Pedestrian

Pedestrian: a person traveling on foot; a walker, esp. on city streets. Undistinguished, ordinary, dull.

The two main definitions of “pedestrian” are at odds with each other, in my experience. Sure, the most ordinary way human beings move through space is on foot, walking. We walk from here to there all day long, not even thinking about it.

But walking is hardly dull. How better to move through a neighborhood than on foot? You see and hear and smell things you miss at a faster pace. You meet other people face to face, maybe even have a little chat.

Compared to a car, biking is more experiential too, but you move pretty fast and need to keep your eye on the road.

Portland is designed for walking. Most neighborhoods have a central area with shops that provide basic services within easy walking distance. You feel safer on the sidewalks because they’re nicely separated from the street by planter strips – often with trees.

Perhaps because Vancouver, WA (where I live) was primarily rural until quite recently, sidewalks are rare except for downtown. On some of our lovely country roads cars may be occasional, but they go fast and a pedestrian often has to dive for the ditch to stay alive.

For years developers ruled in Clark County. They didn’t want no stinkin’ sidewalks because it added expense they couldn’t easily recapture. Furthermore, cars rule in rural and suburban America – only fools and poor people walk.

Now the county planners are wising up and requiring new developments to incluede sidewalks, but the result  is still a mishmash. You’ll have 100 feet of sidewalk along the roadway, then 1/4 mile without, then another couple hundred feet with sidewalk, etc etc. Maybe ten years from now it will be continuous, but meanwhile these pathetic little strips only emphasize our lack of foresight.

On Monday The Oregonian ran a front page story on the Sunday-Parkways car-free streets event. Interestingly the photo was of a mob of assorted human powered wheeled contraptions – mostly bikes, but also strollers and tricycles. My pedestrian friend and I started early enough that we weren’t run over. But for that couple of hours, this pedestrian loved being king of the road.

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