Myth: People in Dallas love their cars and prefer to drive everywhere.
Possible (but erroneous) explanation: The weather in Dallas is so terrible that nobody wants to walk or ride a bike anyway.
And yet, consider the weather in Boston. In winter, I have walked through snow and slippery ice to get from my front door to the subway. In summer, I have endured heat waves and power outages (translate: no air conditioning) and still walked to the grocery store.
When our family relocated to Dallas in ’97, we moved close to bus lines and DART rails so my husband wouldn’t need a car to get Downtown. We survived our first five years in Dallas without the cost of a second car and insurance. Usually, we had no difficulty working out conflicts, and the financial savings were so great, it was worth it.
One day, my husband needed the car at the same time I wanted to go to a movie. It was December, and the temperature was pleasant with a few drizzles. We decided he’d drive me to the Cineplex at Walnut Hill and Central Expressway, and I would walk home past Presbyterian Hospital and then north on Greenville to Royal.
After the feel-good movie, I donned my raincoat and set out walking. I soon learned that rain was the least of my worries. From the vantage point of a pedestrian, I experienced the landscape as hostile and dangerous. Sidewalks mysteriously disappeared, often with no alternative for walking except the busy street.
Drivers did not appreciate my inconvenient decision to walk that day. Even at the few places I had the right of way (the rare and brief “walk” signal), drivers careening right or left clearly did not expect anyone to actually walk there. At one point, I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket to signal that (a) I was not homeless and (b) if I was flattened by a car, somebody somewhere would miss me.
That was the only time I walked anywhere substantial in Dallas, because although the flesh is willing, the spirit is not sufficiently insane to fight the traffic. If a walk does not involve a designated hike or bike trail, then it is probably too dangerous.
I’ve learned that I can walk in my own neighborhood, but only if it looks like I’m not going anywhere. Correct etiquette requires exercise clothes. Wear running or gym attire, plus athletic shoes, and there is a good chance your neighbors will not question your motives.
Once, when I was dressed in regular street clothes (or perhaps I should call them “car” clothes) a neighbor guessed (correctly) that my car was in the shop. She offered me a ride.
I think I said yes, because all aging shopping centers in Lake Highlands have one thing in common – no easy access by pedestrians or bicycles. When I walk through our neighborhood to Starbucks or Walgreens at the Abrams/Royal shopping center, I have to scurry across six lanes of traffic, and I’m often forced to take temporary refuge on the grass median, which can be terrifying. On arrival, the vast fields of blacktop and very little shade make this and similar centers downright hostile to anyone outside a car.
Which brings to mind plans for our new Town Center. One of the best features of the design is its pedestrian-friendly trails, which will follow along the north-south shore of the proposed lake.
Unfortunately, original plans (which include connection to the White Rock bike trail) are on hold, due to city budget concerns. While it’s hard to argue with this reasoning during a deep economic downturn, it’s important to recognize that people-friendly features are just as important as car-friendly features, and a truly pedestrian and bike-friendly Town Center will help breathe life into our retail, which is where the hearts of the developers reside. Connection to the White Rock bike trail would also make the DART station more useful for riders who might choose to bike and ride.
Without the access trails, the Town Center trail may end up like so many of our disappearing sidewalks. Let’s hope we can do better than one more trail to nowhere.