After several years of working in the same old basement day after day, I decided it was time to switch things up a bit. I left a very bicycle friendly office where several of us simply kept our bicycles right at our desks, and accepted a job where a bicycle policy was unclear. Although it’s a modern building, bicycle facilities weren’t incorporated into the remodel, and there are currently no bikes allowed inside the building. There are some pretty nice ashtrays on the property, but no bike racks. I wasn’t overly concerned though, because bicycling seems to flourish wherever I go. I’d simply have to win the hearts and minds.
While I’ve been figuring out my new bike situation, I’ve been doing a lot of walking. Spending a few days without a bike or a car can give you a new perspective on things. Walking is to biking what biking is to driving. Not in the sense of its impact on society and the environment, but your perception of the world and how you interact with it. If you want to slow down and get to know your neighborhood really well, spend a few days on foot. You’ll see and notice far more than you ever would on your bicycle.
My route to work takes me through the historical area of Carson City. I really like taking the time to enjoy the old buildings like the old Carson Brewing Company that once brewed beer with water from Kings Canyon Creek, or the Sweeney Building where Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens used to have an office. Some of the buildings even have plaques or signs indicating the historical significance (and insignificance in some cases…) of the site. These are some of the things you just don’t see at the pace of a bicycle commute.
Without all the preparatory tasks of bicycle commuting such as donning helmets and other gear, tire inflation, chain lubrication, packing your locks, cables, and lights, simply walking to work seems so easy in comparison. Just lace up your shoes and go. And walking is pretty relaxing. No covering the brakes. You’re not constantly scanning traffic and watching for opening car doors and other hazards.
Sweeney Building – Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens used to work here
Since you have access to additional routes where bicycles are not allowed, walking can be an all new adventure as well. You can use shortcuts between buildings, one way streets, and crosswalks to your advantage when you’re on foot. I really enjoy cutting through the park like settings of the Capitol grounds with all the big trees, meandering sidewalks, and interesting statues.
There are drawbacks to walking though. Time is definitely a consideration. I found it takes about 3 times longer to reach work when walking. Errands outside a mile radius might not be possible during the work day if you’re on foot. Here in Carson City, the bicycle gives you pretty much the same range as a car.
We sometimes like to complain that there aren’t enough bicycle facilities to get around town, but at least when you’re riding, you can still share the road with cars. The streets are in pretty good shape, and you can go with the flow of traffic. Our pedestrian infrastructure is much more neglected in comparison, which is kind of strange if you think about it. Most of us can walk no matter what age we are or what income bracket we’re in, yet many of our sidewalks are falling apart or simply end before you get where you’re going. School zones are more about safe parking than they are about safe walking. And since sidewalks border private property, you have to rely on the owners to trim their bushes and trees, and clear the paths of debris and snow.
But probably the worst thing about walking is trying to cross the main thoroughfares. It seems my best or more direct routes for walking take me away from the block corners where the traffic lights are, and I end up utilizing the crosswalks with no traffic controls. While I feel like I’m tolerated when riding my bike with traffic, I feel despised when having the audacity to stop traffic to cross a street on foot. Most people will stop for you, but they’re not happy about it. And they’ll remind you of this as they mash their gas pedals to the floor boards just as you complete your crossing as if to say, “You see how much time you just cost me? I’ll be lucky to make it on time now!”. Such strange behavior for someone kicked back in their heated leather chair, sipping a venti Starbucks, while listening to satellite radio in their climate controlled environment. The car companies are geniuses at getting people to commit large portions of their salaries to buy their products, but still haven’t figured out how to make people actually enjoy using them. As “luxurious” as they may be, apparently people can’t wait to get out of them.
Luckily though, we’re starting to see more safe pedestrian crossings like the recently refurbished crosswalk on Stewart Street. Over-the-street flashing lights are immediately activated at the push of a button, and it really seems to legitimize your crossing attempt. I tried it this week, and cars began stopping far sooner than they would without the flashing lights. This new crossing on Stewart Street is obviously much safer at night as well. It’s dark when you get off work these days, so crossing the wide 35-40 mph corridor at the flashing lights may be a life saver. In addition to the new Stewart crossing, many of the walk lights at the downtown intersections have been re-timed to give pedestrians a little more time to cross safely. It pains me to see people hurrying or running across streets as if they don’t deserve to. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. These new signals will definitely help in this area.
I’ve ridden to work a couple times this week, locking my bike to a ramp railing outside the building. It also appears I may soon have even more secured bike parking inside the main gates that could even include a bike rack. This is great news and will hopefully encourage more bicycle commuters here.