One of the main ways to live like a French woman is to move more. Mireille — we’re now on a first-name basis; she is my ami — suggests you walk or bike to do your daily activities instead of driving or taking the bus or train. OK…perfect. But the problem I’ve always had with this is the fact that I live in the ‘burbs. And the ‘burbs is full of people who are addicted to driving like Heidi’s addicted to destroying her face.
To be fair, it’s not their (our) fault. Many cities, even small ones, have neighborhoods that are all connected by sidewalks. Not so in GB. Once you leave the downtown area, you have subdivisions without sidewalks (where people do just walk/bike/run in the street because there’s such little traffic). Between the subdivisions, on the main roads, there are no sidewalks, just the gravel “shoulders.” Yes, you could walk there but it’s not good for your body. And really, the roads are just too busy for it to be considered anything but dangerous. So my problem has always been that even if I wanted to walk a half hour into “downtown” to do an errand, I can’t, because I’ll get hit by a car.
This is a problem throughout Michigan as far as I can tell. There are tons of subdivisions, main roads with houses and businesses and no sidewalks, then big major roads with things like Target, Costco, and Panera Bread. Those roads do have sidewalks, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anyone using them. Who notices the sidewalks at the edges of the massive parking lots?! And no one can get from their subdivisions to the sidewalks anyway. But this lack of sidewalks might explain why Michigan people are not exactly known for being slim or healthy. We have a real problem and I think that being bound to our cars is a big part of it.
But then on Saturday, a light bulb went off! (Getting It moment #3764364 of this week.) Just like I used to take the subway only halfway and then get out and walk the rest of the way — a great way to walk more in the city, by the way — I can just drive halfway and then get out and use the sidewalks. I live where the sidewalk ends…so I just need to go to where the sidewalk begins! Then I can do my errands on foot!
I gave this a try on Sunday. I drove five minutes into town and parked my car near the beginning of the sidewalk. Then I got out and started hoofing it. I quickly realized many things.
- No one ever really uses these sidewalks. I passed two other people the entire time, and both were on bikes. What a waste, people!
- People give you a lot of strange looks when they see you actually using the sidewalks. At times I felt like a total freak, but I just kept telling myself I was too busy being a healthy French woman to worry about what these people thought of me.
- Clearly no one ever uses the sidewalks — I had to be super careful about traffic, especially cars making right-hand turns. And when I was stopped at cross-walks, drivers didn’t know what to do.
- The traffic light never changed to the “Walk” sign…because no one ever walks!
- I discovered so many things about my city when I was on foot! When you breeze through town every day for nearly two decades, it’s amazing what you miss. But I saw businesses I’d never noticed. I saw a whole church I had never really noticed. And lots of pretty trees with pink flowers I hadn’t seen before!
I made it from Point A to Point B in about 25 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. Then I headed back to Point A, where I had more errands to do. (And where I wanted to finish because I would be buying heavier items and didn’t want to lug them across town.)
Now, did walking my errands save time? Well, yes and no. Of course it would have been faster to drive from Point A to Point B…about 48 minutes faster.
However, I did not, when all was said and done, have to drive to Point C — the local walking trails. I mean, it’s awesome that we have these trails now where we can walk, but really, why make a special trip when we have sidewalks in town?! So I saved all that time, plus it was nice to walk somewhere with a purpose. My mom said, “You walked all that way?” But it’s really not that far! It’s no further than the walk across campus in college or the walk from my apartment in the East Village to shopping in Chelsea was and I did that without thinking twice.
I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t think of this sooner and really want to encourage other people to do this. I mean, I know for a fact I’m not the only burb-dweller and I know how much burb-dwellers make excuses. I’m super excited that I’ve found a way to shoot that excuse to Hell.
So if you’re a Suburbanite or you know someone who is, please share this idea! Because we all love our cars, but this is a great compromise. Drive, then walk! Maybe it will catch on. Personally, I would just love to see masses of suburbanites going between Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Best Buy on foot rather than in noisy, traffic-clogging, polluting, gas-guzzling cars. Wouldn’t you?