For 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?