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The Crisis in American Walking

Tom Vanderbilt, Slate
Part 1: Learning To Walk
A few years ago, at a highway safety conference in Savannah, Ga., I drifted into a conference room where a sign told me a “Pedestrian Safety” panel was being held.

The speaker was Michael Ronkin, a French-born, Swiss-raised, Oregon-based transportation planner whose firm, as his website notes, “specializes in creating walkable and bikeable streets.” Ronkin began with a simple observation that has stayed with me since. Taking stock of the event—one of the few focused on walking, which gets scant attention at traffic safety conferences—he wondered about that inescapable word: pedestrian. If we were to find ourselves out hiking on a forest trail and spied someone approaching at a distance, he wanted to know, would we think to ourselves, “Here comes a pedestrian”?

Of course we wouldn’t. That approaching figure would simply be a person. Pedestrian is a word born from opposition to other modes of travel; the Latin pedester, on foot, gained currency by its semantic tension with equester, on horse. But there is an implied—indeed, synonymous—pejorative. This dates from Ancient Greece. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the Greek πεζός meant “prosaic, plain, commonplace, uninspired (sometimes contrasted with the winged flight of Pegasus).” Or, in the Latin, pedester could refer to foot soldiers (e.g, peons), “rather than cavalry.”

In other words, not to be on a horse, flying or otherwise, was to be utterly unremarkable and mundane. To this day, Ronkin was intimating, the word pedestrian bears not only that slightly alien whiff, but the scars of condescension. This became clear as we walked later that evening through the historic center of Savannah. As we moved through the squares, our rambling trajectory matched by our expansive conversation, we were simply people doing that most human of things, walking. But every once in a while, we would encounter a busy thoroughfare, and we became pedestrians. We lurked under ridiculously large retroreflective signs, built not at our scale, but to be seen by those moving at a distance and at speed. Other signs reinforced the message, starkly announcing: “Stop for Pedestrians.” I thought, “Wait, who’s a pedestrian? Is that me?”…

Part 2: Sidewalk Science
Part 3: What’s your Walk Score?
Part 4: Learning to Walk
(10 April 2012)

The Boom in Biking Benefits Everyone, Not Just Bicyclists

Jay Walljasper, Shareable
Even if you will never ride a bike in your life, you still see benefits from increased levels of biking. More bicyclists mean less congestion in the streets and less need for expensive road projects that divert government money from other important problems. Off-road paths, bike lanes, sidwalks and other bike and ped improvements cost a fraction of what it takes to widen streets and highways. It’s proven that bicycling and walking increases people’s health and reduces obesity, which will translate into huge cost savings for government and a boost for our economy.

Policies that are good for bicyclists actually benefit everyone on the streets. Good conditions for bicycling also create good conditions for pedestrians. And what makes the streets safer for bikes, also makes them safer for motorists.

Higher gas prices (which have topped four bucks for the third time in four years) means more Americans are looking for other ways to get around. Bikes offer people more choices in transportation. This is especially true for people whose communities are not well served by mass transportation or where distances are too far to walk to work or shopping.

Bike advocates are also working hard to dispel the stereotype that all bicyclists are young, white, urban, male ultra athletes in lycra racing jerseys. Increased investment in safer, more comfortable bike facilities means that more women, children, families, middle-aged and senior citizens, minorities, immigrants, low-income, suburban and rural people will ride bikes.

The number of Americans who commute primarily by bike leaped 43 percent since 2000 according to census data. The number of overall bike trips rose 25 percent…
(30 March 2012)

Car-saturated Mexico City lets bicycle riders rule the roads on Sunday mornings

William Booth, Washington Post
Hey, honey, let’s go bicycling with the kids through downtown Mexico City! Just a few years ago, these would have been the words of a lone madman.

In one of the world’s biggest cities, bicycle riding is today a popular way to get around, especially on Sunday mornings, when city hall shuts major throughways to auto traffic and gives the right of way to tens of thousands of cyclists (and a bunch of Rollerbladers and joggers and dogs, too) who wend their way down grand commercial avenues and hard-bitten byways in a leisurely 14-mile loop.

Middle class marches along in a changing Mexico: While many Mexicans and their neighbors to the north still imagine a country of downtrodden masses dominated by a wealthy elite, the ranks of the middle class are swelling.

When Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard began the Sunday morning rides five years ago — known as Muevete en Bici — his critics (heck, even some of his friends) thought it was a publicity stunt. Ebrard famously commutes to work once a month by bike and drags his staff along…
(11 April 2012)

…and also from Mexico…

The Societal Costs of Car Use

Mikael Colville-Andersen, Copenhagenize
Brilliantly simple and effective video about the societal costs of automobile use. Filled with nuggets of wisdom, effectively communicated. Love the bit about how cars are like gasses – it doesn’t matter how large the container grows, the molecules will still occupy the whole space…

Video by ITDP.
(12 April 2012)

Medellín: Colombia’s Sustainable Transport Capital

Elizabeth Press, Streetfilms
…Medellín was awarded the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award. Streetfilms partnered with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy to document some of the changes taking place in Medellín.
(3 April 2012)