Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thinking Outside the Car

I adore walking to work and dinner and everywhere. But here's a little secret: I don't hate driving. I love to drive fast and aggressively on the freeway. I've been known to have a bit of road rage. Yesterday I may have driven 85 mph for most of my two-hour drive for a meeting. It was fabulous. I don't want to drive to work every day, but every now and then a drive is good for the soul.

I'm not anti-car or anti-driving, but I do think we need to have a serious conversation about how we get places. Cars reign supreme here in Michigan. The problem is that the talented milliennials we're looking to attract don't want to drive. They want to take public transit or walk or bike. As long as we continue to focus solely on the automobile as our only means of getting from Point A to Point B, we will continue to lose.

I've learned a lot being a frequent pedestrian, and the primary lesson is that a multimodal system only works when everybody is following the rules. I find myself very annoyed when a pedestrian is crossing somewhere other than the crosswalk or against the light. But I have infinite patience for the pedestrians/cyclists/drivers following the rules.

This morning I was walking to work, and I started crossing (with a stroller!) in the crosswalk. There were no cars coming. A car turned the corner onto unnecessarily wide Ottawa Street and came careening toward me. I should have had plenty of time to cross the street, but the driver was flying (in front of my daycare no less). One of the women who works at our daycare saw it and commented that she couldn't believe how fast that guy came out of nowhere and wouldn't even slow down for a stroller. Pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way. I've gotten to the point where I will walk in front of cars (when I don't have my baby or dogs along) and then glare at drivers who try to rush me. You're driving in a downtown. Slow the f*ck down. I'll risk you hitting me to make my point.

Walking alone and running present one type of challenge as a pedestrian. Walking with a stroller presents an entirely new perspective. Last week we got a foot of snow, and the entire city shut down for a day to clear it. We walk to daycare on most days, and traversing a foot of snow with a stroller is extremely difficult. Most considerate people clear their sidewalks quickly, but the problem area are those corners where the sidewalk meets the street. I get it - you shovel your walk, the city clears the streets, and the snow backs up on those corners. Here's the part where I don't care. Pick up your shovel and clear it. It's part of the responsibility of owning a property on a corner lot. Our house is on the corner, and you can freely walk with a stroller from the sidewalk to cross the street. It's been more than a week since the snow, and in our neighborhood there are huge chunks of ice you can barely walk across let alone push a stroller. 

Walking downtown on a snowy day (sans stroller obviously).

It's got me thinking a lot about people trying to walk in downtown. If you were in a wheelchair or elderly, you honestly would still find most of the corners walking to downtown impassable, and that is unacceptable. We can't expect people to stop relying on cars or attract people who want a carless commute unless we're making possible for them to do it.

Commuting on a snowy day.

In the last couple of weeks there are a lot of days that it would've been easier to give up and drive, but I won't give in. We moved to downtown to walk. We picked a daycare partly because it was on our walking route to work. I'm inspired by this Fast Company article that highlights 7 cities who are starting to go car free. Of course not one of them is in the United States. At this point I'll settle for passable curb cuts. Car free sounds like the impossible dream.

I've made my peace with Michigan winters overall, but now I need Michigan sidewalk shovelers to get on board. We need to make sure we're making it easier for people to walk or bike to work, and for the love of God please make it easier for me to push a stroller. Let's think outside the car, shall we?

No comments:

Post a Comment