Pedestrian power promotes positive community
Those of us of a certain age will recall our grandparents adamantly declaring, "Back in our day, we used to walk everywhere!" Well, call me a throwback, but I love walking, for the humble act of putting one foot in front of the other is indeed a very powerful endeavor that speaks volumes about us as individuals and as a society. Walking is not only good for the heart but the mind, too, for how many countless revelations, moments of eureka, and problems have been solved when creative thoughts arise in the midst of an endorphin-producing stroll.
Wanting to realize all these benefits, one Saturday evening I decided to combine my fitness and shopping needs by walking up to Cedar Center. Needless to say, I was a bit thrown off balance when, as I neared my destination, I found myself nearly struck by cars in three separate incidents—pulling out of parking lots and not paying attention to humble little me, the passing pedestrian.
Having survived these close encounters, my adrenaline started flowing, and, perhaps fueled too by my angst that my meditative space could be so abruptly intruded upon, I continued my stroll into the police department to air my concerns. I told the nice and attentive officer that I am sure you guys have bigger concerns to worry about, but I think there is a matter of concern when one cannot walk safely down the street to the store. We started talking about proper lighting and signage, and I expressed a wish that the route could be made safer for us ambulatory warriors. He explained that a lot of that area is private property, and there is not much from their end that could be done. I understand the way things are and, as a product of the suburbs, I am not against driving, believing it to be a valuable way for us to get to work, to school, and all the great events around our city.
Still, I wondered if more could be done to encourage a safer pedestrian atmosphere. I thought of the prominent yellow flashing crosswalk lights in use in front of Ruffing Montessori on Fairmount Boulevard. Such lights illuminate after a pedestrian presses a button, reminding drivers in no subtle terms that they are required under state law to give pedestrians the right of way in crosswalks. Such lights have been used successfully in such pedestrian-friendly cities as Boulder, Colo., and could be put to greater use throughout this region.
In addition to adding a park to University Heights, perhaps the council will consider implementing safe and effective pedestrian walkways. I believe it is really an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Many people, I feel, do not walk or ride bicycles these days simply because it is too dangerous. The lack of walkers means drivers are less likely to expect walkers would be in their way, which only compounds the problem.
The recent push by bicycling organizations in Cleveland for more bike lanes throughout the city has made it safer for families to get out and enjoy the simple pleasure and healthy activity of cycling in their own separate designated lanes. Recently, too, efforts by University Heights Mayor Infeld to put the topic of designated bicycle lanes and improved walkways on the agenda definitely shows the community is on the right path. These efforts will help residents feel greater comfort and safety in getting out for a walk or riding a bike, and not feel that they are competing with automobile traffic. Municipalities more welcoming to other modes of transportation are also working to attract the next generation of homeowners—millennials, who are shown in various surveys to prefer living in communities that have better access to public transit and are less reliant on automobiles.
So, I will continue to bravely step out onto the walkway and exercise my right to walk and to enjoy my simple steps. I have since mapped out a safer route to Cedar Center so I can continue my satisfying strolls. If you see me, feel free to give a smile.
University Heights resident Mark Walters is a paralegal student at Cuyahoga Community College and the co-founder of SandPrintMemoirs.com and TrackerBook.net.