Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bike Commuter Tip #4.0: Pedestrians

Walking is the most basic, primal, natural form of human transportation, yet it has also been unappreciated through the ages.  To be a horseman or own a carriage was always preferable to walking and carried class distinctions as well.  Even among peoples without draft animals a litter was employed and often flower petals or cloth was laid down so their feet should not touch the ground.  What I describe may be history, but such notions are not gone.  In the United States this is especially the case.  Now we've come along way from the times and places mentioned, but our automobile culture produces the same effect.  Technically, pedestrians have the right of way at all times, but outside NYC and like urban environments pedestrians are an afterthought, if they are thought of at all.  Try walking the streets outside the city--often you will be walking the streets because there are no sidewalks!  Try waiting for a chance to cross the street--it will be tricky at the very least.  You may find mercy walking a mall parking lot, but general walking is tough.  On the rare occasion that I see someone walking in these places for transportation, what comes to mind is that they must be very poor and that their situation is not functionally sustainable.  Thus, the association with walking is one of poverty and poverty occupies a very low place in the public mind. 

This whole scenario is completely reversed in NYC.  In America the car may be king, but in NYC pedestrians rule!  I told you the rules are a little different here.  There is barely a spot in this city that is not accessible to pedestrians.  Nearly all the bridges have pedestrian walkways.  Don't get the wrong idea, the car is hardly dead around here--the streets are crammed with them!  It's just that this is the city where you don't really need a car to get around.  There was a time when folks used to brag about that, especially Manhattanites.  In fact, if you live in Manhattan, go out of your way to own a car without a really good cause, and suffer for it--don't complain, you'll get no sympathy.  Here everyone walks and even the Mayor takes the subway--I know, I've seen him!  We all know he's not poor.  As any straphanger knows, they're going to be walking from the station to their location, and sometimes it's just better to walk period.

Once you grasp this golden rule of city transportation, everything else makes sense.  You can begin to unlearn your previous misconceptions and stop training for the Tour De France on NYC streets.  It also helps a cyclist to better determine his or her place in our city's transportation hierarchy.  Our place is still being determined.  I don't mind the ambiguity--there's freedom in it.  I prize freedom.  Unfortunately, it gets misused quite often and laws are then put in place that curtail everyone's freedom.   


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