The first Wednesday in April is National Walking Day in America. The American Heart Association reminds everyone that thirty minutes of walking a day can save your life. Except in America today walking is being turned into something that people are too scared to do, that if they are not careful they might lose their life. Walking used to be easy; something where you just put on your shoes and go. Baudelaire, who described a flâneur, an urban walker, in the 1860s:
The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.
On the Medical Daily, Susan Scutti writes about walking that "there are no rules." But alas, that isn't true anymore. Even she writes:
Walking can be an adventure, allowing you to learn new corners of your world, so pay attention to what is happening around you. Though you might want to take a shortcut or wander down a quiet street, if you are in an unfamiliar area, it might be best to stay on the well-traveled avenues where businesses are open and other people are near. Be safe when you stroll by wearing light colors, reflective clothing, or carrying a flashlight or glow stick when you go out during the evening or at night. If you wear headphones, make sure you remain aware of traffic, and if you have to step into the street, watch for cars.
What would Baudelaire say about that? Be careful where you go, stick with crowds, dress up like a Christmas tree and carry lights. And GOD FORBID DON'T USE YOUR CELLPHONE!
Walking has been turned into scary stuff, something that you have to arm yourself for now. In New Jersey, they are talking about making it illegal to use your phone while you walk. The Orthopaedic surgeons are running a campaign (paid for by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers) suggesting that we not even talk to people or kids and walk at the same time.
None of this is new, the automobile industry has been at it since the twenties, taking over all of the street real estate for themselves and leaving a thin strip along the edge for everybody else. Michael Lewyn of the Touro Law Center writes in the Criminalization of walking:
Because walking improves human health and reduces pollution, one might think that the law should encourage walking and discourage driving. But in fact, criminal law sometimes punishes walkers, in two major respects. First, state and city laws against something often referred to as “jaywalking” limit walkers’ ability to cross streets. As a result of these laws, police can fine (and even arrest) walkers. Second, bureaucrats and police sometimes interpret child neglect laws to mean that preteen children may never walk on their own, and have sometimes arrested child pedestrians' parents or sought to place the children in state care.
He notes that jaywalking laws "began as special-interest legislation pushed by the auto industry in order to deflect public attention from deaths caused by car crashes." I would submit that all these new campaigns about clothing, cellphones and flashlights are exactly the same thing. It would be too much for them to get legislation to ban walking while deaf, old or short (although that often gets the driver off the hook).
I will reiterate: People should watch where they are going, and should not look at their phones while crossing the street. But the point of these campaigns is not out of any concern for the poor pedestrians getting killed; it is to change the mindset. If blaming the victim is too harsh, then it is to shift the burden. Because 130 times as many deaths and injuries are caused by distracted driving.
So Happy National Walking Day, get out and do it, and don't take any guff from those drivers! The more of us there are out there, the safer we are.