Why I Walk: Taking a Step in the Right Direction by Kevin Klinkenberg

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"The premise of this book is very simple--I like to walk. Whether it's for a night out on the town, getting to work, running errands or even going to the grocery store, I prefer to get where I'm going using my own two feet." (p. 2)
This book succeeds because it reads just as if a friend or colleague would tell you, clearly and without preaching, why he walks: because he enjoys it and sees direct benefits that mean much to his life in terms of finances, health, and social interaction. Thus, if you are a walker, you could use this book to explain to your friends why you walk. If you don't walk for transportation, you can read a good, non-judgmental account of why you might consider it. If you think that walking places for transportation is a bit kooky--this book is for you, because it can help you see how normal and fun walking can be.

More profoundly, the fact that this book even has to be written shows how walking as a form of transportation is a blind spot in the minds of many people--including not just people who might benefit by walking, but decision makers.

In Chapter 1, the author shows a routine Monday: work, email, coffee shop, a bike ride downtown, a run through a park, a walk to a beer parlor, and home. His emphasis is that walking can be used as transportation for normal activities (pp. 10-13).

The author discusses the financial aspects of using walking as part of transportation in Chapter 2. Klinkenberg owns a car, but does not use it as much as many people and thus saves on the wear and tear on the car itself, gas, and other costs. He also saves money by living in a walkable neighborhood which minimizes his travel time and distances to useful destinations and also keeps his property value higher (pp. 18-41).

Klinkenberg covers the freedom he gains in his life by a mix of walking, bicycling, and taking public transit or intercity buses from time to time in Chapter 3. This chapter is very well written for an audience for whom walking is not their mode of choice or, most likely, who never even may have considered that you can walk different places. He patiently explains how walking and using alternate modes of transit is fun, not all that difficult in places that are set up for these modes, and not scary, weird, or dangerous as many people might assume. He shows on page 77, for example, the places he can walk to: a coffee shop, theater, art museum, beer parlor, pub, treats, a friend's house, a park. As a walker myself, I nodded in agreement as I read this chapter as I live what he describes daily. What struck me is this: There are people who have no clue that you can actually walk places for transportation and that walking might be fun, safe, interesting, and even part of the adventure of life. I admire the author's willingness to understand his audience and be respectful, but complete, in the information he gives. The author does mention car-sharing (pp. 53-54) as an option, and since this book has been written, car-sharing is even more widespread and could be a financially-beneficial option for many people as an alternative to car ownership. In the case studies of this book, people who mention occasional car use might benefit greatly by joining a car-sharing club.

".. we perceive car use as efficient time management, and even time gained.
What I've found is more often the opposite.
I've discovered that by walking and biking I spend less time getting to my destinations than when I drive. As a result, I know have more disposable time than I used to have." (p. 105)

The next chapters, 4 and 5, review the health and social aspects of walking. Again, as a walker, I nodded in agreement, but the author patiently describes how getting out and moving around and using your body to encounter the world gives you an edge in fitness (built right into daily living, not sequestered at a gym) and gives you a chance to be among people, including friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

Chapter 6, "Some Downsides" is an excellent chapter because the author honestly admits that walking does have its challenges. In brief, these drawbacks have to do with urban design--lack of walkable places, scattered workplaces, zoning that separates uses and useful stores from homes or transit (p 144-145). The other potential drawbacks of walking have to do with being exposed in the environment: crime and safety are a concern, and a walker can be exposed to obnoxious people (p. 147) and harsh weather (p. 148). The author does have sound advice on overcoming these issues. As a walker and you can quickly learn how to dress for weather and for changing weather. A walker can gain street smarts and learn how to avoid or deal with obnoxious people or noise (and actually gain an appreciation for how vastly different people are in the world--something you don't see or have to deal with looking at the world through a car windshield).

The book includes case study statements by several people that help illustrate the points the author makes in his own life and augments the idea that there are many ways to choose walking as an option for transit.

This book's strength is its common-sense, non-judgmental tone that helps someone understand why someone would want to use walking as a form of transportation. While it is stunning to consider that one would have to explain or defend this choice to walk, nonetheless, this book's anecdotes reveal where many people humorously, or unaware, simply do not see walking as a form of transit. What is worse--and the author does not go into this in this book--transportation officials, elected representatives, and decision makers likewise may be blind to walking as a form of transit. That realization is perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from this book, and perhaps one the author did not directly intend.

In the epilogue, the author advises the reader to simply get out and walk, bike, encourage others, and make your voice heard in your neighborhood and to your elected representatives (p. 155-156) . Toward that end, I think this book itself might be an appropriate gift for your elected representatives, mayor, transportation planner or bureaucrat.

The idea that walking is a normal human behavior and an effective means of transportation must be spread. I'm not saying that officials are necessarily currently antagonistic toward walking, although they might be. But many people might literally be unable to see walking as a possibility--and not in terms of a possibility not worth mentioning or not useful but a possibility that they would not think of as even existing. To get an elected official or mayor to include walking as a statement of transportation policy might be as difficult as getting them to consider jetpacks as a means of transport (actually perhaps it would be more likely that they think of jetpacks or flying cars).

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2024-04-21 · John December · Terms © johndecember.com