Transit Tuesday: The Walking City

Colleagues of mine were up from DC this week for the Alliance for Response NYC program “Community-Based Recovery After Superstorm Sandy” (see the post here). One of them exclaimed “this is New York! look at everyone walking along the streets!”

Look at all the people shopping! Baltimore, 1950s. Photo: Kilduffs.

New York didn’t used to have a monopoly on street life. Certainly, my city lends itself to walking. The tight space forces us to live more closely together, further drawn together by our renowned subways, busses, and trains to closely connected cities. A car is a detriment to daily life, as the ritual of alternate side parking (a method of getting people to move their cars so the street may be cleaned) means sitting in your car every evening until you can find a good space to leave it for a couple of days. Transit helps our city be liveable – and it used to help other cities too.

One of two stations that used to serve Havre de Grace. The B&O Depot. PHoto: Route 40.net

My family is from Havre de Grace, Maryland. While Maryland’s smallest city (yup, it’s a city) sits on the heavily used Northeast Corridor, it hasn’t been served by rail in at least fifty years. The only signs of a station at Havre de Grace are two pads by the Northeast Corridor tracks. Recently, a mural was painted on the remaining foundation of the B&O depot, off Juniata street. There are certainly issues with having a station there: there are only two tracks crossing the Susquehanna there so local service would gum up the express service the NE Corridor begs for and Aberdeen and Perryville have MARC commuter stops and are close by. But the only way to currently enter Havre de Grace is by car. Your time in Havre de Grace is regularly punctuated by the sound of over 100 trains daily sliding across the rails on the Susquehanna River Bridge. None of them stop at Havre de Grace.

Walker Evans collected a postcard of the Havre de Grace Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.264.1.34.

Whether you go for Jane Jacobs or not, train service to a town like Havre de Grace with large amounts of historic residential stock in town and a sizeable Main Street next to the railroad would benefit highly from the foot-bound waves of commuters walking to their homes, rather than driving by. The walking commuter easily stops into a shop front; he doesn’t need a parking space. Havre de Grace has had some revitalization in the past couple of decades. Once a mob haven and race track town, now the town hosts a marina, b&bs, a few good restaurants, and antique stores. But the liveable city has amenities for residents close at hand. Imagine getting off the train station, stopping in a small grocery store on the way to your house. Lose the parking lot. Lose the five minute walk across the store to get a jug of milk. Be on your way more quickly.

Yeah, yeah, I’m thinking with my New York brain. I shop small, almost every day, on my way home from the museum. But if walking is healthier for our bodies, our communities, and our environment, why not facilitate that?

I think we know auto/oil cronies’ answers to that.

Cartoon by Andy Singer. Photo: Planetizen.