Walk to Work Day: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

By Jim Stone

April 5 was National Walk to Work Day, so as the Executive Director of California’s largest pedestrian advocacy organization, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Walking to work, that is. Here’s my report, warts and all.

Let me start by saying walking to work is not a practical alternative for many people. I’m one of them because I live in La Mesa and WalkSanDiego is headquartered in San Diego’s East Village. That’s 8 miles as the crow flies, but since I can’t fly it was an 11.5 mile walk. Nobody has that kind of time to commit to commuting, nor should they. But it presented an opportunity to promote walking and walkability, and it gave me a chance to make some observations along the way. 

The Good

This is what walkability looks like.I’m pleased to say there was an unbroken (relatively) network of sidewalks from my front door to the front door of our office on 13th Street. There were a few places here and there where the sidewalk was damaged, obstructed or too narrow, but overall I was pleased. I should point out that the route I took was primarily along University Avenue and Park Boulevard and it would be surprising if there were not sidewalks along these major thoroughfares. Last year I took several smaller streets on my walk to work and found many areas where sidewalks were absent.

I encountered more marked crosswalks then I was expecting. The intersection of Wilson and University, for example, had ladder striped crosswalks in all directions. We would like to see more of these high visibility crosswalks, but at this point all I’d like to say is “Go San Diego!” I even found a mid-block crossing, complete with “pop-outs,” being installed on Park Boulevard along a stretch that is currently difficult to cross.

And a word about motorists along the way. Actually, two words: courteous and well-behaved. Nobody tried to bully me out of a crosswalk and I sensed a general awareness of pedestrians by drivers turning into intersections and driveways. I was pleased to see this, especially in the City Heights neighborhood where there have historically been a disproportionate number of pedestrians hit by cars.

The Bad

There are some places that just make you shake your head and wonder, “What were they thinking?” An example was a retail strip along University Avenue in the Rolando neighborhood where there was parallel parking close to the storefront that is only accessible by driving over the sidewalk. Yes folks, it is actually designed so that cars must drive on the sidewalk to get to a parking spot!Walk_to_Work_3.jpg

As is typical for anyone who walks, there were some annoying obstructions along the way. Sometimes it was a utility box, a light pole or a sign smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. Why do they think that’s okay? They would never put a stop sign or a utility pole in the middle of a driving lane, yet it is not uncommon to obstruct the pedestrian path. We shouldn’t stand for it!

The Ugly

What does a Dalmatian and a typical sidewalk in City Heights have in common? Black spots. But the spots on the sidewalk are from chewing gum. Yuck! Come on kids, put that used gum in a trash can! What does it have to do with walkability? Walkable places are pleasant places. A bunch of gum stuck on the sidewalk makes a place less pleasant. The same goes for cigarette butts. Infrastructure barriers to walkability must be addressed by government, but aesthetic issues like litter and cleanliness are within the power of the people to solve. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is one way people can have a direct hand in making things better.

So now what?

A few parting thoughts about my 11 mile walk. When you walk you see things you don’t normally see—a bit of wonderful landscape that remains unobserved at 30 mph, for example. You can enjoy the aroma of countless restaurants cooking up breakfast for waiting customers. And you have an opportunity to say hello to other walkers passing by; something you just can’t do while driving. These are the things that build community. So it may not be practical to walk to work, but I encourage you to take a foot-powered journey somewhere this weekend. You might be surprised at what you find.