While many streets.mn writers focus on the pleasures and challenges of bicycling in the Twin Cities, I bring the same kind of passion to walking. So I was delighted to open up my Sunday New York Times and find a special issue of the NYT Magazine devoted to Walking New York. The issue presents many perspectives on walking in New York, with articles by seventeen authors who explore different places and walking experiences.
Having lived in Manhattan for 25 years, I was accustomed to walking or taking the subway as a matter of course, and didn’t really think much about it. Then I lived in southern California where a car was essential to get around and most trips took at least 45 minutes or an hour. So when I moved to Saint Paul twelve years ago, I continued using a car and delighted in being able to get most places in 15 minutes or less.
However, I was also intent on getting to know my new neighbors, which got me to walking in my neighborhood. I attended my local caucus, got elected caucus chair, and joined one of the presidential campaigns that were getting underway. This gave me an excuse to knock on doors and talk to neighbors, while sharing my perspective on the candidates I was supporting. I also found that the best way to open up a conversation was to observe something special about each house or yard, and to comment on it as I introduced myself. Because I was a retired photographer, this came naturally, and I began noticing many details about the streets and sidewalks.
Looking back, I can see that this was the first phase in my transition to a more “pedestrian” approach to life, with walking (and transit as needed) now my preferred mode of transportation. But before getting to this point, my husband and I each had our own car for a number of years. Even as I worked with the District Councils Collaborative (DCC) on the Stops4Us campaign to ensure that the Green Line included stations all along University Avenue to serve transit-dependent residents, I drove my car to get to meetings. Needless to say, the irony was not lost on me.
Finally, a couple of years ago, my husband and I agreed to get rid of one of our cars. The deal was that he would be able to use the car whenever he needed it, and I would find another way of getting around. Now, I welcome the challenge of going car-free; even if the car is available, I walk to meetings when they’re within a mile and do most of my shopping at local stores. For more distant destinations, I usually take buses or ride the Green Line. My husband has also greatly reduced his car use by bicycling to the U when the weather is nice. Will we ever be ready to give up our car? Probably not — at least not until age and its accompanying infirmities make it unsafe for us to be behind the wheel.
It took me a decade to make the transition to walking and transit. Now I love to go on foot, either briskly or taking my time, depending on the purpose of my walk. I even invested in a FitBit that tracks the number of steps walked and stairs climbed. Weekly reports motivate me to walk more, and clever awards make me laugh. For example, I recently received a notice stating: “Congrats on earning your London Underground badge. You’ve walked 250 miles—as many as the world’s first underground railway. This triumph really lays the tracks for some big things in the future.”
Most important, I love being out on the street, seeing the spring blossoms, and greeting people along the way — families waiting for the school bus in the morning, college students with their backpacks, a couple walking the dog, or a neighbor returning home with a crispy loaf of fresh bread.
In my next article, I’ll address issues related to pedestrian safety, including a comparison of the different challenges faced by New York as compared to the Twin Cities. Meanwhile, I encourage you to get out and walk. I also recommend the special April 26th Walking New York issue of The New York Times Magazine.