April 17, 2012

Learning to Walk

A good series in Slate about how the American built environment is designed to thwart — or even denigrate — walkers.
Simply by going out for a walk, I had become a strange being, studied by engineers, inhabiting environments whose physical features are determined by a rulebook-enshrined average 3 foot-per-second walking speed, my rights codified by signs. (Why not just write: “Stop for People”?) On those same signs in Savannah were often attached additional signs, advising drivers not to give to panhandlers (and to call 911 if physically intimidated), subtly equating walking with being exposed to an urban menace—or perhaps being the menace. Having taken all this information in, we would gingerly step into the marked crosswalk, that declaration of rights in paint, and try to gauge whether approaching vehicles would yield. They typically did not. Even in one of America’s most “pedestrian-friendly” cities—a seemingly innocent phrase that itself suddenly seemed strange to me—one was always in danger of being relegated to a footnote.
 I also like writer Tom Vanderbilt's description of walking as the "ultimate mobile app."

Added:  Columnist Rod Dreher at The American Conservative asks his readers, "Don't Conservatives Like Walking?"

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