WALK | DON’T WALK (Observations from Walking to Work)

For the past 2+ years, I have been walking to work pretty much every weekday, rain or shine. And I’m so glad that my new job and our new apartment also allow me to walk to work, because that journey-by-foot has become a favorite part of my day. Really! Not only do I enjoy the lift of getting a little exercise and some fresh air, but also the walking giving me time to process the day’s activities—whether I’m preparing for them or “putting them away for the night”—so that when I arrive at my destination I have already mentally switched into the appropriate context.

A driving commute just doesn’t have the same effect, I suppose in part because driving involves a little more of the brain than walking, and perhaps due to other distractions like the radio or my fussing about bad drivers.

In any case, all that extra time to think has led me to a few conclusions:

Weather is no problem!
When I first considered doing this, I was unsure if I would enjoy it. I figured Maine’s harsh winters or rainy springs would be a major frustration in my day. Would I need to wear different clothes for the walk and change into my business attire once I arrived at the office? Would I be drenched and angry on the rainy days, cold and irritable on the chilly days? No to all of the above. Take-away lessons:

  • Weather-appropriate gear is essential. In fall and summer, I always have a warm hat and gloves on hand (so to speak). Being ill-prepared for the weather will make you miserable; but having the right gear will keep you happy.
  • The weather forecasts are wrong just as often as they are right. But that means if you’re leaving the house while it’s bright and sunny, but the forecast calls for rain—it won’t hurt you to take an umbrella or jacket.
  • Today’s weather, right now, is the most useful to know. My cell phone has a page where I can get the current temperature and conditions, and I find it very handy to check as I select the jacket on the way out the door.
The average yellow light lasts only 3 seconds!
…and yet a majority of drivers assume that if they saw the yellow light, they can speed right on through the intersection before the red. Alas, this assumption is almost always wrong. I’ve seen people “gun it” when they see the yellow light from several blocks away, and then by the time they made it to the intersection, the traffic coming from the cross-wise direction had already had a green light for around 10 seconds. Take-away lessons:

  • Don’t rush a yellow light—stop if you reasonably can.
  • Don’t rush a new green light, because the yellow-light speedsters could still be approaching.
It is not always safest to walk when the stickman tells you to!
Maine is supposed to be a “pedestrian-friendly” state, where people on foot always have the right-of-way and there’s no such thing as jay-walking. Because of this, some people (especially younger ones) just step out into the road whenever they feel like crossing and expect traffic to stop for them. Obviously, in our speed-obsessed times this is not a wise choice, mainly because drivers aren’t on the lookout for pedestrians and bicycles—they are watching for other cars and maybe their next turn. Take-away lessons:

  • At the moment the “Don’t Walk” sign turns to a “Walk”, it almost always means that the light has turned green for cars travelling in the same direction as those on foot. Sure, much of the traffic will be going right on past you, but some will be turning right where you’re walking—and drivers who are turning are even less likely to notice you there, especially as they are glad to have gotten the green light.
  • A safer time to cross is near the end of the “Don’t Walk” sign, a few moments before it turns. As this point, it is likely that most cars are already past, and you have the opportunity to get at least part way across before traffic is moving again. This also gives you a higher chance of being seen by the drivers who are going to turn in your direction, since you may have been the only thing moving in the intersection before the light turned green.
  • The obvious and important exception to the above rule is the cars who are rushing the yellow light; they are paying more attention to the fact that they want to beat the red light then they are to looking who’s in the intersection, so pedestrians must be wary.

Do you walk to work? Maybe you live close enough, but haven’t tried yet? If you live in Maine, many employers are supporting Commute Another Way Week right now, so it’s the perfect time to start. But no matter where you live, you can decide to “hit the pavement” any day you like. Why not give it a try?