A Tricoastal Woman: Walking and Driving

The car I don't drive much.

The car I don’t drive much.

I walk. My daily life is built around walking. I walk to the store, to the Impact Hub (co-working and community), to Tai Chi, to get coffee, to poke around in shops.

If I’m going far, I combine walking with the bus or BART. Sometimes I ride my bike, though mostly to the farmer’s market or for a picnic outing.

I walk in the rain – even bought some rubber boots and a good poncho to make that easier. Walking in the rain is not always pleasant, but neither is driving in the rain. And since the errands must be done, rain or shine, I walk.

I almost never drive, unless I’m leaving town or shopping for something big and heavy that can’t be carried home in a backpack.

Walking has improved my health. It is also very good for my disposition and my creativity, though I’m still hoping that someone will come up with an app that manages to write down what I’m thinking while I walk, so that I remember it all when I get back in front of a computer.

I am a born-again walker. Most of my life has not been defined by walking, but by driving a car. I grew up two miles outside of a tiny town. I occasionally rode a horse or a bicycle into town, but it never even occurred to me to walk.

I’ve been driving since I was fourteen. Until recently, my life revolved around a car, access to a car, getting places by car. Life without a car always seemed to have limits. Even now, I keep my car, though it might be more reasonable – and even cheaper – just to rent one when I need one. I find it hard to let go of car culture.

But I’m growing to hate cars and highways and the way our lives are built around those things. All those ugly suburbs going up in areas that might best be left empty. All those cars on the road, one or two people in most of them, taking up twenty times as much space (maybe even more) than a train carrying the same number of people would use.

Every time I get on a freeway, I tense up. All those cars, all going fast, too many to be really safe, all of us dependant on everyone driving their best. And, of course, no one ever does everything right.

I began driving on freeways at sixteen, when my parents allowed me to go into Houston on my own. I suppose traffic is worse now because regular congestion is no longer confined to specific rush hours. And the interchanges get more complicated as more big highways come together.

But still: I know freeway driving, have driven at 70 or 80 in high speed traffic. Why is it that it bothers me more now?

Well, new roads in new places where you don’t know how the system works are always difficult. And I don’t do it every day. I might get on a freeway in the Bay Area once or twice a month. Even when I lived in Washington, DC, I rarely traveled on the Beltway. I drove more, but I mostly traveled city streets.

In Texas I drove I-35 on a regular basis. I hated it – it’s one of those roads that can come to a dead halt anytime – but I wasn’t frightened of it. Here in Oakland I found myself terrified every time I had to get on 880 to go south. I’ve done it more lately, so it’s easier, but I still feel my stress levels rise.

Walking is so much easier. And when you get to where you’re going, you don’t have to find a parking place or worry about the meter or the cost of a lot. (I find I really hate parking, despite having a compact car.)

Walking’s slower, though. You have to plan a bit more to get someplace on time. If you’re combining it with public transit, you have to have patience. Sometimes the bus is late.

I make an exception for back roads, out in the country, roads where you can drive slowly, looking at the sights, roads without a lot of other people on them. Driving is still the best way to get to most of the out-of-the-way spots, though here in California there are some buses in rural areas.

But even when I’m out in the sticks, I want to get out and walk, feel what the place is like. It’s easier to get the feel of a place on foot.

So I walk whenever I can. I plan to keep doing it as long as I can.

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A Tricoastal Woman: Walking and Driving — 7 Comments

  1. I, too, count a day great when I don’t have to drive, but here in suburbia, we’re miles from stuff–and there aren’t even sidewalks on some of the streets. For a time I was compromising by biking everywhere, as I love bike riding, but far too many riders have been killed by road ragers in the constant traffic, and I had to stop after a few too many close calls: I discovered I was anxious all the time.

    I’d love to live in a small town where I could bike everywhere.

    • They’re doing things to improve biking in Oakland, including a lot more dedicated bike lanes. But I’m still a nervous biker.

      The trouble with suburbs is that they are built around cars. Everything is too far away. They’re so obviously a second half of the 20th Century phenomenon, but unfortunately we’re still building them the same way. If you had shopping nearby and sidewalks, they could be lovely places to walk and live.

      • Yep. That’s it exactly. A great deal of this area was laid out in the fifties, when the oil companies had triumphed over the efficiently, cheap rail car system.

  2. The thing I loved above all, living in NYC, is that it was a walking city.

    Note the past tense expression of that sentiment.

    The double, even triple-wide strollers, the irrational bikers, the endless construction of ever more ever higher buildings targeted for the global market and loss of more and more air, light and space, the majority of the other pedestrians living in cyber world not the material world that contains many, many other people, all walking — and most of those also in cyber world, if not tourist packs who have no idea of what and where for walking NYC sidewalks — have turned walking as difficult as driving here — particularly when carrying one’s groceries.

    I miss the great joys of walking this city. Yet it still must be done.

    • I confess to having the regular urge to snatch earbuds out of people’s ears and tell them to pay attention. But Oakland is less crowded than NYC, so it’s very much a pleasure to walk here. The only thing that annoys me here are the freeways that were put in to break up neighborhoods. I have paths under them, but they still remind me of how strong the car culture is and how much it has done to make neighborhoods less neighborly.

  3. We have managed to survive with one car between (at times) 3 drivers for 14 years. BART and my feet can get me anywhere I need to go in San Francisco, and when I was commuting to Palo Alto it took a little longer (walk to BART, BART to Caltrain, Caltrain to Palo Alto, walk to work) but I never wanted to be one of the hundreds on the highway. And walking is hands-down my favorite way to get to know a new city. You see things when you’re on their level.