Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why wait?

On vacation this last week in Southern Florida I did a good bit of cycling and some canoeing, along with a requisite amount of walking about.  Part of the trip was spent at the home of a friend's grandmother North Port.  The home was located in a 55+ planned community located adjacent to a state highway.  Within the confines of the community there was a surprising amount of walking and cycling.  The three wheeled cargo trikes appeared to be a local favorite.  I wondered, "Why wait?"  Were these friendly folks, retired in Florida, just now discovering the joys of non-motorized transportation and recreation?

Did the relations with their elderly neighbors magically improve in the 55+ community due to some new found font of inner friendliness, or was the addition of more personable transportation somehow involved?  Why is a very reasonable 15mph the speed limit in their planned community, but I've never seen anything below 25mph in the ubiquitous suburban sprawl-scape?  Would these valued elders have been better off in a mixed age, densely developed, urban area with ample park lands rather than a dead end neighborhood of their peers?  I left the experience with a sprinkling of first hand experience of what had previously been a confusing and foreign concept to me.  I came to understand some of the benefits that come with these packaged communities, but at the same time didn't see why those benefits weren't already possible in a redeveloped urban or smart growth community. 

But now back to my titular concept - Why Wait?  We know what we want - livable, bikeable, and walkable communities.  Communities where we know our neighbors and have lots of social and cultural opportunities.  It makes sense both individually, and globally, to change ours lifestyles to better fit this vision.  So why do hordes of humanity wait until their silver years to gain a sense of community and take the opportunity to get some exercise and fresh air as part of their commute?  Does getting to know your neighbor take on new importance when the time left to do so is increasingly evident?  This boggles my mind.  Leaving me with a headache and a sense of futility for the future of this green Earth.  It doesn't help that I just watched A Fierce Green Fire at Real Art Ways, a thorough documentary that I highly recommend.  For some reason environmental and social justice movies tend to leave me feeling negative and crummy about where the world is heading.

Florida as a state is a hodge podge of improvements aimed at Complete Streets, but struggling to overcome the challenges of a very sprawling development model.  Florida is the shining capitol of soulless strip mall development and curve linear suburbs built on drained swamp land.  I seem to recall being excited about the bike lanes that are standard on new Florida state highways when I was an undergraduate at Florida State University, but now I recognize the limitations.  When a roadway has 3-4 lanes of traffic in each direction traveling at 45-55mph and there are high speed entrance and exit ramps, a bike lane seems a bit silly.  Better than nothing, but not something that will draw the masses out of their reinforced assault vehicles.  On a tangential note, I've noticed that many areas in Florida do have solid bus transit systems.  Perhaps this is resultant of a retired community that needs this amenity to get around, pulling busing out of the just for poor folks stigma.

Along this vein, why wait to register for the Connecticut Bike Walk Summit that is rapidly approaching on April 27th?  This is the same day as Salem's DeTour de Connecticut, but I doubt the attendees would overlap much (although I happen to have a tough decision to make).  Instead of wallowing in fatalistic visions of our car-centric, globally weird future we can take the opportunity to do something about it.  There are short term, local, and personal benefits to a more bikeable and walkable Connecticut.  Why wait?

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