Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When Your Walking Situation Isn't Ideal

The car-free life is wonderful and liberating in many ways, and if I could, I would give the gift of a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhood to every single person. We'd keep all our cars on the outskirts and use them only for camping, intercity travel, and occasional trips to Ikea and Costco. But in reality, that is not the country we live in, and many of us don't have the luxury of living without a car, at least not right now.

Maybe you live in a car-centric city and you can't move right now. Maybe you're moving and looking for a walkable neighborhood, but there aren't many options and they're either cost-prohibitive or don't have the type of housing you need. Or maybe you're in a temporary situation, between jobs, staying with friends or family, and your fate isn't your own right now.

Have no fear: in any of these cases, you can make the best of a less-than-ideal situation and find ways to walk or bike when you can. Or you can choose a new location that, though not perfect, will at least allow you to leave the car at home for many trips.

Know Thyself
Know yourself and what you realistically will and won't do at this point in time. For example, if you have a large family, buy groceries in bulk, have one specific store or market you always shop at, or have few grocery store options in walkable areas in your town, you might never actually get groceries without a car. If this is the case, you don't need to make it a priority to be very close to a grocery store. Especially in towns where supermarkets are only located on wide, ugly, busy "arterial" streets, being near one may actually make your overall situation less walkable.

Pick your battles
In the same vein, choose one or two important places that you know you would love to walk or bike to regularly, and place yourself near those. Is there a farmers' market, park, library, church, or friend's house you visit on a weekly basis or more? Try to be within a reasonable walk or bike ride of as many of them as possible.

Prioritize being close to work
If at all possible, make your workplace one of your priorities. Include all options - walking, biking, or public transit. You might not want to live right near your work if work is in a suburban business park, but can you place yourself near a bus line or bike trail that will take you there easily? Work is the one place you have to get to every day, so eliminating those car trips will make the biggest impact on your life.

Travel sans enfants
When you can, walk or bike to places without your kids, especially for errands like the grocery or hardware store. Without kids, it's possible to cover longer distances and load more cargo, making a car unnecessary. For example, try getting groceries with your bike trailer.

Check transit possibilities
Consider transit possibilities that will take you to some of the places you need to go, and consider if you could bike to a transit stop and ride a bus the rest of the way. If you're moving, look for housing on a bus line. In many mid-sized cities, being close to a bus line will not cost you the premium it will in larger, more transit-oriented cities, so take advantage of that fact.

Reconsider bicycling
Riding a bicycle can open up many doors because it is much faster than walking and does not usually require a sidewalk. When we lived in Suburbia for a time last year, our closest grocery store was a mere 0.5 miles away, but it was a terrifying walk due to missing sidewalks and crosswalks. Our solution was to bike to it. A 1-mile bike ride might just seem silly, but it was fun and refreshing, it felt much safer than walking, and it is much less ridiculous than a 1-mile car ride.

Remember that distance on a bike doesn't matter as much as topography and road choice, so a flat, 5-mile ride along quiet, residential streets is in all ways preferable to a 3-mile ride up a hill on busy streets. Look for trails, shortcuts, and check gmaps pedometer to find a new route to some of your favorite spots.

Keep an eye on new walkable developments
If you plan to move sometime in the future, keep an eye on new developments in up-and-coming neighborhoods. Many of our cities are experiencing urban infill and renewal as a result of the great inversion, which may mean more possibilities open up to you. If you can get in on the ground floor (metaphorically speaking) in an underrated new walkable area, you may be able to get a great deal on a great new lifestyle for yourself.

Consolidate your life
Is it possible to change some of your habits to place more of your needs within walking distance of each other? Try a new grocery store, make some new friends, check into a daycare that's closer to work or let your older kids walk to school so you don't have to make a separate trip to drop them off. Part of the essence of the car-free lifestyle is creating your life as an interconnected geographic fabric, not chopped up into pieces by car trips. See how you can change a few habits and give yourself the gift of that simplicity.

Consider a new city 
The active transportation lifestyle is about more than just getting rid of your car. It is no exaggeration to say that such a lifestyle can have an effect on your health, social life, financial independence, emotional and spiritual life, and the lives and education of your kids. Given this fact, it is not at all unreasonable to consider moving to a new city to achieve your goal of a car-free or car-light lifestyle. Do your research, interview your friends in different cities, and be bold: it will be worth it.

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