad you were 2 blocks from the train station that each block is 2 fucking miles.

Heh.

I live in a little town upstate. The funny thing is that it's not particularly walkable not for the reasons, say, my hometown in NJ was (suburban sprawl) but because we're still essentially out in the middle of the country. You have to cross a bridge over the Hudson to get to the nearest big box store. There are little downtown areas here or there, but most homes are surrounded by farmland on long, spiraling roads without sidewalks. We live just a half mile or so past the end of the downtowny local sidewalks in our town, but don't walk out to use them because the street we live on is fairly dangerous--banked on either side by bodies of water or dense woods with "NO TRESPASSING" signs.

I miss being able to walk to the library or the grocery store, which I could do in suburban NJ and also in Florida where I lived there even though people thought I was crazy because OMG hot (Floridians are wimps about heat). I could, just barely, walk to the grocery store when we lived in Arlington, VA, but that was only thanks to a single narrow sidewalk on the side of a terrifying highway. However, our general quality of life here is much better. We have space to garden. We support the local CSA. We're generally homebodies and just . . . really happy here away from the crazy of the city. I pretty much figure that the solution, when we're finally ready to buy a house, is to buy one with acreage so that we can walk on our own property or nestled on a side street in the mountains or some such. But "walking to the grocery store" is pretty much out unless we want to give up on other country livin' perks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:11 AM on July 30, 2012


Has anyone here been to the site of Thoreau's cabin? There's a constant roar from the three-lane divided highway a few hundred feet further, and it's a stone's throw from a massive landfill dumped in a pond that was originally like Walden.
It was ever thus - there was an active railroad track there even in Thoreau's time.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:13 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Walking from the town of Mystic connecticut to a restaurant called "The Steak Loft", I convinced my girlfriend at the time to do this with me, it took 6 hours round trip.

Oh, that reminds me of how, when we lived in Arlington, VA, on a very hot day we decided to walk a mile into Georgetown for ice cream. I pretty much felt like I was dying. Nice sidewalks, but a chronic lack of shade trees will really do you in in Virginia in August. After we got back, I tucked myself into a cold bath and my husband, laughing, said, "I knew that was a bad idea but I didn't want to tell you because you love walking so much."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:13 AM on July 30, 2012


I really don't walk that much. Somewhere between 20-40 minutes a day. On hot days, I walk less. I've had to cut down on lunchtime walks since I got hit with BPPV (benign and annoying vertigo). I live in Brooklyn and have to walk to the subway each morning and from the stop to work. Despite this, whenever almost anyone visits, I tend to walk the legs off of them.

I can walk for an hour or two before feeling discomfort, which I think should be the norm for people without health issues/disabilities/etc. But maybe I am generalizing from a rather unique place.

And even in NYC, a very walkable place, you can still be hit by a car. At least he braked at the last minute.

I gave my car the my parents when I moved here. I kind of wonder if I move out how well I'll adapt to having a car. My sense of time has changed drastically since getting rid of it.
posted by Hactar at 11:14 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


As I mentioned once before on the blue, I moved two years ago from a very pedestrian-friendly, high-density city to a nightmare of car-focused* suburban sprawl. It was not a secret that the new place would take some adjustment after living in the old for five years.

With a half-hour to spare and Google Maps and Google Earth at my bidding, I compiled a rough list of old and new. Assuming the arbitrary 850 metres -- the distance to my bank in the old city and the nearest anything in the new -- is "a few minutes' walk," here are the lists:

Within a few minutes' walk of the old place:

36 restaurants, twelve pubs or bars, eleven transit routes, six churches, six coffee or tea shops, six fast food places, five hotels or bed and breakfasts, three camera shops (two new, one used), three beauty salons, three bookstores (one used), three musical instrument shops (two for guitars, one for drums), two art galleries, two art supply stores, two car rental agencies, two car washes (one doubles as a dog wash), two gymnasiums, two city parks, two liquour stores, two gas stations, two internet cafés, two drugstores, two furniture stores, two tailors, two video rental places, two veterinarians, two full grocery stores and two ethnic specialty grocery stores, a bakery, a comic books store, a dentist, an electronics parts store, a sex toy shop, a pet shop, a pawnshop, an art school, a yoga studio, a pool hall, a used CD/DVD store, a computer repair place, a martial arts studio, the city's bus terminal, a swimming pool, an indeterminate number of doctors (two medical buildings with about five or six floors each of medical offices: call it fifty various specialists), about three auto repair places (one auto glass, two auto body places), a beer store, a locksmith, a place that sells security cameras, maybe a dozen vague "business consultant experts" which do I know not what, twelve or fifteen various embassies and high commissions, and a bowling alley.

Within a few minutes' walk of the new place:

A bus route** and a grocery store.



*My spell check suggests 'car-unfocused' which might be a better descriptor.

**Which runs every thirty minutes at peak times.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


but most homes are surrounded by farmland on long, spiraling roads without sidewalks

This was like 2 miles through used car lots.

When I visited my grandparents in upstate New York as a kid I walked several miles to the store and back, after a while I just started cutting through forests and corn fields and old overgrown orchards. I got really lost once and found a farmer driving an old tractor I told him I was walking to the store and asked how to get there, the told me "you just keep walking" I'm not sure even he knew where the fuck we were.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:19 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had read about a short-lived trend of long hikes nearly 50 years ago, in 1963, probably the last of its kind. President John F. Kennedy had wondered aloud whether Marines of the day could carry out Theodore Roosevelt's order of 1908 to march 50 miles in three days.

"The big surprise was the reaction of the American people," reported Newsweek. "With one idle remark, Mr. Kennedy put more vigor into Americans than his Council on Physical Fitness had done in six and a half years of preachment. Citizens of all ages and conditions, mostly flabby, went after the 50-mile mark in one of the woolliest pursuits since men first chased wild geese."


It may have died out in the US, but the Kennedy March still goes on in The Netherlands.
posted by zamboni at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just as a counterpoint to railing on Long Island for being un-walkable (which it mostly is and, for many, many reasons, generally sucks), there are still a reasonable number of walkable villages, many of which are decidely blue- or at least grey-collar. I don't walk as much as I'd like to, but it's no hassle to walk to the supermarket, or the gym, or to okay-but-not-great bars and restaurants. There's even a train and some buses.

Some days it's great, some days I miss the city.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:22 AM on July 30, 2012


Kennedy March meetup?
posted by Ad hominem at 11:22 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can walk for an hour or two before feeling discomfort, which I think should be the norm for people without health issues/disabilities/etc. But maybe I am generalizing from a rather unique place.

I once dated a young woman who had just moved to NYC from a small college town (and was in perfectly fine health) and it took her a few weeks to get adjusted to your everyday wandering-around-the-city walking. I think there's just an adjustment period to doing something your body is perfectly capable of, but hasn't had much experience with. I experienced a similar thing when I visited Denmark and had to get around on a bike. It was hard at first because I hadn't ridden a bike in years, but after a few days, I was fine and biking the day away.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on July 30, 2012


Years ago I went on a work trip to Irving, Texas, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth. My hotel was across the street from the office I was visiting, so I figured I didn't need a car. My Texas host thought that was a little strange but she didn't elaborate. On day one I discovered that to get to the office I had to pick my through a muddy median strip in the middle of the four lanes of traffic. My host was surprised at my adventure; I guess she thought I'd be calling a taxi. The next day I rolled up my pants and packed a huge wad of toilet paper to clean my dress shoes. The day after that she insisted I let her give me a ride, even though I protested that the median had dried out by then.

We had some down time at the office and my coworkers invited me along for a run to the convenience store. We piled into a mini-van, pulled out of our lot, and then immediately pulled into the next lot 30 yards away.

The weird thing is that Irving has sidewalks. I manged to find them, a small network a block from my hotel along well-mowed green space. I went for walks after work, spotting hawks but nobody else on foot. I could take the sidewalks up to intersections where I could see strip malls, but there were no paths to take me to the stores.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, it took her a few days to get adjusted to it. Not weeks.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on July 30, 2012


I loathe our reliance on cars. Those things terrify me. I've known and seen far too many people who've been in so-called "accidents" to feel comfortable even walking around a parking lot. It doesn't help that people in this town are stupid, oblivious fucking assholes and that it's plastered with "parkways" with constant traffic, so using a crosswalk isn't a guarantee of your safety.

Everybody tells me to just ride a bicycle to work because it'll cut my travel time in half, but people in cars have more animosity towards bicyclists than they do pedestrians. I'll take the forty minute walk in 98 degree heat and aching feet/sides if it means I'm less likely to raise the ire of somebody in a 3 ton death machine going 45 miles per hour who cares more about not having to sit through a red light than the life of another human being.

I used to get a ride to work, but after two years of being terrified, I said, "Fuck it", and just started walking. There's this gas station (I think it's also a Circle K) that exits into the road we would drive on to work, and most times, I would tense up like crazy when we'd get to that point because of the absurd amount of times we've almost been in an accident because people don't like to pay attention before they pull out onto a busy fucking road.

I'll be so glad to finally be out of this town.

(I wish this were all just a stupid exaggeration).
posted by Redfield at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I am happy to have done this, but really, I do not understand how someone who was 50+, disabled, had kids or who was not voluntarily doing it would cope."

It's not awful with kids; kids like to walk and it helps tire them out. Strollers can carry bags. We can walk just about a mile to a bunch of different stores -- drugstore, hardware store with garden center, craft store, blockbuster (still!) -- and it's not really a problem unless it's really windy and cold, or really hot. We live about a block from two grade schools (Catholic and public); we live a third of a mile from the preschool my kids go to. The grade schools both have playgrounds we can play on after school or in the summer. During the school year we can go Wednesday to Wednesday without driving (we have a downtown activity on Wednesday that we have to drive to). The big thing is that it takes a long time when your walking buddy has stubby little legs. When he was 18 months old we'd walk out to the drug store (a mile and a half round trip) and it'd take us about an hour and a half with him chugging along about as fast as he could go.

What would make our walking life better would be:
1) More places to go. We have to walk to the edge of the neighborhood to the commercial strip, mostly. In the neighborhood is just houses (and the schools), and there's rarely anybody else out walking but dog people.

2) More shade. We walk until it's pretty freaking cold (if it's above 20 we won't even think twice; if it's in the teens I have to check the wind before committing), but this rottenly hot summer has really confined us to the house, because the heat is really hard on them and they take forever to cool them off. We only walk shady places in this heat because it's too harsh otherwise.

3) A grocery store. If I could walk over and pick up an ingredient I'd forgotten, that'd be awesome. I hear rumors they're putting one in on the commercial strip, so that'll be great if they do. I'll probably still prefer to drive to do our big grocery shopping, though, since I'd rather go once a week and get everything at once than walk several times.

4) Revision of the commercial strip to make it more pedestrian-friendly. It's a four-lane divided highway, and the lights are okay to cross with (even with my kids), but it's very busy and hot and shadeless, and then you have to trudge through parking lots to get to the stores.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


While at a conference in San Diego I stayed out late enough one night that the rail lines were shut down, and I didn't see a cab anywhere. So I walked back to my hotel. I was somewhere downtown (forgive me if the EXACT location doesn't come to mind, I can't remember what place we hit last?) and my hotel was about 5 miles away, just north of Old Town.

Great night for a walk, fog rolling in, cool and pleasant, until halfway back when I realized it was dark and foggy enough that I had only about 15' of visibility. And I had no idea what sort of part of town I was in. Could have been Mugger Central for all I knew. In the end, it was a nice walk. And I was really, really glad that I walk enough in my daily life that the idea of a 5 mile walk just to get back to my bed was something I wouldn't hesitate to do.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2012


Has anyone here been to the site of Thoreau's cabin? There's a constant roar from the three-lane divided highway a few hundred feet further...

You could go your whole life looking at pictures of the Giza Pyramids without realizing that, as with any other major tourist attraction, access to them is provided by a major highway.

Seeing that highway exit sign with "The Pyramids" on it is one of the more brutal travel disenchantments one can experience.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


On my first trip to Las Vegas, I thought I'd take a bus from my Downtown hotel to the north end of the Strip and then walk to the south end. In sandals.

There are some mistakes you only make once.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:41 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


After reading through the comments in this discussion I have to say I'm glad I live in New Orleans. The heat can certainly be a beast but at least I have two grocery stores and several bars and restaurants within easy walking distance. I ride my bicycle to work most days but I could walk it if I had to - at least, I could walk it any time but the summer ... so, the other six months of the year.
posted by komara at 11:44 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Vegas Strip is totally walkable, provided you stop for a frozen margarita every time one is available.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:45 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mistake one: being outdoors in Las Vegas.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

Oh, great -- I'm headed there next week. Guess I'll rent a car.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:49 AM on July 30, 2012


FUN TIDBIT: Valencia is the town in which they shot Weeds, including the overhead shot from the opening.

Close. The overhead shot is of Calabasas. I've heard that the main series was shot in Stevenson Ranch, near enough to (or part of) Valencia that you could safely refer to it as such.
posted by LionIndex at 12:01 PM on July 30, 2012


As soon as I saw the title, I thought - gotta be about Tampa. At least we're the best at something.

In the dark and distant ages before I had a driver's license and access to a car (which, no shit, really is necessary to do almost anything here), I biked. I had a nice heavy all-terrain sort of road-and-sand bike, which got me to the places I needed to go.

All of this was fine until I aged and my world widened and I suddenly found myself needing to leave my insulated little 1920s Spanish neighborhood.

The last day I rode a bicycle in Tampa, I was on my way to a friend's house. I'd biked there and back more times than I could count; her place was where I'd learned to ride a bike. (On bricks. Do not recommend.) As I got older, and became less "cute" and more "moving target" I'd had increasing experiences with Drivers Being Complete Assholes.

I probably should have waited for the light to turn at that intersection, but there were no cars in either direction for about three blocks, and it was only (only! hah) a four-lane road. I could cross it easily. And I had, three quarters of the way, when an enormous red pickup truck swung out from a sidestreet and bore down on me, determined to.. get past me or get me, I don't know which.

I was an obstacle. I was just a thing in the way. Not a person, anymore.

There's fight, there's flight, and then there's the weird moment that I had, seeing that enormous truck, its grille at a level with my head, accelerating towards me. I stopped. And waited. You want to get me? Fine. Get me. I'm tired of dodging.

The truck ground to a halt and the driver leaned on the horn. I flipped them the finger, continued on my way, and when I got home I mothballed my the bicycle in the garage and never used it again.

It's not fucking worth it, even though I really miss riding a bike.
posted by cmyk at 12:01 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live at the dead end of a dirt road, and if I want to check the mail during the day, I have to hike it up to the mail box by the main road. Not a bad walk, except for the mosquitoes and those little orange-winged horseflies, and the gnats.

Walking into town is a different matter, as the "main road" is a two-lane country road with no sidewalks. The worst offenders are the pick-up truck drivers and yes, the SUV drivers. So it's jump into the ditch and risk getting covered in ticks or pray that they are not distracted and go around you. Every time I try, I think of Stephen King getting bowled over by a guy in a van.

We traded in two cars to get one with all wheel drive, as the dirt road is covered in about 6 inches of sheer ice in the winter. I cringe every time I see the neighbor's kid walking up to the bus stop in the winter. Then my husband got a job that keeps him until 6:00 p.m. and now I'm wishing for my bike back. Got rid of it due to never riding it.

I suppose it's better than the Chicago suburbs. I've tried walking there, I mean places near the malls, and it's pretty impossible. Then I got treated to a rant by some hipster in the city on how we were all selfish lazy ignorant jerks for using cars to buy our groceries. No bodega's in the 'burbs, sorry! And about 3 bus changes if you want to get somewhere, as someone said, try doing that with a load of groceries and the dudes at the bus stops who ask you where you got your scarf and then lunge at you maniacally, saying, "give it to me! I want it!"

Fun times. I guess I'll stay home until Fall and the bugs are gone.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:02 PM on July 30, 2012


Mistake one: being outdoors in Las Vegas.

What? Vegas has an outside?
posted by mygoditsbob at 12:06 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but it got terrible reviews so they will prolly close it next year.
posted by elizardbits at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


What? Vegas has an outside?

Everything in the world worth visiting is outside Las Vegas.
posted by The World Famous at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


This article reminded me of an Orlando conference experience a few years back. I picked a hotel about 3/4ths of a mile from the conference center. When I asked the front desk staff for walking directions they reacted with surprise and horror.
The walk was hideous.
posted by doctornemo at 12:18 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I once dated a young woman who had just moved to NYC from a small college town (and was in perfectly fine health) and it took her a few weeks to get adjusted to your everyday wandering-around-the-city walking. I think there's just an adjustment period to doing something your body is perfectly capable of, but hasn't had much experience with. I experienced a similar thing when I visited Denmark and had to get around on a bike. It was hard at first because I hadn't ridden a bike in years, but after a few days, I was fine and biking the day away.

Yeah, that was me when I moved from the burbs to a college town and then again when I moved to Europe. Extreme foot pain, fatigue, general weariness and soreness from adjusting to a higher daily activity level.

I can't imagine living in the kind of suburbs I grew up in, the kind that didn't even have sidewalks. Not having a driver's license even, whenever I visit places like that I feel so crippled, like I'm 10 years old and have to beg for people to take me anywhere. It's really pathetic. Once I no longer have family is such areas, I plan on making it a policy that I'm not going to visit anywhere that has a complete dependence on cars.

I was thinking of getting my license, enrolling in a class offered for "rehabilitative driving," IE people who have suffered strokes, have coordination deficits like mine, are recovering from neurological injuries...but then I started to think that in a place like Europe they probably would not offer a class like this. That is dysfunctional to have people like me driving and the fact this class exists is testament to the situation in most of American where you either drive or live as a defacto shut-in.
posted by melissam at 12:29 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our newspaper talks about a war on cars; the bicycling & transit advocates are starting to make a difference. Of course, it's the cars that have been warring on everything else for 50+ years. It's hard to make people see that when they've never experienced a truly walkable city. On when they think that it's impossible to create one from the middle of suburban sprawl. It can be done, though. Road diets, form-based zoning, mixed use developments, and a very vocal community pushing these changes through the political system. If it's a war, then the cars occupied us a long time ago, and like the French we have survived and will, soon enough, push them back onto the highways and inter-urban transportation realm where they actually serve a beneficial purpose.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:32 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Great night for a walk, fog rolling in, cool and pleasant, until halfway back when I realized it was dark and foggy enough that I had only about 15' of visibility. And I had no idea what sort of part of town I was in. Could have been Mugger Central for all I knew. In the end, it was a nice walk. And I was really, really glad that I walk enough in my daily life that the idea of a 5 mile walk just to get back to my bed was something I wouldn't hesitate to do.

I used to live in that area and I walked what was probably the same route you did to get down to the Casbah for shows, or sometimes just for exercise, always at night. If you're on the east side of the freeway, it's a bit better, but I've never had the slightest problem around there. The only part that seems sketchy to an out-of-towner is the stretch between Laurel and Washington, where there's a lot of airport parking and not much else (if you're on Kettner), so it can be really desolate and empty, but nobody's going to be lying in wait for people to pass by there. I'd be more worried walking around downtown on streets numbered higher than 10.
posted by LionIndex at 12:32 PM on July 30, 2012


TF;DW
Too Far; Didnt Walk
posted by Debaser626 at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to men.
posted by desjardins at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love walking, and I've done some crazy late night walks across strange cities, thankfully with no problems. Where I live now isn't a perfect place, but it's one of the most walkable places I've ever lived. Having driving be an option makes me a lot happier overall -- I walk when I want to walk, drive when it's cold and rainy, and bicycle once in a while when I'm feeling up to the challenge of dealing with clueless drivers.

most homes are surrounded by farmland on long, spiraling roads without sidewalks

Those roads are the scariest to walk along, and far worse in the winter when the piles of snow take up the shoulders so there's nowhere to go when a car comes.
posted by Forktine at 1:13 PM on July 30, 2012


I have somehow become notorious in the upstate NY village where I live because I walk everywhere. Not that the distances are vast (probably 3-4 miles/day on multiple trips), but random strangers stop me out of nowhere in the grocery store and say, "Wow! I see you walking every day! How do you do it?" (I have yet to reply, "By moving my feet.") And yet, this is a very walkable college town.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article reminded me of an Orlando conference experience a few years back.

Color me Denver. It seems like they have a decent center downtown but I was at the non-decent one, I suppose. I asked the hotel where I could walk for dinner and was met with blank stares.

I walk about a mile + public transit to work every day. What really kills me the fucking most since I moved to the East SF Bay a few years ago is that I cannot walk home from San Francisco! (It KILLS me, though I have learned to love AC Transit)

A friend of mine who lived at 48th/Irving or so used to always drink with me downtown, spend all of his money, and end up walking the 6+ miles home dead drunk. That's one of the great privileges of life (as mentioned, unfortunately mostly reserved for white men.)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:37 PM on July 30, 2012


I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to Caucasian-looking men.

FTFY.

I recall a conversation when I was about nine years old about my ability to ride a bus with an older sibling (but otherwise unaccompanied) some place, to a location which currently escapes me, but which included a transfer or stop "downtown". Request denied for various reasons, mostly associated to age and gender.

We were by then technically a suburb but we'd more recently been a small town merely engulfed by time and car culture. Walking, biking, or being driven was our usual mode of transport - a couple miles to a store or library, driven to school or other location. Though we didn't take that bus ride, when I came of the age to run away from home, I did take the bus.

Had the same exp above about honking, targeting drivers when biking or walking, though my most injurious trip was the time I face planted across the commuter train tracks (heavy rail system, no third rail to worry over) hurriedly jay walking. My USB port has been wonky ever since (that is not a euphemism).

I've done relatively extensive foot travel in four of the top six locales on the list; mostly vacationing, partly walking to bus or rail lines on a daily basis. Anything in Florida is going to be hot, though the transit system in Orlando (and the Monorail in Vegas) are rather well done. Stop for every available margarita if it's summer. :)

I'm only beginning to get back into walking as a reasonable mode of transport again. Recently planned a trip to Tampa area with a combo of foot travel and pub trans in mind. We probably could have even done Busch Gardens if we'd put a little back into it. But I overestimated the distances and underestimated everyone's stamina. Maybe if we work up to it, I'll be up to a (winter) six mile walk to the grocery store and back, and do downtown Tampa with fewer HART passes ...
posted by tilde at 1:39 PM on July 30, 2012


Seeing that highway exit sign with "The Pyramids" on it is one of the more brutal travel disenchantments one can experience.

It makes sense to me. It's right on the edge of a huge city. At least it's not completely surrounded by development. (There's open desert to the south).

Getting around in Cairo completely sucks. You risk your life as a pedestrian, and it takes like 2 hours to cross the city in a car. Lack of highways would make it that much worse.

It looks like the metro will reach the pyramids (or at least the end of El Haram street) soon, so at least there will be another option in the future.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:47 PM on July 30, 2012


biking. I have to say, getting groceries was the biggest pain. Try carrying a gallon of orange juice and everything else you can fit in your backpack for miles to get home.
My sympathies. But grocery shopping is a joy with kittylitter-bucket panniers, or the expensive-but-oh-so-smooth Burley Travoy.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:15 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just finishing up five weeks in Los Angeles (Hollywood) without a car. I only stepped on the bus twice and a bike once. Furthest walk was about 15 miles (to Glendale and back) but many days I did six to nine. It's my fifth trip to LA and none of the others involved cars either (with the exception of TAXI to/from airport).

I regularly walk five miles a day in Toronto and probably a dozen or so times per year I walk to work (11 km) "uphill". I walk home more often as it's much easier and I don't have a particularly time that I have to arrive by.

You really notice differences between cities when you walk. The lack of sidewalks and proper lighting in much of Los Angeles stunned me the first time I came here. Many sidewalks are in shit condition as well. The crosswalks here are positively bizarre.

I approached one of the sidewalks that consisted of more than just lines on the road--it had a pole with a button on it to push. I see these everywhere in Toronto of course, and know how they work. I push the button and blinking/flashing lights suspended above the road illuminate to tell drivers I'm crossing. In this case, I looked up. There were no lights. Curious, I pushed the button. A small voice spoke from the box: "Someone is crossing the road." I'm not kidding. I could barely hear it over the traffic.

By no means does tis city accommodate pedestrians. They're mostly seen as a nuisance. Multiple times people told me walks I proposed were "Impossible!" when they were not even that far. The other day I walked to a popular mall, the Grove, and back, all in the time it took to listen to a single WTF Podcast, yet the idea of walking there is ludicrous to my neighbours.

Mostly I find it amusing. Not sure what I'd think of it as a permanent resident.
posted by dobbs at 2:15 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a guy (the brother of a close friend) who bikes to work and back everyday. 18 miles each way. He runs errands in town on his lunch break, walking. We live north of 45, and get pretty extreme weather here, so he takes a couple months off in the dead of winter and rides the bus. He bought his house, after looking a long while, essentially because he wanted something rural that was also on a bus line. He makes very good money, six figures or very close, which is like making $250K in Chicago. But he maintains that not driving to work is what enabled him to pay off his house before he turned 40, because not only does he walk or bike everywhere, he just doesn't own a car at all. He always tots up what it saves him: payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, gym membership, and, to some unknown extent, health costs.

But he has no kids, which I think would make his lifestyle a lot less possible. He orders everything but haircuts from Amazon. He has an insulated cool bag with freezer packs that he can freeze at work to keep milk, etc. cold when he picks them up on his way home, and he has an arrangement with a friend who works at our grocery co-op who brings him stuff, and he has a CSA membership that is delivered to his door.

What I wonder about is the odd day off when he's bored. He's facing an 18 mile bike ride to get to a coffee shop or a bar. That said, I do see him out, just walking, from time to time, so I guess he just has the personality that is occupied by a good walk or bike ride.
posted by Athene at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're all living in Thoreau's Nightmare! (One which sounds strangely like Kafka's world. And now there is a new punchline to an old joke. "You can't get there from here...unless you have a car lke everyone else!" All these stories are a really pathetic commentary about how we live in America. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to walk from Here to There and I've just stood there, stunned in the parking lot heat, realizing none of the planners had even thought that anyone would actually wanted to WALK instead of drive. About fifty years ago, Mad magazine ran an article picturing the way we would look like in the future. Those useless appendages that dangle from our pelvis had atrophied to spaghetti-looking things. Hey, somebody post something cheerful on the Blue while I walk seven steps over to my fridge for a beer, willya? I'm waiting for the garage to call me with some bad news...)
posted by kozad at 2:37 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Walking from the town of Mystic connecticut to a restaurant called "The Steak Loft", I convinced my girlfriend at the time to do this with me, it took 6 hours round trip.

Oh wow, I've had my own Mystic adventure. It was our town-of-last-resort Memorial Day vacation, and we drove all the way from DC to stay at a "waterfront" resort (it was across the street from a retaining pond). I don't remember but we were probably also looking for The Steak Loft (we never got there, we went back to the hotel for South Park and pizza delivery, and fortunately didn't get divorced).
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2012


1. Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
6. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
7. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
8. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
9. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX


Sure, if you take the entire metro area into account, that's true. We have a lot of suburban wasteland here. But I live in downtown Phoenix, and walk almost everywhere (and try to take the light rail where I can't, or when I'm in a hurry). It's true that this isn't exactly the norm, but it's very doable. I know several people who don't own cars, and get around exclusively by walking, biking, and taking public transportation. I do own a car, but I typically spend about $20 or less on gas every month unless I go on a road trip.

I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to men.

This is also highly variable by location, even in walkable areas. When I lived in Philadelphia, I learned very quickly which areas of town to avoid even during the day, and which were safe routes home. I'm currently looking for a new place to live here in Phoenix, and one of my criteria is that it has to pass the "would I feel comfortable walking home alone at 3 am?" test. My current apartment does, with no problem, and I never hesitate to walk around downtown by myself late at night. In three years, I've never had a scary or even annoying encounter--although there are certainly areas I'd avoid, just like in Philly. And last I checked, I'm not male.
posted by Superplin at 3:19 PM on July 30, 2012


I had never read the Dickens essay he mentions in the article, Nightwalks.

I pretty much faded out of my degree in my second year at Uni due to the same compulsion for night-walking, come midnight every night, on boots, on heavy coat, tramp tramp tramp tramp.

It's a fascinating experience, alienating, liberating, profound and pointless.
posted by Catch at 3:30 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My number one goal in finding places to live and work is that I can walk to work.

Highly recommend Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking, it's a fantastic book. Solnit has the most wonderful sense of curiousity.
posted by oulipian at 4:01 PM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


My number one goal in finding places to live and work is that I can walk to work.


Then you'd be interested in walkscore.com.
posted by fredludd at 4:51 PM on July 30, 2012


Oh wow, I've had my own Mystic adventure. It was our town-of-last-resort Memorial Day vacation, and we drove all the way from DC to stay at a "waterfront" resort (it was across the street from a retaining pond). I don't remember but we were probably also looking for The Steak Loft (we never got there, we went back to the hotel for South Park and pizza delivery, and fortunately didn't get divorced).

We went because neither of us could drive and a train goes there from Penn Station. We stayed on a converted sailboat, had some pretty good lobsters and oysters Rockefeller at a restaurant that was not The Steak Loft, The Steak Loft was prett mediocre. You could still buy ephedrine in Connecticut at that time so I had a great time.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:03 PM on July 30, 2012


Seeing that highway exit sign with "The Pyramids" on it is one of the more brutal travel disenchantments one can experience.


I should warn you that there are several wonderful castles in Austria and Germany that have autobahns pass right by them. There's an off ramp in Koblenz that goes by the castle, and I swear one of the columns is in the moat.
posted by ocschwar at 5:09 PM on July 30, 2012


Espanola, NM. 1998 Renting a house while working in Los Alamos. The commute is 90 minutes by car. En route back one day, my coworker and roommate and I notice two Pueblo Indians walking by the side of the road through the Santa Clara Reservation. They have their heads held high, calmly walking by the side of the road with the infrequent traffic zooming by at 50 MPH. I take a mental note: strike the right pose, project the right air if you're walking where it's not expected.

Back in Espanola, the nearest place to walk to is a Sonic Burger. It's comprised of two rows of diagonal parkin spots with old intercoms, one at each spot. You're supposed to drive to a spot, and speak your order, then idle until a teenager saunters buy with a paper bag containing your greasy food. I walk there. Stand in the spot. Make my order. The teens in the kitchen are laughing, but the one who delivers my food makes the effort to pretend I am not doing anything at all unusual. I've had an indulgent attitude towards teenagers ever since.

I keep on walking. It's Espanola. Walking is what old men do, so drivers take care to slow down as they come by me. It's nice. Every other block is an old man, and if he speaks English he tries to strike a conversation with me. They have interesting stories.

2001. I'm living in Los Alamos. I walk everywhere. DIstances are long, but walkers are everywhere.

2012. Mrs. Ocschwar and I are in a wedding in Chennai. It's a different world. The sidewalks are 2 feel high. They're not really there to protect you from traffic. They're there so you're somewhere dry and clean in the monsoons. It's the dry season. All the local people are walking in the roadway. We're hopping up and down from one sidewalk to the next. Not far from the hotel is a park, and it is ringed with a paved walkway. Locals are slowly moseying in circles on it. If you want to walk for exercise in this town, that's where you do it.
posted by ocschwar at 5:42 PM on July 30, 2012


I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to men.

I walk at night all the time (and am of the female persuasion). I don't think I would ever chose to live anywhere that I couldn't. I would feel so trapped.
posted by kjs4 at 6:24 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Our newspaper talks about a war on cars; the bicycling & transit advocates are starting to make a difference. Of course, it's the cars that have been warring on everything else for 50+ years. It's hard to make people see that when they've never experienced a truly walkable city.

when you talk of war, you're not joking. it took decades and a large propaganda effort to enshrine automobiles (which killed lots of us from the very start) in the streets. train lines were bought out and buried. people were appalled by how many automobile deaths there were. there were protests, mass movements.

crushed by the movement of industry toward the automobile.

The streets were once for people. We should take them back.
posted by eustatic at 8:02 PM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I am happy to have done this, but really, I do not understand how someone who was 50+, disabled, had kids or who was not voluntarily doing it would cope."

Many people cannot afford to own a car. Many people have never learned how to drive, maybe because their parents did not own a car. I've always been both.

We're the kind of people who just don't look for housing outside of the city limits. We don't look for jobs in towns or cities with no public transit - unless they are so small that you really can walk everywhere and old enough that they were designed to be dense - I've gotten by in a New England city founded in 1639 without transit other than my legs, same with living by bike in a European town.

When people say, "poor people or people on welfare should move out of the expensive city to somewhere cheaper," we know that they are crazy and have no idea of what it's like to be poor and carless. The world ends where the transit does.
posted by jb at 10:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to men.

Toronto's a fine place for women to walk alone at night. Okay, maybe I shouldn't have been walking alone in High Park at 1am, but no one bothered me - it's just that I dropped my wallet somewhere in the woods and didn't notice until I went to get on the bus and (of course) I was alone so I couldn't borrow a token from anyone ...

I actually can't think of anywhere in Toronto where it would not be safe to walk alone at night - even York campus (isolated, known stranger attacks) is fine most of the time. On Queen near Jarvis you might be propositioned by johns, in Jane & Finch or Rexdale or Scarborough, you'll be left alone as long as you don't get involved in the local gang politics (or sadly caught in crossfire - more likely in the day).
You still need to be alert - but men are more likely to be mugged than women to be sexually assaulted.
posted by jb at 10:15 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would do everything by either walking or biking. I have to say, getting groceries was the biggest pain.

That is why granny carts were invented. We live on a third floor walk up, so we want to get a stair-climbing granny cart.
posted by jb at 10:28 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was ever thus - there was an active railroad track there even in Thoreau's time.

That's not the same thing at all. In Thoreau's two years at Walden (1840s), a train ran nearby, but I don't think there were trains roaring by around the clock. Anyone got a train schedule for that line at that time?
posted by pracowity at 4:58 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


'President John F. Kennedy had wondered aloud whether Marines of the day could carry out Theodore Roosevelt's order of 1908 to march 50 miles in three days.'

After walking Broadway in Manhattan (about 13.5 miles) in a day, and realizing it could be done in 4-6 hours, even with pedestrian traffic, I'm pretty confident I (an out of shape overweight American civilian) could do 50 miles of pavement in 3 days. Not sure about wilderness, though that sounds more fun to me. I did once go camping and calculated I hiked/climbed/bouldered about 12 mi. before lunch.

The secret is to not let yourself stop. And comfortable shoes. And plenty of water. But mainly telling yourself you can do it, that you have to do it.

(Appalachian Trail? Someday, maybe.)
posted by Eideteker at 7:59 AM on July 31, 2012


"I think walking alone after dark is usually a luxury afforded only to Caucasian-looking men."

Eh, dunno. I live in a majority-hispanic neighborhood in NYC and I've never had a problem. My theory is that I look big enough not to fuck with, but not so big as to be a target for anyone wanting to prove how tough they are. Although maybe the secret is, as in my previous comment, not to stop. Turns out 240 lbs. + ~40lbs. of backpack at my walking speed is plenty of momentum to knock even a fairly burly construction worker (off-duty; I don't make it my business to go onto work sites and hassle folks) off his balance with little disturbance to my stride if he insists on putting himself in my way (stand RIGHT on a staircase; are you new to this planet?). Though that was daytime.

(In that case, the secret was probably also that while you are walking towards me, I am walking through you. Just like how when you throw a punch, you don't throw a punch at someone's face, you throw it through their face. See also: running past first base.)
posted by Eideteker at 8:09 AM on July 31, 2012


OK, Eldeteker. You will purposefully knock a person down, and you will kick some random person's suitcase into the street because he or she is taking up six feet of space. You are also familiar with punching people in the face. Is there some reason you do these things? Just curious.
posted by kozad at 8:52 AM on July 31, 2012


Male privilege is probably more significant than white privilege in the area of "who can walk around alone at night without being harassed."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:28 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am lucky to live in a small city full of trails, where maintaining those trails is an accepted priority. We have a lakewalk, and the Superior Hiking Trail traverses the city along the hilltops. My neighborhood is an old streetcar suburb (so built when people still walked, and where the buses still go the same routes the streetcar used to). Though the neighborhood grocery and hardware store--it's tiny town center--died several decades ago, my partner and I have made serious efforts to use walking for utility as priority number one, busing if walking's impossible, and then as a last resort using our one family car. It's a conscious decision, but it works pretty well, as we've been practicing it for several years now.

The cool thing is when we figured out that we could actually walk to all three grocery stores in our vicinity without ever having to walk along an unpleasant thoroughfare, though the largest and cheapest is an afternoon's trek. The closest (and most expensive) is a nice neighborhood jaunt. We learned that route first. Then we figured out how to get to the Piggly Wiggly on the hill, by going the back way, which is a fairly lovely trip, mostly through the woods. Then we found trails that only neighborhood kids probably use, along with a partial traverse through a forest preserve to the SuperOne, some of it on partially abandoned roads from days of yore.

I think there is an advantage to living in a place that shrank from its industrial heyday. Jobs are scarcer, for sure. But woodsy trails make walking so much better, and more pleasant. The problem is that it's not easy to find out that they exist--you can only find them by walking and using your intuition--the trails are there if you can find them. I think it would be so awesome if there was a GoogleMaps overlay of semi-public walking trails and how they hook up to streets or neighborhoods or other trails.

Since so few people walk, when I'm walking on a trail that isn't "officially maintained" like in a park or something, I do wonder how they've managed to survive. Kids? Other invisible people like me?

Sometimes I think we owe the deer a debt. Maybe it's only they that keep some trails from growing over.
posted by RedEmma at 10:01 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


stand RIGHT on a staircase

I guess people doing this might be there for... some time.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:49 AM on July 31, 2012


"OK, Eldeteker. You will purposefully knock a person down, and you will kick some random person's suitcase into the street because he or she is taking up six feet of space. You are also familiar with punching people in the face. Is there some reason you do these things? Just curious."

"If you see me comin', better step aside.
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died."
posted by Eideteker at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2012


Eideteker once punched a man on Broadway, just to watch him cry.

sing along
posted by Catch at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2012


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