Something central is missing from many streets in the United States. Motorized vehicles seem to dominate the lanes and leave little room for the most basic form of transportation: walking. The art of pedestrianism can be beneficial in a number of different ways but most people in the United States reach for their car keys when walking out the door instead of their walking shoes.
A pedestrian has more freedom than a person trapped inside a metal, motorized vehicle.
Danish architect, Jan Gehl, helped design the pedestrian areas in Copenhagen, Denmark. He talks about the way walking gives a person freedom on WorldChanging.com.
“You can change tempo, change direction, maneuver freely, stop to watch something or somebody, go back a bit to have another look. You can talk while walking or stop to talk,” Gehl said. “When you are on your feet you are just ready for everything humanly interesting.”
The same cannot be said about a car. Inside of a person is completely dependent on what other people are doing around them. If an individual tried to simply turn around to go back and gaze at some scenery, he or she would likely end up smashing into another.
In the film, The Parking Lot, Chief of Science and Resource Management for National Park Service in Georgia Rick Slade talks about the relationship people in the U.S. have with their cars.
“You’ve got your car, and I personally love the idea of people being trapped by their cars,” Slade said. “The parking lot was the place where people were finally realizing that their car was not just means to liberation but something of an encumbrance and that you had to pay, because you needed a place for your car, you had to pay.”
As a pedestrian a person has so much more freedom because he or she also doesn’t have to pay to park their car.
Walking can also be a learning experience.
Bess Lovejoy and Morris explain how walking can be much more than simply walking in A Manifesto for a New Walking Culture: ‘dealing with the city’.
Our intent is to show walking as not only a directed movement from one place to another, but a wandering, an odyssey of sight and sound, a quest for knowledge and stimulation, a grand roaming expedition, and a living breathing work of art in its own right.”
There are also the added health benefits. According to About.com, a standard adult male weights 189.8 pounds in the U.S. In France, the average adult male weighs approximately 170 pounds according to NBCnews.com. France is a country that utilizes walking as a form of transportation compared to the United States. In France adult males weigh approximately 20 pounds lighter than males in the United States.
Walking can promote positive physical health in a number of different ways other than weight loss.
According to the America Walks website, “Brisk walking (at least 3.5 mph) has been shown to reduce body fat, lower blood pressure, increase high-density lipoprotein, and even reduce risks of bone fracture.”
So there it is. Being a pedestrian can lead to weight loss, can lower blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of bone fracture. Who doesn’t love that!
There are those individuals who argue that walking is simply not doable in the U.S. because of the way in which cities are constructed.
Martha T. Moore wrote on USA Today that Americans cannot partly because of the design of the cities.
“There is no sidewalk outside the front door, school is five miles away,” Moore said, “and there’s a six-lane highway between home and the supermarket.”
However, a man in Wenatchee, WA does not allow the poorly designed infrastructure of U.S. cities to stop him from walking to work.
Washington State Department of Transportation Real Estate Appraisal Agent, Jim Ruhoff typically walks six to eight miles on a daily basis.
“I just like doing it. I used to be a bicycle freak and I liked to hike in the mountains,” Ruhoff said. “I just enjoy doing it. I sit too much during the day so it gives me an alternative to sitting. Plus the exercise is good.”
Even in the United States some individuals choose to walk instead of drive.
So, perhaps to solve the crisis in walking in the U.S. is to simply put down the car keys and put on the walking shoes next time instead. Though driving might save time and energy, the benefits of walking are countless.