Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Walk this way

Before anyone learns to drive or even ride a bicycle, first – they walk. And for many of us, that’s still our primary mode of transportation. Especially if you live in an urban area.

Frankly, I love walking. It’s a healthy and social way of getting around. And often much more efficient than waiting for the streetcar. During the week, I almost always walk or take transit. Driving is reserved for weekends, for shopping, schlepping or visiting far-flung family and friends.

And so I’ve always found it ironic that in Ontario, pedestrian rights are lovingly detailed in our Highway Traffic Act, which includes a definition for a “pedestrian crossover” but not the term “pedestrian.”

It is encouraging that the official MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) driver’s handbook for student drivers includes a couple of pages about sharing the road with pedestrians. There’s even a diagram of pedestrians of all shapes, sizes and abilities using a crosswalk – complete with cars neatly stopped at the white lines. If only real life reflected the MTO driver’s handbook!

Despite the fact that the word pedestrian is defined by as “lacking in vitality, imagination, distinction, etc.”, walking is making a great comeback. There are sites like that will rank your neighbourhood’s walkability, or walking access to main streets or public spaces, parks, flourishing business, public transit, affordable housing and more. In the U.S., one point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 towards the value of your home!

One of the most vociferous advocates of walking is spacing magazine, which in 2005 dedicated an entire issue to the joys of pedestrianism. The cover declared “Everyone is a pedestrian – it took us millions of years to learn how to walk and only 100 to forget.”

Yet, walking has never gone out of fashion for some of us – observant jews have always lived close to their synagogue, so they could walk to Shabbat services. Anything else was strictly forbidden. In pockets of Toronto and elsewhere around the world, observant jews still live close to their synagogue for the same reason – and they don’t drive or take public transit on Shabbat.

You could say, it’s in their religion to walk. Not a bad example.

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