Apr 28, 2016 - Things to Do

Op-Ed: Walkin’ or just talkin’? Few citizens actually walk as a means of transport

Tryon-street-bridge-charlotte

Paul Reinhartsen Tryon-street-bridge-charlotte cover

As urban life and lifestyles take hold in and around Uptown, there is much talk about promoting walking as a means of transport.

Fans of pedestrianism cite its many benefits: health and wellbeing of the walker; lack of a carbon footprint; increase in walker numbers adds to safety of community; natural neighbor interactions, reduction in car traffic, no associated costs (beyond footwear). And as far as drawbacks are concerned, there seems to be none – for either the city or the individual.

However, is there evidence to suggest that Charlotteans are ready to make good on pedestrian investments? It certainly doesn’t appear so.

First, a couple of disclaimers:

(1) Any evidence, or citations to a lack thereof, mentioned here target only walking as a method of transportation; thus, it has no relevance to Saturday Rail Trail explorations, Greenway dog walks, or similar foot adventures of pleasure.

(2) Much of the evidence included here is less scientific than it is anecdotal; it is proffered to encourage further investigations of the former type.

My background: I am a native of New York City, where I worked as a reporter. I commuted on foot for a dozen years in Manhattan. I now live in South End near the Phat Burrito eatery with my 12-year-old daughter. I walk Uptown to work. For entertainment events in our neighborhood or within the four Wards, my daughter and I walk or take the train (which stops outside my door). We drive to the grocery store and to school.

My building has 66 condo units. It is a 10-minute walk from Panthers Stadium and a 20-minute stroll to Blumenthal, EpiCentre and Discovery Place. Most residents here are in their 20s and 30s, and work as young urban professionals. I am friends with some, and a neighbor to many others as a consequence of a communal rooftop deck.

I know of no resident in my building without a car (many have two). I am aware of no fellow resident (of the 30 or so that qualify) who walks Uptown to his or her workplace (though there are at least two who walk to South End employers).

In my social interactions with my building’s neighbors – and other South End friends – I have NEVER been taken up on an offer to walk to an Uptown event (and quite often the reaction of my neighbors reads uncomfortable as they seemingly acknowledge the “should” factor). I have also twice encountered neighbors in our parking lot driving to CVS, which is directly across the street. Finally, I add that all members of this group who have chimed in on the issue claim the pedestrian-friendly nature of the neighborhood was a chief factor in moving here.

One recent morning, I counted 91 people walking across the South Boulevard bridge on a weekday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Ninety-One! And at least some of them were not pedestrian commuters but rather drivers who parked off Morehead and walked across the bridge from there (cheap or free parking).

As a fan of classical music, opera and sports, I frequently head to Uptown for a variety of engagements. About a month back, my daughter and I met up with two couples for a concert at the Knight Theater. Both couples lived (and came to the show from) Uptown – one in Fourth Ward and the other off Tryon. Both drove and paid for parking.

Enough. I am well aware my observations would not pass scientific scrutiny and should not alone be a basis for abandoning pedestrianism. Charlotte’s urban renewal is still quite new, and growing pains, even for aspiring foot traffickers, remain. Educating urban dwellers will help. Gains will also come for those who advance their hoofing experiences. Adding to the glass “half-full” view is the city’s promise to make pedestrian corridors both more pleasant and safer.

Nevertheless, at this juncture, I urge Charlotte leaders and its citizens to step with caution. Walking as transport here has great potential, and ultimately will prove an inevitable consequence of our city’s continuing urban development.

What we don’t need is a $2 million pedestrian bridge from Metropolitan to Uptown that attracts less than 50 walkers a day (or any similar boondoggle). Before we model, or build, let’s make sure that the current band of pedestrian project supporters will also come to use them.

Paul Reinhartsen is a South End resident and a lifelong fan of urban living. He can be reached at [email protected]

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