October 11, 2013 | 2
Do you see this picture? If you look closely enough you can see my adorable children and lovely wife. And they are doing something remarkable: They are walking — walking to school. And if you look at the head of the line you can see something else: a police cruiser.
And look — this is North Carolina, to be sure, but even here the police do not harass us for walking the streets. In fact, the police are helping us. They are helping us to walk to school, on account of — well, look to the right. of the image. What do you not see?
Yes. You see no sidewalks. October 9 was International Walk to School Day, begun in 1997 to wake people up that having communities in which you cannot walk around is a bad thing. Nobody knows that better than us here in Raleigh, NC, perennially — and with good reason — listed as one of America’s most desirable places to live (just this week Forbes gave it a little love regarding entrepreneurship). But Raleigh had its first growth spurt in the 1960s, and in those days development meant sprawl, with two special elements.
One is a staggering lack of sidewalks. The other is the Triumph of the Cul de Sac. This image shows a fragment chosen at random of North Raleigh, transportation motto: “Oh no you can’t” — meaning bike? Walk? Bus? Make us laugh. You’ll get in your car, and you’ll drive onto a big honking main artery, and then you’ll drive over to another big honking main artery, and then you’ll drive onto some tributary system of feeder roads — usually without sidewalks — and then you’ll get out of your car and then you’ll walk into your destination. THAT’s how you’ll get there.
Now Raleigh has since then changed its stripes. A new Unified Development Ordinance adopted this year embraces the come-one-come-all Complete Streets approach that keeps bikes and feet and transit in the planning mix, and an aggressive Comprehensive Pedestrian Plan addresses the chaos left by decades of development by people who thought streets that people could not walk along was normal.
Nationwide most newer cities are like Raleigh, where certain neighborhoods are walkable, but overall you end up with situations like mine — where a crow could fly from our front door to my kids’ school in less than a mile, but for my kids to get there they would have to cross two major roads (with neither crosswalks nor lights; one is even a divided highway) and walk down block after block without sidewalks. And the result of that in turn is organizations like Partnership for a Walkable America and National Center for Safe Routes to School, the organization that it spun off and now sponsors Walk to School Month (this month!) and its specific days.
Walk to School Day this year, according to the Walk and Bike to School Day Team, involved 4,150 schools, and before the month is over they expect the event to exceed last year’s record of 4,281. I’ll keep you posted.