Acknowledgement. Recognition. Affirmation. Different words to essentially describe being seen. It can be easy to forget the importance of being seen if you don’t get overlooked often. But all it takes is one driver not to give a thank you wave after you’ve let them in for it the importance of acknowledgement to sink in. In 3 seconds you transition from feeling beneficial and selfless to annoyed and resentful. As we are all aware, construction season is in full swing (are there any roads not currently under construction?)
After generously leaving 10 metres of room for the doofus in the construction lane, it takes what feels like eternity (probably 5 seconds) until he gets the hint. Finally he pulls into the lane, in the spot you graciously provided for him, and after a few expectant seconds, you realize, no, this person isn’t even going to recognize the favour that I just did. If it weren’t for you, this guy would still be sitting in the other lane because the black pickup tailgating you sure as hell wasn’t going to let him in. So you stew in your own annoyance for a while until eventually you forget about it. But still, a wave would have been nice.
I was thinking about that while I was out for a walk. My neighbourhood is an older one so we have sidewalks. That was one of my ‘must haves’ when we were looking for our house. As I walked along, I realized that I have never been able to articulate why this matters. All I know is that in sidewalk-less neighbourhoods, I feel acutely aware of traffic and it feels like at any point I could be in someone’s way by walking along the road. When cars do come along, I tend to step onto the nearest lawn and wait until I have the road to myself again. It takes away most of my enjoyment of walking. With my neighbourhood, I can listen to music without constantly checking behind me. I also get a chance to be a little closer to all the neighbours’ yards where I can surreptitiously look at their landscaping (yes, I’m that person). Overall it makes it a safer, and more enjoyable activity.
This is why I’ve never understood why new developments often exclude sidewalks. I know it adds additional costs, but I like that it serves the people themselves, rather than just their vehicles. It’s so important that we build a city that supports all of its inhabitants, not only drivers. For a long time Winnipeg has allowed itself to develop in a way that actively excludes a lot of people. A city-wide bike system is long overdue. The cycling paths that have been developed has created a substantial increase in cyclists. The city should also look at freezing any additional developments because they’re a drain on resources and the additional taxes aren’t enough to cover all the massive new infrastructure that they require. We need to recognize that our infrastructure deficit doesn’t allow us to keep expanding indefinitely. Sidewalks should be included in all neighbourhoods, if only for safety reasons. They should also be kept in decent shape without massive chips in the concrete and rebar sticking out. In the winter, the snow should be cleared from the sidewalks immediately following the roads being cleared. It’s unacceptable for pedestrians to choose between wading through a foot of snow, or taking their chances walking along the much narrower roads while dodging oncoming traffic.
It’s hard to get past the “but we’re a driving city” mentality because it’s true. For a long time now we have based everything around cars and driving, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue in that direction. A city built for only one demographic is doing a disservice to the rest of its citizens. There are a ton of reasons why driving may not be an option for someone. Whether it’s financial, medical or even environmental, there are a ton of reasons why someone may not want or be able to drive. It’s time to include everyone in our infrastructure, not just the drivers.