Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Field Notes from the Burbs: Part One

After an eye-opening journey from Boston just over a week ago, we are still visiting family where I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Having lived in Boston for the past eight years, I can look at the suburban experience with fresh eyes. My thoughts about driving an SUV seem even more pertinent in the suburbs. In an urban area like Boston, I can to walk to the subway stop, take the train to work, run errands on foot, and get plenty of exercise at parks without having to travel ten minutes to a gym in my car.

When it comes to getting around, the contrast between the city and most suburbs is stark. Here outside of Pittsburgh, cars begin to feel essential- a dangerous state of mind that leads to complacency about America's reliance on driving. It begins to seem normal to crank up the car for a trip to the mailbox. It is so rare to see a walker or biker on the side of the road here! I guess most walking and biking is saved for parks...which everyone drives to.

It's not as if people who live in this area don't want to rely less on their cars. If nothing else, the Texas-sized gas prices have frightened people all over the country into thinking a bit more critically about transportation. The planning (or lack thereof) when the subdivisions went up in the 1950s did not include sidewalks or wide roads. And when sidewalks do exist in residential neighborhoods, they don't connect with the concrete jungle of big box stores where people engage in most of their economic lives. Despite our quiet neighborhood, I felt a bit nervous walking with a stroller and a dog the other day because I had to jump out of the way when a car whizzed past me. Forget about hitting the four-lane to walk to the supermarket!

What needs to happen? For one thing, we need to encourage better urban and suburban planning. Portland, Oregon seems to be doing a great job at encouraging bike commuting. Check out the Portland Department of Transportation's site for some inspiration. (I'd love to hear whether Portland's progress is real change or eco-hype from someone who lives there or visited recently.)

But what about the long-established suburban areas around the country like this one in Pittsburgh? How can we encourage people to drive less without adequate public transport, sidewalks, or bike lanes? Ideas?

1 Comments:

  • At 4:12 PM, Blogger Andrea Rusin said…

    I don't live in Portland, but my daughter does -and the bike thing seems to be real. We're fairly avid bikers in our family, and Portland was -for a city- biker heaven.

    But out here in the cornfields? Yeah, we drive most places. Well, Dave rides his bike, but most people drive. It takes a city of some size to support meaningful public transportation, and we're not big enough.

     

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