As we were leaving our place of work last May, a co-worker saw me fasten my helmet and mount my bicycle. She asked, “Why is your blog called the Fairbanks Pedestrian, if you’re always bicycling?” I was in a hurry to get home to my wife and daughters, so I gave her too short an answer. It’s a good question, and it cuts to the central question I hope to discuss in this blog: What does it mean to be a Fairbanks pedestrian?
In a nutshell, this is it:
As unremarkable as it sounds, I believe that walking is a fundamental human right. And, as bizarre as it sounds, I believe that walking is a right that most of Fairbanks is deprived of.
I do not mean that walking in your own house is a right, though it obviously is. Nor am I suggesting that most of us (the non-incarcerated) are prevented by some external power from stepping outside our homes and moving on two feet in one direction or another. These are trivial interpretations of our pedestrian right.
I hold that it is the right of people living in a community to perform all functions of their day-to-day life — working, eating, shopping, exercising, playing, politicking, gardening, visiting friends, getting medical care, going on dates, attending meetings, throwing parties, enjoying the summer Solstice Festival downtown, and watching the start of the Yukon Quest — without setting foot in a car.
“But there’s no law against that!” some will say.
“There doesn’t have to be an explicit prohibition,” I reply, “for us to be deprived of our pedestrian right.”
I hope to explore in this blog some of the ways our laws effectively prohibit most of us from living without cars. I hope to show how, far from giving us the freedom they promise in commercials, automobiles enslave us, disconnect us from each other, degrade our landscape, erode our sense (and pride) of place, disenfranchise large segments of our population, and make a rich civic life impossible.
I believe that human beings are not made — we’re just not biologically wired — to experience their best life at the speeds available in, and at the distances required by, an automotive culture. How often, while driving, have you stopped to talk to a friend, chatted with a neighbor about the weather, or picked up a piece of trash? The answer, most likely, is “never.” (In fact, the same applies to bicycling, too. While I love it as transportation for long distances, the speeds at which I usually ride preclude adequately taking in — let alone beautifying — my surroundings.) For drivers, places are reduced to routes, and people are reduced to obstacles.
I hope to reclaim the streets of Fairbanks for people, not cars — to see our streets, cold though they be, filled with friends visiting, couples strolling, children playing, and strangers having all the spontaneous exchanges that make people fit for egalitarian, democratic society. Even in Fairbanks, it’s possible.