Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walking to Work

Mid month, I spent five days in Boston while attending the American Planning Association's annual conference. Over the next few days, I will enter some blog posts about the conference and experience.

I love cities in general, and Boston in particular. If I wasn't in Dover, I'd look for an opportunity in Portland (Maine), Boston or Baltimore - my top three. All gritty cities with a vibe and in their own ways an audacity.

Anyway, I spent five days in Boston. On the third day, I had a thought (well a transit specific one). I was walking along and realized that in Boston, I had no qualms with taking the subway to get from the hotel (actually in Cambridge - much better deal), to the convention center. From the T stop I would walk a bit as well. In general, I realized that I walked 3 miles a day and rode the T for 90% of my needs.

I rode the Downeaster to Boston so I had no car option. I was trapped, unable to be mobile without my legs. You know what? It was great. I loved it. My day adjusted to making sure I had enough time to get to the T stop, and include the 20 - 30 minute ride and walk to the convention center. I listened to podcasts on the trip and flipped through the paper. What a joy.

So then I get home. Things didn't revert for me. I haven't let them. Sunday my wife followed me to work, and I left my truck in the parking space it occupies most of its time anyway, and she drove me home (now that I think about it, why didn't I walk home?). We live a mile or so from City Hall, on what would be the outskirts of Dover's urban core.

I walked to work.

The rain isn't fun, but the time alone has been nice. I am still listening to podcasts, and getting here about 6:30 in the morning, just leaving earlier then I did in the past (15 minutes as opposed to 2 minutes). I've written in the past about walking through town and all the different things you see, the people walking their dogs, the delivery trucks, the Downeaster.

I've realized a few things about walking and public transit. In Boston you have sites and sounds all around you. One morning, I walked from the hotel to the Friendly Toast in Kendall Sq in Cambridge. It was a mile or so, and the most boring 15 minute walk of the trip. It was bland, because the scenery was bland. From there I walked the 27 minutes to the convention center (this was on the advice of the waiter, who said it would be quicker to walk then ride two subways). This was was more inviting. I saw the river, people hustling, college students, and tourists.

Visual stimulation is important to encouraging pedestrian commuting. If all you have to look at is a solid image (whether it is a blank concrete wall, or a wall of trees), you feel like the trip will take forever. Same thing on my way to work. I can walk down Washington Street, and see homes and the such, but until I cross the Community Trail, the walk is homogeneous. If I take a route in via Fourth Street to Chestnut, I have more variety sooner. This walk is longer, but goes faster.

Another observation is that if you have the convenience of a car, you will use it. Why shouldn't you? If my truck was at home, and it was raining this am, I would have jumped in. By bringing it here, I had to walk. It is a mindset change. One that 4 or 5 dollar gas (my prediction by Labor Day), will hopefully force.

Public transit is a great option, and we have to a degree. What would life be like in Dover, or for that matter the Portsmouth Dover Rochester area if COAST had enough demand that it could offer 30 minute head ways along the whole line? Would you take the bus if you knew you could rely on it to meet your time needs. I bet we all would reconsider that option. The market dictates the travel times, and demands. In Boston the T runs a wide spread of hours, because people are always on the go and moving. In Dover that demand is much different.

So, that's one of the outcomes of spending time in Boston, and improved and reinvigorated desire to walk to work (the weather helps as well -not to fun to walk to work in Feb, or home in the dark). Next, I'll dig the bike out - of course that is less calories burned, which I need to be aware of as well.

Stay tuned, because I will write more about the conference, and in May we'll be discussing commute to work week, as part of the City's Sustainability efforts.

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