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Back to work Update

There was much nonBenedict news this week-end. You may have missed the Green Issue of the NYTimes Magazine (let us not inquire into that carbon footprint, or even its bs footprint). But amazingly enough, there is a long set of short pieces about what we can all do to "save the planet." It's here: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/index.htmlMy favorite so far is a site that will tell you about the walkability of any address in the U.S., including your home, or the home you are thinking of buying, or where you go on vacation, etc. Try it: www.walkscore.com

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I am going to be a real party pooper and refer everyone to this story in today's Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/20/AR200804... unprecedent lowering of the cost of food over the last 50 years or so has kept the issue of birth control in the realm of philosophy. What happens when it creeps into the realm of actual hunger?

My home got a reasonable "walk score," I suppose, of 60. What it didn't take into account is that, although there are many businesses within walking distance, to get to the ones to the east you have to cross over a four lane road that has no crosswalk or pedestrian signal at the intersection, and to get to the ones to the west, you have to walk on the road under a dark, narrow bridge, on a curve, with absolutely no sidewalk or shoulders. Our entire road system is built on the assumption that I will drive my car to the supermarket less than half a mile away, and there's no safe way to walk, or even bike, there. When I've brought these issues up with local planners, they say that there's no money to change them and very little demand to do so. That's where we need to work to make a difference.

I tried my childhood home address in Chicago (no longer family; no longer the same house) and found it had a 78 walkability score. When I was a child, it was 100--of necessity because we had no car. But the butcher delivered; the fruit and vegetable man came around in a truck, etc. Still I remember walking to the local grocery store and helping my mother carry home the groceries. Different world. My current address is a 100, but in the street level view of my building (also available on the site) there was a Fresh Direct truck (not for us, that's sure) so it's possible, as Terri writes, that walkabillity may not be accompanied by a decline in driving.

I just returned from a walk to the post office and library! My village was rated only 51, but I think it's actually higher. We don't have a clothing store, movie theater or coffee bar. But the local restaurant serves whatever you want, bottomless cuppa joe, pretty much 24/7, and there's a good DVD rental downtown. And a couple of newer businesses aren't listed.

I live next to two parks and a long canal path that offer miles of relaxing and beautiful walking, but they were completely ignored by walkscore.

My little wheel was still spinning. Anyway, I'm within a 10-15 walking distance (including ped crossing lights and sidewalks) of my neighborhood library, credit union, barber shop, and post office.A 5-minute drive to the grocery store and a 3-minute drive to the gas station.Neighborhoods are excellent for walking and bicycling. A parkway with parallel dedicated walking & bicycling asphalt path to large wooded city park is within 10 minutes of my residence. If I want to get a good fish sandwich on Fridays, the AmLegion post is directly across the street. Our commercial airport is 10 minutes via two straight streets from my residence. Fast-food joints are 5-minute drives from my residence but not "near" it.Local Catholic hospital is less than 10-minute drive from my domicile, and my dentist is 15 minutes away (by walking).O, yes, I learned that an erotic book store is 1.7 miles away :)

Second paragraph should read, in part, "10-15 minute walking distance..."

Mr. Lafond: I think Walkscore's mission is to calculate the walking distance between your home and your everything else of practical/consumer use: grocery store, cleaners, drug store, book store, etc. Just to have a beautiful place to walk may not be on their radar screen, though clearly it's on yours.

Walking to all the places I need to visit during the week would leave me significantly less time to do the things I enjoy doing at home. I enjoy urban civilization (camping in the wilderness bores me), and driving is for me the most efficient means for that enjoyment. In addition, I resent the school-marmish meddling in my affairs that increasingly characterizes the "save the planet" din.This din is beginning to resemble the mass-conformity inducing hysteria one finds in totalitarian regimes, as for instance, the Chinese cultural revolution of recent memory...

Is it possible that driving around in a car is a form of "mass-conformity," visited upon us by the totalitarian regimes of GM, Ford, Standard Oil, Hess, and the Federal Highway Administration? Just asking!

I can boast an 86 walk score and with $4.01 a gal gas we walk almost all the time.

No, because I have the option of walking or driving; its my free choice. I have no idea what you men by the totalitarian regimes of GM, Ford, Standard Oil, Hess, and the Federal Highway Administration. And I drive Toyotas exclusively, at the moment. Please Margaret, tell me you're not into evil conspiratorial corporations; you are much too intelligent and educated to buy into that kind of stuff.

Mr. Schwartz: As I said, "just asking." Testing out your "free choice." So let me ask, how much will a gallon of gas have to cost before you decide to walk say, half the time you would otherwise drive. We are free creatures, I agree; don't particularly hold to any conspiracy theories; still, we must all face certain limits. We (the Steinfelses) have no car because New York City sets a boundary. There is good public transportation, a dense city lets you walk to most places you want to go, a car is a pain in the neck, and you can rent one when you need it for a lot less money than it costs to buy and maintain one. I was just raising a question to your intelligent and educated self in relation to cars and gas and, as we began, the walkability of your home and its neighborhood.

Ms. Steinfels:I don't have a firm number; I suppose that it would be somewhere around $10/gallon. I live in the greater Los Angeles area. Its not so much that we have a poor transportation system here; its that everything is so spread out that walking or taking PT are very limited options. You folks in NYC, and those in San Francisco as well, are extremely fortunate in that most things are within a reasonable walking distance. In addition, your PT fits your urban areas very well. When I visited NYC in 2004 I was pleasantly amazed at the subway system - outstanding!

Subway system! not only outstanding, but as Grant recounted--has its small amusements as well: always something: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=1911

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.