How Hard Is It to Walk in American Suburbs? Worse Than I Imagined

CC BY 2.0. Google Maps/ yellow is jaywalking to dinner, red is crossing against a red light returning to hotel.

On the Mouzon scale of 1 to 10 for walkability, this intersection gets -10.

I was stuck near Hartford, Connecticut (actually, according to readers, East Windsor-Springfield), because of a blizzard that kept the little planes from flying me home to Toronto, sitting in an airport hotel when Steve Mouzon tweeted:

I was thinking of this when the airport shuttle driver taking me to another hotel told me how he was last at the Comfort Inn when he got a call to take someone a hundred yards to the Cracker Barrel. A hundred yards! We got into a discussion about walking and he said nobody walks around here -- you can't. He also told me that Sophia's Restaurant across the street from the hotel was really good, and not being a Cracker Barrel type, I thought I would go there.

street view

Lloyd Alter/ Traffic lights in the distance/CC BY 2.0

It really was just across the street, and the intersection was a couple of hundred yards away so I thought I would do what everyone calls jaywalking, and go straight from the hotel across to Sophia's (the yellow line on the google map above). I was nervous; so many people are killed this way. I waited a long time until I was sure it was safe and ran. I was careful to not wear black or look at my phone, although I knew that if I was hit I would still be blamed.


Lloyd Alter/ Sophia's: so near and yet so far/CC BY 2.0

After a lovely dinner and some wine I thought I would take what I thought was the safer choice and go to the intersection and cross with the light (the red line). Except there was no sidewalk to get there. Just a giant curve radiused corner that cars going east with the green light flew around at high speed so that I couldn't cross with the green light; there no pedestrian markings, no crosswalk, nothing -- and nothing to indicate that cars should slow down and look for pedestrians.


© Google maps/ design for death

In the end, I considered it safer to run across the street against the red light; at least I knew which cars were coming. And of course, if I had been hit, you know who would have been blamed. I really needed a shuttle bus just to get to Sophia's safely.

When I first saw Steve's checklist of walkable urbanism, I thought it was flawed because different people will walk different distances; my accountant is two miles away but I often walk it. The guy the shuttle driver complained about wouldn't even walk to the Cracker Barrel. So it is a different list for different people. But I don't anymore. There is a certain degree of walkability that every place with people living or working deserves at a bare minimum.

Going back to Steve's checklist at how many places can you walk to, my home is about 8. This Comfort Inn was about -10; it was totally unwalkable. And the real lesson of this is that the next time someone is killed and they blame the victim for jaywalking, look at where it happened. Is there a place to cross? And the next time they say the victim crossed with a red light, check out whether there is actually any way to cross with a green.

Instead of passing laws banning texting, they should pass laws making sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure and crosswalks mandatory wherever there are businesses serving the public. Nobody should have to take their life into their hands just to get dinner.