New Blog Expounds Joy, and Practicality, of Walking

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Writer, Streetsblog reader and contributor Dan Icolari has started a new blog, simply titled "Walking Is Transportation."

A lifelong New Yorker and former motorist, Icolari "hung up his car keys" some time ago. He recounts the experience like a recovering addict describing his moment of clarity.

Like most American drivers, I was convinced my personal mobility–my Freedom, for heaven’s sake–depended on the pathetic hunk of steel, plastic and rubber parked outside my door.

I don’t recall the specific event that made me decide to pack it in and go carless. What I do recall is the feeling of unease I experienced more and more often behind the wheel–a combination of vulnerability and simmering anger. Finally, owning and driving a car no longer felt like freedom; it felt more and more like a burden.

In the short amount of time since starting the blog (the first post is dated August 6), Icolari has reflected on what it means to be free in a city where so many choose to shackle themselves to the automobile, and what it means to be an "intentional" pedestrian in a society that views walking as a useful means of exercising and meditating, but an eccentric way of getting from one place to another.

Speaking of, about that title — would the Secretary agree?

Photo: Susan NYC/Flickr

  • Great idea Dan. If I remember, you live on the least hospitable borough to walking in NYC: Staten Island – although St. George is very good for walking even with all the hills.

    Some suggestions for your blog as a blogger myself:

    1. Photos really help frame an issue or make a point
    2. Links provide readers a place to read more about a subject
    3. Hard data makes a great subject matter to discuss in more depth.

    Great subject matter! I’ll be reading (and walking)

  • Dan Icolari

    Thanks for the blogging tips, Glenn. I’ve already added a photo of me crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to the blog’s introductory post and will try to include other photos and links, as you suggest.

    I have to take issue, though, with your characterization of Staten Island as inhospitable to walkers. I think it would be more accurate to characterize Staten Island as inhospitable to the idea of using mass transit for any purpose other than commuting. Walking is something you do on a treadmill, if at all.

    The fact is, the streets of Staten Island’s older North Shore neighborhoods (climbing hills is good for you, Glenn!) are far more hospitable than many in Manhattan south of 116th Street. The pleasant, leafy streets, mostly clean, mostly uncrowded; the tucked-away architectural oddities; the shortcuts through meadows at Snug Harbor and Clove Lakes where it’s just you and bird-chatter.

    Yes, all this on the way to the podiatrist or the health food store or my friend Steve’s. Versus the kind of darting-between-tailpipes ballet you’re forced to perform at, say, the southwest corner of Broadway and Houston on your way to the Union Square Greenmarket. (I now mostly use the Hudson River Park walk/bikeways to go north and then walk east, whether my destination is downtown, midtown or the Upper West Side.)

  • Matt

    To You:

    Fortunate are thou for living in a place where you can walk. There are many places (including the one in which I live) where it is simply impossible, not impracticable, to live without a car.

    Enjoy! Delight! It is a treasure! For I am shackled.

    When the stars align, if it doesn’t sink, I shall move to New York.

    Till then,

    Matt

  • Matt

    edit: impracticable=impractical…I.E. – to live without a car is unrealistic at best, and at worst, you don’t go ANYWHERE.

  • gecko

    Matt, top speeds for solely human-powered recumbent bicycles complete with faired enclosures are over 80 mph (for about 200 yards) where the distance and time can be greatly extended to make transportation practical with a modest electric motor. Lookup Optibike or other hybrid-human electric bikes on the internet; manufacturers can’t keep up with demand in China.

    The first major problem is the extreme danger caused by cars and trucks. One method is to have safe bike lanes. Another method is to go above the cars and trucks with an elevated veloway. A possibly more practical solution which was done over a hundred years was an elevated bike rail system where people rode bicycle-like contraptions on fence-like rails. These systems were very primitive but it is currently possible to develop small human-scale monorails which use vehicles that ride on and off modular monorails which can provide substantial advantage. In rural areas they might not look and be much different than the safety metal guard rails you see on the sides of roads and could be installed almost like fences. In urban areas they would probably have to be multi-track and tiered to meet the transit density of the busiest routes, but still cost far less than the current methods and be extremely safe at the same time providing distributed and on-demand transport, essentially extended functionality — comfort, safety, and practicality — typical of conventional bicycles.

    The second major problem is the general lack of awareness that these things can and really must be done — just like universal healthcare — and people and communities have to make them a high enough priority that it happens. Current transportation is entirely unsustainable and will eventually have to be replaced at best about mid-century which seems like a total pipe dream when you look at what is happening in China right now. It’s not even clear how China can host the upcoming Olympics with air quality so bad now that it was described on a BBC news piece yesterday (8/17/2007) as taking several years to cleanup even with the government currently removing 1,000,000 cars from the road daily using an alternate license plate plan.

    Obviously, it’s much better to replace cars and trucks with sensible transport as soon as possible.

  • Matt

    Thank you for the light slap on the cheek gecko.

    I am well aware of the obstacles faced as a bicyclist. I ride to work when I get the chance, despite the narrow bike lanes on a 55mph (often exceeded) road. It is a truck route too. But, it is often difficult logistically. When using bicycling as your main method of transportation, it is difficult to acquire necessary goods. Which is why it is great to have walking, or subway as an alternative, and as a support.

    Owning a car in New York is nonsensical, relying on a bike in Souther California is the same.

  • gecko

    Matt, In total agreement. There’s no reason to risk your life and current human-powered transport is extremely dangerous — though we all owe a tremendous debt those who do on a daily basis — in many if not most situations because of cars and trucks and impractical for a variety or reasons, most or all are easily remedied.

    The common wisdom is wrong that human-powered transport is not a real or practical solution. This includes many forward-thinking environmental organizations as well.

    It is the same as when they said that solar wouldn’t work back in the 70s when all you really have to do is aim your windows of your house in the right direction (passive solar), don’t cut down the trees that provide shade in the summer and protection of wind in the winter, etc. Just common sense stuff. And, we have more solar energy than we know what to do with, even though we are not using it yet.

    The same goes for human-powered transport and for things to happen there has to be a broad consensus that this is the way to go, and become the new common wisdom. As weather and climate conditions start becoming more and more extreme there will be plenty of incentive to start being more reasonable and innovative in the way we do things, hopefully before it is too late.

  • Matt:

    You’d better not tell me that you live in L.A.

    Yes, L.A., the town where you can’t possibly live without a car. What a load of crap.

    That may have been true 30 years ago, but our mass transit has improved by leaps and bounds since then. Many are doing it and thriving. And saving a ton of money, time and teeth-clenching aggravation.

    There are MANY neighborhoods where you can live in LA and get anything you need while walking. Larchmont Village, Santa Monica, Los Feliz Village, Leimert Park, Hollywood, central Glendale, NoHo, even downtown L.A. as of late.

    Many websites and blogs herald the coming car-free lifestyle in L.A. Start with metrorider.elhay.net.

  • jmc

    Solar energy is too disperse to use, even though there’s a lot of it. We wouldn’t be able to maintain our standard of living with solar energy, as nice as it sounds.

  • gecko

    jmc, Solar energy exists in many forms. Solar energy is great for space heating, especially passive solar and netzero construction depends on it alot.

    California just purchase 550 MW of capacity from a 9 square mile solar facility in the Mohave Desert.

    DOE (Department of Energy) has long touted to capability for provided 100% of US electricity needs from a 100 square mile facility in the Mohave Desert.

    Wind is another form just solar energy concentrated.

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