National Walking Day reflections

Yesterday was National Walking Day in the USA, where I am from and where the below photo was taken about 9 years ago as I secured my son in his car seat.

I’ve lived in over 2 dozen cities across 5 countries. I’ve experienced a range of ‘mobility lifestyles’ as well as walkability conditions.

I’ve been car-depdendent in many cases due to habit and local mobility culture as well as often due to the fact that there wasn’t a great alternative – walkability conditions were poor and public transit not reliable, efficient or simply non-existent.

When my son was a baby, we went most everywhere by car. Sometimes I walked around the neighborhood or took the bus but the latter was not usually efficient for somewhat longer commutes especially.

For example, if I needed to get to the hospital when I was pregnant for check-ups, a car ride would take about 20 minutes (depending on the hour and congestion) while a bus ride was about 2 hours.

I often just dealt with the very long ride because I didn’t want to drive but I can’t imagine having to deal with 4+ hours roundtrip for local public transit commuting on a daily basis or needing to deal with that inefficient commute if, for example, I was routinely visiting a loved one in the hospital.

As a baby, my son was fairly intolerant of car rides. We could perhaps get one roundtrip in but by the time you were putting him in for that 3rd ride (and if you are a car-dependent parent, you know how it is running errands- you might have multiple stops) he was simply done and would cry at the top of his lungs until we stopped, parked and got him out & cradled him.

Transitioning to a lifestyle where I didn’t have to snap him into a car seat anymore, but rather could just wheel his stroller onto the bus, subway, tram or local train- was so liberating.

I am grateful to be able to raise my children with daily access and experience to walking as part of our regular mobility, though I do think here in Warsaw, pedestrian safety can be drastically improved- largely in connection with aggressive, impatient and careless drivers (of which I may have been one myself back in my regular driving days).

I’m also grateful to raise my children with the experience of diverse, dynamic and flexible public transit systems. I am constantly documenting our lifestyle using the public transit system in Warsaw which is just that (and undergoing significant investments and continuous improvement).

We live in the city and there’s a parking garage in the basement of our apartment building. I could easily make the decision to be car-dependent but I love and deeply value the ability (the liberty) to move through the city by foot and to raise my children with that lifestyle and value as well.

I took a much longer than planned break this afternoon from writing research summaries for my first 11 urban mobility workshops here in Warsaw to pen this post (and create this quick collage). It was worth it. This means a lot to me.

In one of my favorite recent shows, the main character (a recently divorced dad), spontaneously hops on a bus with his kids to get somewhere. His pre-teen daughter is sullen- clearly not used to using public transportation and not happy about it.

“Not wanting to take a bus is not a good value.” The dad gently but firmly admonishes.

My sentiments exactly.

But I also know the situation in many cities where buses are not reliable. Maybe don’t feel safe, are not regularly cleaned. take 3, 4, 5x’s as long to get where you need to go than driving.

To be able to raise my kids with the ability – the liberty – to walk and use efficient, reliable, safe public transportation on a regular basis is a core value for me. It’s also at the heart of sustainable urban development.

Photos include images of my children & I walking in Sweden and using various forms of public transit in Poland.