Tag: walking

Artisans of the Common Good

old shoes 1 web
My walking shoes: L.L.Bean sneakers & Ecco leather ties. Pastel on watercolor wash.

I got a very interesting comment recently on my post about the difficulty of walking around Dallas, and I have been thinking about it since the New Year.  My reader noted that the folks in Dallas love their cars, but also that they need the cars in order to commute in a spread out city during the summer months when the temperature is often in the triple digits.

Fair point, but why make the solution to commuting, during the four months when it is unhealthy to be outside walking most of the day, fit every day the rest of the year? (It has been -11 degrees F. recently where I come from in the North so you can only imagine how happy I am walking around Dallas in your delightfully comfortable 55 degrees F.!) What would Dallas look like, and what could some strategies for encouraging walking be, if we didn’t assume an easy one size fits all means of transportation?

Texas just got ranked one of the lowest states (34th) in the nation for good health with 33% of the population obese, so the question is not a trivial one! But for most of us, we use the infrastructure that is in place, and don’t really notice it unless we come from another society with alternate ways of getting around. We tend not to think about how our world would be different (and better!) if we, as individuals, make different choices.

And as we change our lives, the infrastructure would begin to change too. Right now in Dallas, the highways that connect parts of the city are in good repair, but the smaller local streets have been neglected as the city endeavours to save money. It makes sense to walk locally if only to spare your car the damage of negotiating streets with a lot of potholes! If more people walked to do the errands that are now done by car (grocery shopping with a pull cart, picking up dry cleaning, going to the library, etc.); and used walking to get some of the exercise that either they are not getting, or that they are relegating to the time at the gym, the routes between destinations would improve: better sidewalks, more time to cross busy larger streets, and perhaps most important, drivers being aware that there are going to be pedestrians sharing the streets with them!

As David Brooks wrote in his op-ed piece, for the New York Times, recently, on Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily: “the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures: being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, ‘the artisans of the common good.’ ” Choosing to walk, choosing to quite literally “step outside the box” makes you an artisan of the common good!






Walking Dallas

                                        walk under oaks, Dallas copy       Walking out to do errands at 4 pm Wednesday under oak trees; not a person in sight!

Dallas at rush hour copy  Downtown Dallas at evening weekday rush hour; I’m walking home from the butcher.

I knew when I came down here to Dallas that it is not known as a walker-friendly city,


but the actual experience of walking here has been positively surreal! Coming from eight years of living in Montreal, and taking for granted that people walk whenever possible, I was not prepared to find myself the only person walking around the streets of Dallas. This sounds like an exaggeration, but truly it is not!

I live in the Oak Lawn section of town, https://www.walkscore.com/TX/Dallas, an half an hour walk from downtown and to most of central Dallas. It is a beautiful part of the city (and Dallas is surprisingly lovely), but at any hour of the day or night, the only people on the street are the dog walkers, an occasional jogger, the indigent, and me. Now that might be understandable in the summer months when the temperature is in the triple digits Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), but there is no reason for this at a time of year when the weather is sunny, cool, and perfect! But the citizens of Dallas are so habituated to their cars, that I don’t think that they even notice the change in weather!!

This is the first time in my life I have lived in a car-centric place, and it is really bizarre! Even during morning or afternoon rush hours, the city feels as if it is deserted. There are, of course, thousands of people sitting in their cars, but the cars are closed (air conditioning seems to be a necessity no matter what the weather!), so I have the uncanny sensation that I am all alone on the street!

It is not so much that the city is hostile to pedestrians as that it seems to have decided that since so few people of any standing (read young, well-to-do & white) actually use them, Dallas presents places to walk without the accompanying functionality of those spaces. There are sidewalks along most streets (though not, interestingly in the very wealthiest neighborhoods), but they are often closed by construction with no where to go, for the walker, but in the street with the cars. There are crosswalks at most corners, but the walk lights are often calibrated to give the pedestrian about ten seconds to get across before they change to a flashing stop, and this is when the pedestrian signs work at all. If one is an older or disabled person, the crossing is impossible.

It is also really dangerous to cross a busy street even with the light as Dallas, unlike Montreal, permits a right turn on red; and drivers are so unused to people in the crosswalk that they often turn without looking. I have taken to getting the attention of the driver in the right hand lane (even if I have to knock on the car hood to make him look up from his cellphone) before the light changes and I head across the road!! Also, Dallas is structured with a number of high speed highways and tollroads dividing the city into various neighborhoods and districts, and walking the overpasses across those highways with the traffic coming into or out of them is not my favorite part of walking Dallas.

turtle-creek-oct-copy.jpg                                Turtle Creek, Dallas

Still, I continue to explore Dallas on foot. In the past two months I have seen some beautiful parks (including along the Turtle Creek near my home), and visited some of the fine libraries & museums in the town. And when I do pass anyone on the street, no matter his or her race or aspect, I am always greeted by a warm “How are you doing, Ma’am? You have a good one!” which is one of the perks I love of living in a Southern town.

It would make me happy to see Dallas switch into a more sustainable mode of living.


If the habit of driving could be replaced with the habit of walking, especially for folks commuting locally and doing errands in their neighborhoods (and yes, I am one of the few people trundling my rolling shopping cart to the nearby grocery store with me- to my daughter’s chagrin!) Dallas could become a healthier more integrated town.


And now the bad news:


which means that I will be walking during the middle of the day & not during the rush hours!



Gas prices will go up!




With over 45% of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity located along the Gulf coast (https://www.eia.gov/special/gulf_of_mexico/, gas prices will continue to rise. As I write this, a category 4 hurricane (Irma) is heading toward the east coast of the U.S.A. September is the height of the hurricane season, and we are not even half way through the alphabet!!

But as I look out my window on a late Saturday morning, every car that I see stopping at the stop sign across the main street that I live on in Verdun, has but one person, the driver (we have not yet made it to self-driven cars!) in it. There is clearly no pressure yet to conserve gas or to limit the use of one’s car.

My daughter in Dallas is already dealing with gas rationing, and with gas stations running out of gas (she went to four stations before she found gas.). This was a shock to her as she had never seen rationing of any kind. I, however, clearly remember the 1973 and 1979 gas rationing in the U.S. And I also remember the push to carpool (https://www.shareable.net/blog/the-history-of-carpooling-from-jitneys-to-ridesharing).

So here we are, at the beginning of what promises to be an ever increasing price for using our cars. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of our carbon footprint (http://timeforchange.org/what-is-a-carbon-footprint-definition).

A carbon footprint is a difficult concept. Even people who understand the idea can not seem to really apply it to themselves. (Here is a link to calculate your carbon footprint: (http://www.carbonzero.ca/calculate).

It is a lack of understanding of the idea of interconnectedness with which we all seem to struggle. It is the jump that has to be made between the micro (that drive to the grocery store to pick up the cream you forgot when you shopped earlier), and the macro (that twenty minute ride is putting more CO2 in the atmosphere and is increasing global warming). We are all very loath to be inconvenienced or see our independence restricted by even the smallest amount. But the irony, of course, is that unless we change our lifestyle radically, unless we learn to curb our habit of instant gratification, our freedom will be limited for us in a far more drastic and unpleasant way!

So I am suggesting that we look at a number of possible alternatives to keeping our own cars or to using them constantly that will both save us money and greatly reduce our carbon footprint:

1. Carpooling or ridesharing:

this can be done with friends at work or with neighbours. It has the added benefit of helping the feelings of being disconnected and lonely from which many of us are suffering. It does mean, of course, that your schedule must now be negotiated with other people. But that practice of getting along with others is going to be vital for our survival in the coming years.

There are also new apps turning up every day to help find people to share rides. Here are just a few I have found online:




Have you used any of these, and what do you think about them, or about ridesharing in general?

2. Renting a car:

you will want to do the math on this. If you are only using the car occasionally it might make more sense to rent a car rather than pay for a car, upkeep, insurance, and parking (not to mention digging the car out of the snow here in the winter in Montreal if you can not afford an indoor garage!).



Taxis and Ubers are also good if needed infrequently. Again, how much would a taxi cost for a once a week food shopping?

3. Take public transportation:

you have great public transportation here in Montreal relative to places in the US that I have lived. Sometimes it is challenging to have to wait for a bus, but again, patience is going to be very much in demand in the coming years, and it is the practice of patience which makes it get stronger. For those of us who begin to change our way of living now, we are the ones who will be more resilient and able to deal more easily with the coming difficulties!

Would you consider this, especially as Montreal has awful construction delays?

4. Walk or bike:

this is a great way to get the best kind of exercise: drop weight and, by carrying groceries, build your muscles! Unfortunately, in the US especially, there is a real stigma for people who must walk or bike (usually because they have lost their driver’s license because of DUI, or they are too poor to keep a car). In my home town of Dallas, Texas, I am often the only person walking on the street. I am, incidentally, one of the thinner people around!

With Bixi bikes (https://montreal.bixi.com/en) to rent all around town, and discounts on Opus cards (http://www.stm.info/en) for bus and metro (subway) including monthly rates, Montreal is a great town to live in without a car as I do!

Could you see yourself giving up your car altogether?!

If you have finished this post, you will realize that none of this information is new. But it is beginning to be very important, and I hope that it will be helpful to find it all in one place. I would also encourage everyone to look on cars as tools, not status symbols or toys. They are one of the things responsible for climate change and as such, should only be used for real necessities!

I am very interested to hear your stories about the links I shared, and your experiences of reducing car use in your life! Please comment!