Monday, November 23, 2009

Walk?

Walking for bipeds was “the cat’s pajamas” for four millions years. That is, putting humanity’s one hairy foot before another got us around just fine. Then, within a relatively short period of time, our species took to climbing on other animals’ backs, floating stuff on water, then the wheel, which brought on carts, trains, and then we took to the skies. But mostly, since the horseless carriage, autos get us around. In fact, the car culture so dictates transportation in the United States that few of us, even when the distance is short, walk.

That’s odd, when you think about it because most trips are within 6.5 miles of one’s home. (And, many of those trips are to the gym so we can walk on the treadmill.) So why, given the accidents (over 58, 000 per year), the expense, the taxes, repairs, and the repercussions to our environment, don’t we usually consider walking as a transportation option?

I know the answer is obvious: Cars are fun. They look great. We can get from here to there really fast and carry a lot of stuff. Inside our steel jackets there’s a leveling of the classes from the strain of the masses that is simply exhilarating: rich or poor, that pedestrian better move out of your path. Driving is a right! Get a car, and you get instant respect.

Walking, on the other hand, is time consuming. Everything is so far away. Can’t carry much. One feels so exposed out there on those cold, windy streets where drivers have enough going on—cell phones, backseat conversations, that great new tune on that expensive sound system, crazy drivers who don’t know what they’re doing, and a myriad of gadgets on the dashboard—without worrying about some rambling itinerant who thinks they own the world.

Yet, there are advantages to walking over driving a car--still. When you walk, you don’t need insurance, a repair shop, or have to worry about getting your new paint job scratched. You don’t need a parking space because you can take yourself anywhere you want to go. You don’t have to leave yourself out on the street to get broken into or ticketed. You can walk in groups (the walking school bus) and get to where you want to go safely. You can save the planet by not driving a polluting behemoth.

By walking instead of driving you have more control over your life. You’ll be healthier and more cheerful—it’s the endomorphin thing kicking in. You can allow yourself to get distracted by things, as you won’t have to “keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.”

A walk-centered world instead of a vehicle-dominated world compels us to design our existence so work, play, stores, friends, and neighbors all wind up near our home. Instead of betting our future inventing a high-tech vehicle that doesn’t pollute, we might turn the transportation issue on its head and put our world within reach—so there will still be a sustainable one for our kids.

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