Walking to Work

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.
(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

Main Street West of 8th - 1960For over a year now, I've lived less than a mile away from my company's office in downtown Richmond, Indiana.  And for the first time in my life, on most days I get to and from the office by walking instead of driving.  It's been a really enjoyable shift, and one that I hope I never take for granted, given how much of the rest of the country commutes to work every day.

Some observations on walking to work:

  1. Since walking has become my usual mode of commuting, I've found myself noticing even more what complex and sometimes onerous machines automobiles can be.  There a feeling of lightness I have in walking out the door and propelling myself down the street, feeling my muscles working and pace changing, saying hi to people and noticing changes in their moods and dispositions from day to day, just being out in the open air of the world.  This is much different from the protocols for entering, activating and safely operating my internal combustion go-go machine from one place to another; it's just a much heavier and more isolating experience, and while it still has its place, I'm quite glad to partake in it less often.
  2. The walk takes about 15 minutes or less.  My prior residence was less than 2 miles from my office, which took about 30 minutes.  Even though Richmond tends not to be all that pedestrian-friendly, the previous longer route was especially obnoxious in the loud and busy roads I would walk, and so it became a bit of a psychological barrier to wanting to do it every day.  The 30 minute mark was just long enough to create some stress about how much of the day I might "lose" to walking back and forth, even though other calculations show we lose a good part of our day/lives to earning the money to be able to drive in.  In any case, 15 minutes feels like a great number for me right now - just long enough to make the walk enjoyable, and short enough that I feel close  to all the places I want to be able to be quickly.
  3. I've certainly saved a little money, between several hundred and a thousand dollars in gasoline expenses depending on what past year I compare it to.  The drive to work obviously didn't use a whole lot of gas in itself, but not driving my car every day also means lower automobile maintenance costs.
  4. This winter season found Richmond with more snow on the ground for longer periods of time than it's had in recent history.  Local residents and businesses are generally not very cognizant of the impact on pedestrians when they leaving their sidewalks unshoveled; it means that people either have to walk in the street, which is dangerous, or take alternate routes, which is inconvenient.  This didn't stop me from walking, even if I had to transport an extra pair of shoes along with me, but it's still disappointing to see the significant resources expended on making paths clear for cars and so little attention given to keeping pedestrian walkways usable.
  5. I live in an Indiana Enterprise Zone, which means that the local governments have designated it as a "distressed or blighted area" that could benefit from some economic development incentives.  What it really means is that my employer and I both get tax credits for me living there - close to a thousand dollars on my return this year -  the idea being that I'm helping to make the area less distressed and blighted.  What's that have to do with walking to work? The goal of having a walkable, bike-able city lines up nicely with the goal of having a vibrant downtown business district surrounded by vibrant, well-established residential neighborhoods.  When we remember to plan communities around the needs of people instead of around what's best for automobiles, we almost always inevitably also build a stronger local economy.
  6. I have to recognize the relative ease with which I - a tall white male - can wander out into the streets past dusk on my walk home after a late night at the office, not thinking too much about being vulnerable or unsafe.  I know some of my downtown co-workers wouldn't find it desirable or even acceptable to put themselves in the same position.  There are things Richmond could do to help with this - e.g. fix the streetlights that don't work on Main St. - but there are also a broader set of cultural issues that need work before the pedestrian lifestyle is truly "safe" and normal again.  In the meantime, I'm privileged in a way that I'll keep taking advantage of, but won't take for granted.
  7. I usually listen to music while I walk (and lately I'm listening to courses on learning Spanish).  Sometimes I don't listen to anything and just enjoy the sounds around me.  The sounds I listen to often set my mood for the day, and can inject a burst of creative energy that stays with me as the melodies or lyrics echo around in my head.  It's perhaps no different than listening to the stereo in the car, but dancing, tapping your fingers to a beat, absorbing a powerful verse - they're all a little more fun when you don't have to keep your eyes on the road.

Those are some of my experiences of getting to work.  Do you have any to share?

6 thoughts on “Walking to Work

  1. I walked to work this week which is about 10 miles down the lakefront of Chicago. Other than problems with shoes leading to blisters and shin splints, it was a beautiful walk. My biggest issue, during early spring (and late fall) is the lack of availability of public restrooms which is sometimes enough for me not to walk. Communities can also do a better job of having affordable shower facilities available for after your walk (or bike or run) to work. Otherwise, you can't beat the view and if necessary, I can always get a few phone calls made on the way.

  2. Your reflections reminded me of the two years when I lived in Bloomington for med school and walked to class every day. I found myself much more tuned in to the seasons and rhythms of nature. I noticed the first leaves changing in the fall and the first crocuses in the spring. It certainly helped to balance sitting and learning all day!

  3. I bike to work at least once a week and it's a real treat. I notice those days tend to be higher-energy and more enjoyable. While riding I try to count my breaths and set an intention for the day. It's true-you notice so much more of your surrounding than when commuting by "go-go machine."

  4. Walking to work for me is not an option. First, I have to take my girls to preschool and etc. daily. But only being about 2 miles from work, it would seem like walking would be no problem. But navigating the current US 27 situation is like a deathwish. I know sidewalks are coming, but until then, the go-go machine is my safest bet. I keep saying I will try riding my bike to work during the summer when my wife is home with the kids, but hospital hill is still VERY scary.

  5. I walk about a mile to work most days. The only exceptions are when I need to run errands during the day to other parts of town, when it is pouring down rain, or when the temperature is sub zero. It is a pleasant way to spend twenty minutes of the day. My body feels good with the gentle exercise. I find I am more aware of the changes in the weather and natural things from day to day. One highlight is looking at the river as I walk over the bridge. That is something you can't see from an automobile.

    I keep an umbrella at work for those unusual times when it is raining at the end of the day, but the weather was nice in the morning. Like Chris, I carried an extra pair of shoes when navigating the snow this winter.

    Thanks for the thoughtful reflections on the benefits and challenges of pedestrian commuting.

  6. When I lived in the east I used to walk from my apartment to take public transportation into the city (Boston), then walk from the T stop to my job, then take the T to my grad school classes, and walk again, then the T and train back home and walk home again. I probably walked about 3 or 4 miles total every day. I was healthy, thinner than I am now, and possessed of the walker's happiness and heartiness no matter the weather.

    I still remember, not long ago, hearing someone say, of Richmond, "This city made me fat!" Well, probably not. There are ways, if you are able, to fit walking into your day. If not to work, then short errands can often be made walkable; even parking in one place downtown and walking to the various shops one needs to visit -- this alone can help. There is not really a culture of walking in Richmond (and other American small cities). The more of us that do walk, the more walking will seem "normal," not outside the norm.

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