Recently I was on a short trip to US for work. I was in a town called Longmont, Colorado. At this time of year which August the climate was very pleasant with bright sun. The temperature was hovering around 25-30 Deg C which was very near to what we have in Bangalore. Longmont isn’t that big a city but very beautiful with Rocky Mountains running north to south and can be seen very easily.
In United States you wouldn’t see lot of people walking around. Coming from India where you would finds lots of people walking, many because they don’t have means otherwise, many because like walking and then many times taking a car or a bike out is a hassle so you walk around. Getting a car in US isn’t that difficult but driving on US roads isn’t that straightforward. There is this driving on the right/left that confuses people and then there are these traffic rules as well the speeds. Driving is simple here than in India’s chaotic conditions but it takes time to get used to.
Anyways, on a Saturday me and couple of office colleagues thought of walking down. We walked more than 2 miles to a Best Buy store and then lunch at Twisted Noodles (It was really a twisted place as when you order noodles you get a pasta and when one orders a pasta gets a noodle). And you couldn’t find a single soul walking on a pleasant sunny Saturday morning. There was only one young lady standing on the pavement asking for money to buy gas.
So I was wondering why Americans don’t walk and there are few things that we have to take in considerations
- Ubiquitous Motor Cars – Everyone has a car and in a family there can be multiple cars
- Absent Public transport – Public transport isn’t probably used much here and hence the services are generally not that great. And whenever you find one it is somewhat costly
- Climate – The climate can get really cold in winters with snowing which probably makes it difficult walking in cold areas. Extreme hot weather of Arizona may also create its own problem for pedestrians. The pleasant weather may not be for long and hence the habit of walking takes a hit.
- American cities and towns have elaborate roads with major roads within cities having speed limit of 45MPH which makes it scary for pedestrians. There are crossing and sometimes one has to walk a lot to find such crossings. And then you have 20 or 30 secs to cross the roads Hence people find it easier to take a car out rather than walking.
- The places are designed very motor friendly. The place where one lives, the place where one works and the place where go to buy stuff is all in different directions with distances of the more than 2-3 miles at the least. Offices and Malls have acres of open parking which is quite a luxury for countries that don’t have such open spaces.
Walking makes the city more happening and perceived safe and people more healthy. In addition to hitting the Gym or walking around a Park, if walking to nearby shopping or to schools or offices can be made safe and more friendly.Once walking is habit the walkers wouldn’t get stare from everyone else in the car and doesn’t feel intruding into comfortable driving.
I would not say that conditions for pedestrians is great in our Indian cities. Just that people many times don’t have choice and are ready to share the roads with all the vehicles running around. I think when people who come from places where the traffic is quite organized, find it very difficult as to how it really works for us.