Driving Is Killing Us
Ask yourself this question: if you stepped foot outside your door, would you be able to walk anywhere you needed or wanted to go? Can you walk to a store, a library, school, or work? If your answer is “no,” what’s stopping you? Distance, highways, private property, broken or absent or inaccessible sidewalks?
These are some of the questions I carried with me as I wrote my book A Walking Life. I wanted to write a book for the “everywalker”: a single mom working two jobs; a family living in areas of high crime with decades of disinvestment, crumbling sidewalks, and no parks; a wheelchair user who has little access to usable sidewalks or decent public transportation; a 46-year-old father who commutes an hour each way to a corporate job he hates and rarely sees his kids.
If bipedal walking is truly what makes our species human, as many paleoanthropologists claim, what does it mean that we have designed walking right out of our lives?
Even before a global pandemic shut many of us up in homes and apartment buildings, human beings were spending more time sedentary and alone than ever before. Our movement was — and is — restricted by a combination of a car-centric culture and an insatiable thirst for productivity.
But this situation was imposed on us, not a way of life we chose willingly. As I was writing my book, I wondered constantly how we lost the right to walk (Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City is an invaluable resource on this front), and what implications that loss has for the strength of our communities, the future of democracy, and the pervasive loneliness of individual lives.
A Walking Life isn’t about famous walkers — Thoreau or Wordsworth or Rousseau or the peripatetic Stoics or even Rebecca Solnit.
It’s about the rest of us and the world we inhabit: community, connection, highways; disability, technology, evolution; faith, childhood, mental wellness. I interviewed people as varied as Karen Adolph, a neuroscientist in New York who’s made a career of studying how infants learn to walk (they fall 17 to 30 times an hour!); Jeremy DeSilva, a paleoanthropologist who studies bipedalism in fossils millions of years old; and…