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Photo courtesy of CityLab

Why more cities need to be built for walking

The first time I heard the hit single, “Walking in LA,” by eighties staple Missing Persons, I was already living in Los Angeles. After weathering almost a decade of slammed doors in my face, my bothersome status as a thirty-something writer stuck in the thankless world of retail, inspired some serious soul-searching that led to the intense desire for radical change.

They say it’s harder to seamlessly adjust to another city after spending ample time in The Big Apple because of the specifications that allow for the immediate embrace of a well-situated landscape that features the currency of independence for visitors and residents based on the superiority of its transit system.

When the city of New York became my adopted home, it was hard not to venture out with the quest of personalizing neighborhoods and monuments that were easy to reach with the simple swipe of a MetroCard.

There’s nothing more empowering than the freedom to roam around new surroundings with the authority of a long-time inhabitant without the headache of rental cars or Uber drivers.

Living in the city wasn’t cheap, but it never occurred to me just how much money I was saving until I relocated to another part of the country where driving is mandatory.

The only other time I resided in a town that wasn’t outfitted for the needs of non-drivers was while attending college in Kansas City. But luckily, I was in the company of friends who owned cars that they gladly allowed me the pleasure of maximizing as a grateful passenger.

It also helped that we rented a sprawling house that was conveniently close to campus, which meant a lot of trekking during the warmer months.

After graduation, the swift move to the east coast was a big decision that frazzled family members and friends, but when you’re young and hungry, there’s no better place to indulge than the sidewalks of the concrete jungle.

Walking has always been my preferred mode of transport, and while the health benefits are an added bonus, the biggest reward that comes with living in a vibrant Metropolis that caters to the welfare of pedestrians has to be the missing expenses that are typically assigned to motorists.

As a struggling writer who had to make ends meet with unsteady gigs as a miserable telemarketer before making the inevitable transition to selling preppy-themed garments, my sole purpose in life was keeping a roof over my head. I was certainly not financially secure enough to accommodate the additional responsibilities that come with maintaining a vehicle.

And ironically, years later, I’m still not capable of expanding my bank account for the necessity of monthly car payments and insurance.

But back when moving to LA seemed like a swell idea, I was forced to contemplate how a drastic change in lifestyle would impact my new existence.

The summer before my scheduled departure, I added driving lessons to my to-do-list and after a rigorous period of training by a judgy instructor who couldn’t get over the fact that I had waited until turning thirty to pursue getting my license, my self-confidence experienced a boost for the uncertain road ahead.

Old habits die hard, which explains why the weeks after my arrival were spent desperately trying to learn the mechanics of the LA Metro with strict adherence to allotting extra time for foreseen mishaps, including boarding the Metro Rapid that ends up bypassing your stop by miles.

And even after successfully reaching the recommended stop there was almost always a trickier path that had to be completed, since the bus stops don’t resemble the effortlessness of New York City, that mandates the drop off literally at the front door of the address.

After almost three months of avoiding my fate, I had no choice but to invest in my very first automobile. The process of searching for a car felt like the natural order of things based on the fact that I was in my early thirties, and quite eager to conform to the specified requirements of a city that was known for its uncanny obsession with cars.

The cobalt-blue 1986 Mustang belonged to a cute guy from Argentina who was selling it because of the urgent need to head back home to care for his sick mother.

Driving wasn’t an easy adjustment for someone who had spent all her life as the seasoned passenger who had no desire to revise that status. My stress level increased substantially with the regimen of pumping expensive gas into the car that barely passed the smog test, and then the parking issue became the torturous event that was nonstop.

I was thankfully able to avoid the legendary experience of being held hostage by LA’s infamous traffic woes because as a novice driver there was the real fright of getting on the freeway, and so I depended on drama-free streets that took a little longer, but was definitely worth the extra time.

After almost two years of trying to embrace the ambiance and spectacle of Hollywood’s hotspot, I made the decision to return to my first-love with the optimism that perhaps our time apart would mend my broken heart.

My full-time residency as a New Yorker officially ended a decade after I moved back from LA, and my next adventure took me to the Big Easy, where I stayed for almost six-months, and learned the hard lessons of how the images in your head don’t always translate into reality.

Getting around the city of New Orleans isn’t that hectic without a car if you rely on streetcars and buses, but things get harder when your destination takes you to neighboring towns like Metairie, where I had a potential job opportunity that wasn’t feasible because of the distance.

When I found myself back in LA, after failing to make it in NOLA, the first noticeable difference was the fact that the Metro was operating more efficiently with the extended option of the Metro rail system that came in handy for my work trips to ABC Studios in Burbank.

During my two year residency, I didn’t bother with the burden of an expense that I knew I couldn’t manage, and so it was all about the Metro. But I was able to recognize construction sites happening in key areas of LA, that seemed to be paving the way for the future as it pertains to the survivability of the environment, that can’t be sustained by poor air quality stemming from bumper-to-bumper commutes.

American cities need to start adopting the developing blueprint of Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Seattle, when it comes to strategizing progressive avenues that will encourage more dwellers to explore cheaper and less cumbersome alternatives, that will radically improve the standard of living for generations to come.

If you examine the top ten list of major cities in the U.S. that have been recognized for their walkability, you won’t be shocked to find the usual suspects that include, San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, with New York as the topper.

And since I have become a self-professed gypsy without a home to call my own, I’ve been forced to tolerate the setbacks of the various locations that all seem to have one thing in common in the form of woefully limited transportation prowess, and the dangerously narrow or absent sidewalks that make walking a potentially life-threatening endeavor.

When I lived in LA back in the mid-aughts, anyone who dared to walk more than a couple of blocks to the nearest convenient store was touted as a thrill seeker. And taking the bus was an activity that you kept a secret because of the ceremonious shaming that would ensue if you were discovered.

But that outdated mentality has been replaced with the climate of change that’s been spurned by the mission statement of wellness, and how it dictates all the reasons why driving cars everywhere, all the time, can’t be the standard default if we want to retain the privilege of breathable air.

My temporary abode is situated in an east coast town that’s about twenty minutes from the main city, and I’m reminded of why I miss New York City each time I attempt to maneuver my steps away from the passing vehicles, that can’t help being too close for comfort, due to the non-existent sidewalk that somehow escaped the imagination of the assigned curators.

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I can’t stay out of the street!

And even when I am able to leave the premises of the complex unscathed, crossing the street is another monster because of how very little pedestrians are valued in these parts. You not only have to be mindful of the fact that you’re practically standing in the street waiting for the light to change, but you also have to make a run for it when it’s your turn or risk the dreadful sight of incoming cars.

This isn’t much of an inconvenience when you’re young and fit, but it can be a bummer for the elderly or handicapped, who aren’t in the favored position of weathering the disadvantages of archaic systems that discourage the blissful freedom of moving around without obstacles blocking their independence.

As city planners begin the arduous task of transforming what used to be “single-use zoning” restrictions into the “multi-use” paradise that releases more land for the durability of a mixed landscape, that should be populated by a slew of establishments that are accessible to residential areas — the payback will be bustling neighborhoods and the functionality that’s borne from frequent engagement amongst neighbors.

As climate change becomes the global epidemic that can’t be ignored unless you’re the President Trump, who champions the “warmth” of global warming during winter, it’s essentially a mandatory undertaking for designated planners to draft the beginnings of what everyday living will look like when cyclists and pedestrians finally have the right of way.

I was my healthiest and happiest when walking was the primary mode of transportation, not to mention the amount of money that was saved from not having to maintain a car. And that’s another aspect of cities revamping their zones for the benefit of those who can’t afford the luxury of driving, which is rapidly becoming the norm, thanks to the hostile workforce.

There are more pros than cons when it comes to cities that are built for walking and while we wait for that dream to be realized, the code of the streets is to avoid getting hit!

Written by

Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say!

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