I have lived in many communities across America. I have also been an avid bicyclist and have prided myself in being a dedicated hiker. And one thing I can say without hesitation – most places where I have lived are decidedly unfriendly toward pedestrians. In fact, so dedicated were they to the concept of automobiles, I found myself taking my life in my own hands just because I decided to walk instead of drive.
In America, it is often taken for granted that only an odd-ball or someone down-on-their-luck would be walking along the side of the road! The auto is king and woe to those who get in the way of the GREAT MACHINES. The way we treat our cars you would think there is a measure in the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing vehicle liberty! Our roads, not our sidewalks, get our Chapter 90 money. Mayors and politicians are measured by how well they provide for these mechanical beasts with smooth roads and parking spaces.
That’s why I get a kick out of Mike Early’s bumper sticker:
BUT IN NEWBURYPORT, WE TAKE OUR WALKING VERY SERIOUSLY. Our beautiful vistas and lovely neighborhoods can only be soaked in by the relaxing trawling of measured footsteps. I have guests from out of town who remark how shocked they are by how many people fill the sidewalks downtown. We as a community love to walk, or run or take a bike. I see entire conversations going on as couples and groups stride down our tree-covered avenues.
That is why so many who come from Europe remark how Newburyport reminds them of home. There, in many parts of the continent; bikes and pedestrian rule. We truly are a walking town! And many residents of Newburyport make it a point to walk all over our City. Even Council President O’Brien is seen walking great distances.
But here is the rub. Our sidewalks are a recipe for killing. Most locals don’t use the sidewalks if they can help it because you never know what you will get. And trying to navigate on them can get you hurt or greatly delay your walk as you try to figure out how to get over a gnarled tree or jagged edge of a concrete block!
That is why most of us do the ‘Newburyport Walk’ – we walk out in the street, even if we have a baby carriage or small child, we walk out in the street. If we’re intensely holding a conversation, we train our peripheral vision to dodge obstacles, parked cars and oncoming vehicles.
We have great needs when it comes to our schools. We stare at our seedy Downtown and cry for the restoration to be restored! We have need to take care of the less fortunate among us and to provide for more affordable housing. And most of us can see that the entire City is held together by spit and chewing gum.
But we need ADA-standard, good, consistent sidewalks so our children can get to school safely, our citizens will clear off the roads and our visitors can enjoy our neighborhoods without skinning their shins.
In the next coming years, let’s make sidewalks a major priority in Newburyport.