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To many, this may be a bold statement to make, but with my firsthand experience and knowledge, from both sides of the “pond,” I feel I have some insight into this issue.
I would also like to preface this by saying that, yes, there are some very pedestrian-friendly US cities; places that could, for the most part, allow you to go car-free. But once you head away from the East and West coasts, towards the Midwest, things get significantly different and less pedestrian-friendly.
I grew up in Plymouth, England. It’s a pretty decent sized city in the southwest of England and one that is pretty representative of English cities in that the vast majority of the roads have pavements (sidewalks) down both sides. There may be some roads without pavements, but other than the major arterial roads, they are pretty few and far between.
Some of you may be thinking that I am only referring to the streets and roads around the city center. That is where you would be mistaken. The pavements were city-wide, right into the far reaches of the suburban sprawl. If you felt so energetically inclined, it is perfectly feasible to walk out your front door on the furthest reaches of one of the suburban estates and walk clear across to the opposite side of the city. Which is something I did, personally, on numerous occasions.
Then on those times when I didn’t feel like walking, I would jump on one of the regularly running buses that covered almost the entire city and suburbs. Most ran on schedules such as every 30 minutes, from early morning to late into the night.
Now compare this to where I am currently, in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Admittedly, I haven’t explored every inch of the city or its numerous suburbs, but I can comment that, for the most part, there are little to no sidewalks outside of the downtown area. And as for the housing addition I live in, there are no sidewalks of any description. So much so, when I take my dogs out for a walk, I am having to walk in the road, dodging parked and passing cars.
And as for public transport. That doesn’t seem to extend too far out from the main metro area of Tulsa. I can’t comment on the scheduled timetables, but the coverage is definitely not there in comparison.
Of course, another huge difference is everything is so much more spread out here in America. While my morning commute may take approximately the same amount of time, the distances are certainly greater here in Tulsa. The difference is that I am driving on higher speed highways, so I am averaging 60 mph rather than the 30 mph in Plymouth.
With these fundamental differences and serious lack of infrastructure for pedestrianization and public transport, I feel pretty confident in saying, for the most part, America is never going to be able to go car-free for the majority of its citizens.
Originally published Jul 3, 2017