The piece last month about a Pandemic Project to walk every street in Salem was pretty great.
|Safety and sidewalks in walking|
With space limits in print, there are only so many themes that can be developed in a profile of course. But walking also takes place in a politics and a culture, and there is much more to say.
In the note on Alderbrook, we discussed a little about the role of wealth in making neighborhoods attractive and comfortable.
Another important element to the story, one that is easy to let pass as invisible and to take for granted as the baseline or norm, is that the person walking here does so with a body that reads white and masculine.
|Harassment is a problem - via Twitter|
He does not have to contend with routine harassment. Another reporter at the paper immediately pointed out the problem of "cat callers."
There is a kind of safety on the street that is strongly gendered. Lazzara might feel safe when a woman or non-binary person might not.
Race is also important. A Black man, or other person who doesn't read as white, would not likely able to conduct this same project.
|Ditching walking and biking for driving|
Last year the President of the Urban League of Portland and wife of an Attorney harassed at the Department of Justice commented on several problems in Salem: Cops following a black man on a bike, neighbors informally policing against people who "don't belong," and drivers refusing to yield at crosswalks.
In differential policing of protests, we also see differences in who gets to use sidewalk space and how much force is used in corralling or repelling them.
The story and project of walking every street in Salem totally depends on the person walking presenting as white and male. There is privilege here without which none of this is effectively possible.
There are still different configurations of embodiedness, separate from gender, sex, or race, that have different requirements in mobility.
You might recall John Dashney, legally blind, and struck down while crossing 17th at Chemeketa. Drivers have struck and hurt other blind people in Salem.
|A person driving hit John Dashney in 2012|
and he died in 2019
|On inclusive walk audits - MN Public Health Dept.|
Even on streets with sidewalks, our autoism makes problems for people whose bodies do not meet our idealized standards for youthful fitness.
|South Commercial is always treacherous (2015)|
Shifting from differences to commonalities, there are other contexts in which all bodies, of all shapes and sizes and appearance, share the same vulnerability to lethally powerful cars and their drivers.
Although the piece pointed out the problem of the lack of sidewalks in some areas, it did not dwell enough on the ways that driving speed exacerbates the problems with missing sidewalks. On quiet and slow residential streets missing sidewalks, it is not always so difficult to share space with multiple kinds of road users, and the lack of sidewalks is only sometimes an obvious problem, though it still too often is.
|A zoomy road, not just missing sidewalks|
But on larger streets or ruralish streets, especially those in areas built to mid-century unincorporated standards, the lack of sidewalks is a real and consistent problem since drivers zoom. Sometimes the shoulder is ditched or insufficient. Even with more of a shoulder, the usual driving speed is such that the walk is not comfortable or attractive. Though the cost is non-monetary, we still impose a cost on those who might like or need to walk.
And, again, on our large arterials with sidewalks, our stroads, the dust, exhaust, speeds, and everything, also impose a non-monetary cost on people walking.
Zooming out a bit, because it makes for a better story, we often prefer to discuss walking and biking in stories of epic scope, rather than in stories of basic mobility and ways our autoist system curbs and harms that. We neglect the foundation, seemingly banal, for the exceptional, and understand walking or biking through the lens of that heroic form.
So we get stories like this Pandemic Project to walk every street, or the story about a teacher on a heroic trek to raise money for textbooks. Even stories about appointment walking, like those scheduled in the Just Walk project, treat walking as special time, not as ordinary act.
Talking about epic walking and biking distracts from the more urgent need to improve walking and biking for ordinary, everyday trips and for everybody.
|More walking and biking needed|
September 2021 presentation to Council
And if we want to make progress on our greenhouse gas goals, we will need to take more seriously the irony and disconnect in talking about our emissions forecasts and emissions goals while we laud the intersection hypertrophy at Wallace and Glen Creek.
Thinking about walking all the streets is fun and interesting, but we should also take the time to think about what conditions make it possible, and for whom those conditions are easy to obtain and for whom they are difficult.
Related, previously here: