A strong town needs to be financially resilient, and one big way to accomplish that is to keep the cost of transportation low—both for the government and for individuals. Walking is still the most affordable way to get from one place to another. It requires far less infrastructure than roads and streets for cars, and also results in far less wear and tear on that infrastructure. Put simply, I believe a strong town is a town where it's safe and easy to walk. Which is why I'm glad to see publications outside of urbanist circles beginning to tout the benefits of walking.

A recent article in America Magazine (a Catholic publication) entitled "Walking is good for the heart. Too often we see it as a sinister activity" begins:

In "Laudato Si’,' published just over a year ago, Pope Francis stresses the importance of 'landscapes which increase our sense of belonging' and provide 'a coherent and meaningful framework for [our] lives." These landscapes do not have the same effect upon motorists and passengers who might see unplanned stops as irritations and other people on the road as adversaries.

But over the past century, many have come to see pedestrians as suspect, even dangerous, and walking has been criminalized in many circumstances.

We see this in the victim-blaming present in news reports about pedestrians hit by cars. We see it in the prioritization of extensive car infrastructure over simple pedestrian assets like sidewalks and benches. The article from America Magazine also goes on to discuss a new book called Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas, who documents "his experiences hiking in the United States and encountering “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs at every turn, even in uninhabited areas."

In spite of the dearth of pedestrian infrastructure throughout the US, many people do walk—they risk their lives every day just to get to work or school or the grocery store because they cannot afford a car and don't have good public transit options in their auto-dominated towns. Thousands of pedestrians die on our roads every year

Better pedestrian infrastructure seems like a relatively cheap improvement for many towns that would have a big pay-off (allowing more people to walk, saving lives, improving community health), yet some are opposed to it. From the article:

This spring, the city council of St. Louis Park, Minn., voted to add sidewalks to three suburban neighborhoods, but some residents protested. One wrote that the sidewalks would create an “inner-city wasteland” with “hoodlums standing around on the corner.” A fight over installing sidewalks on a road in Clifton, N.J., (used by Orthodox Jews to reach synagogues by foot on the Sabbath) has been going on for 16 years.

The "hoodlums" argument has also been used to oppose bus routes and subway lines in neighborhoods across the country as well. Meanwhile, people like this person are just trying to get home:

Photo by Johnny Sanphillippo

Photo by Johnny Sanphillippo

For a fraction of what we're spending on new roads, we could build longer lasting pedestrian infrastructure that would make life safer and more affordable for millions of Americans.


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