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Equal Access to Walking

Isn't walking for pleasure a right we should be able to safely and equally pursue?

"Thomas and Walker found that cyclists and walkers had the highest affective appraisal of their commute mode—significantly above drivers, who were themselves significantly above bus riders. Those findings are in line with previous research showing that active transport modes lead to happier commutes." –Eric Jaffe, Why Cyclists Form Stronger Commuting Habits than Drivers, CityLab

This doesn't surprise me. When I lived in Chicago, I did most of my commuting by foot or bike, and I looked forward to it, every day. It was simultaneously energizing and relaxing, a time to be out in the world and to transition from home to work and work to home. I was lucky to be able to live so centrally; I was never more than six to ten miles from my jobs. This means I was able to afford a lifestyle that, arguably, allowed me to be happier than a car commuter, every day, for at least two hours a day. And I had the privilege of time; I was able to take an hour to walk to work. I also had the privilege of safety, which was afforded to me not only by the relative peace of the neighborhoods I walked through but also, among other things, by the color of my skin. This is not to say that I didn't experience street harassment from time to time. But other than the danger posed by cars, I wasn't putting myself in harm's way by simply walking down my block. There are many people in Chicago for whom this is not the same.

It's so important to talk about the benefits of walking for our mental and physical health and to continue to push cities to prioritize walkability in their planning – for all neighborhoods. And, speaking from the perspective of an American, it's also important to remember that those of us who choose to commute by foot or by bike, especially when there are other options available to us, are often in privileged positions. So, what should our role be in helping others to have equal access to the same privileges?

Some people want to drive into work. Other people have no other option but to drive or take a bus, as it's not safe to walk from their home to their job. There are others who'd love to bike or walk, who could save time by walking or biking, but can't afford to live close to city centers, where there are networks of well-paved roads, sidewalks, and crosswalks, dotted with any number of shops that make it easy to take care of daily needs as we walk on by.

What can be done (and what can we do as individuals) to ensure that more and more people have the privilege of moving their legs, to transform the status quo, so that this simple act – so basic and central to who we are as humans – is no longer a privilege and a matter of access to good infrastructure and 'walkability,' but simply a matter of life? Isn't walking for pleasure a right we should be able to safely and equally pursue?

The issues behind these questions are complex and multi-faceted; they involve gender, race, economics, and much more. But as Ged and I gear up to walk from Cardiff to London – something we're doing by choice, with the luxury of time – I think they're important questions to ask. While we're walking, I plan to reflect on the mode of 'transport' we're using on our journey and the many ways in which people do and don't use it in their daily lives, and why. I plan to share what we hear, see, and learn. Of course, what we discover in Wales and England will be different than what I experience here in the United States, and it will be different than what Ged experiences in Scotland. But I'd also guess that some of it will be similar, for both of us.


My ultimate hope would be that anyone, if they had the desire to do so, could take a 'ramble' like the one Ged and I are taking and also be able to walk to work. Everyone should be able to enjoy the unique kind of happiness, physical benefits, and mental goodness that both journeys can provide. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world, yet. –Erin