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In defense of walkable communities

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
December 5, 2001


"Opposition is the life of an enterprise, criticism tells you that you are doing something." — Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins

Living in Leucadia, I know all about dodging cars while taking a walk. Morning, noon, or night, it's all the same, people rushing around, cell phone in hand, on the way to somewhere else. Isolated in their shining metal boxes, they forget others are out on foot, and drive as if there weren't. In my neighborhood, the NCTD bus drivers are notorious for their complete disregard for anything other than their schedule. Let's face it; our communities are not pedestrian friendly.

Once upon a time people walked places. If it was within walking distance you naturally walked there. Imagine that. Not only was walking good for the health, it was for the most part benign. Perhaps this was because there was room to walk, and more time to do it. For the longest time however there was no other option. Walking is what we did. Head held high, face to the wind, humans wandered the planet. We evolved.

Our lives are now dominated by the automobile. Even when we are not driving, they monopolize our lives. We work to maintain them, plan communities to accommodate them, and suffer from the pollution they produce. Social lives suffer as well. With nothing between driveway and destination, neighbors are just the strangers next door. Because of this disconnect, cities become divided as individual interests replace collective well being.

Residents of Encinitas are currently discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a city wide trail system, the goal of which is to improve quality of life by making Encinitas walkable. Something it once was. Standing in the way however, are those who fear the proximity of others, the litter they bring, and the droppings of their pets. All valid concerns. Others cite tree removal as a concern, which is not as valid, but still worthy of discussion. Not needed are knee jerk reactions, such as the one produced by the Encinitas Planning Commission on November 15th.

Gutting the Encinitas Trails Master Plan is not only irresponsible; it's an insult to those working to improve city services. When Commissioner Lester Bagg equated trails with "curbs, gutters and sidewalks," he evidenced the lack of vision represented by the commission members who voted to recommend that Cardiff and Leucadia residents be denied walkable communities. Commissioner Bagg justified his decision stating residents do not want trails. With all due respect, Mr. Bagg has never understood what the residents of Leucadia want, other than his retirement from the planning process.

A system of trails is called for in the city's General Plan. With that in mind the Community Development Department has provided a conservative blueprint for a beginning trail system. Seven years in the making, the Encinitas Trails Master Plan should be seen as a work in progress, not something to dismiss to avoid doing what is in the public's best interest. Regretfully planning commissioners don't understand obstacles need not be barriers to wise civic planning.

Most of the opposition to trails in Cardiff and Leucadia comes from residents who have built rock walls or planted gardens on city property where the civic trails are planned. Although Commissioner Bagg recognized such use as "illegal on city property," he still advocated a policy that would require pedestrians to walk in the street, with pets and strollers, in order to placate a few overreaching neighbors.

There is no need to infringe on private property. Using public right of way easements as intended, makes sense. Improving mobility throughout the city, in an environmentally friendly manner does too. Perhaps we need to ask those most opposed, what kind of trails they would like to see in their neighborhood, and then start from there. Instead of finding reasons not to walk, the planning commission should be looking for ways to encourage it.

Trails are a good thing. Places to foster a healthy lifestyle without the interference of cement or asphalt, these ribbons of safe passage promote both mobility and familiarity. If our communities were designed with the pedestrian in mind, not only would it help reduce traffic, we could also reduce hardscape channeling urban run off into the ocean. Trails also increase opportunities for residents to meet and greet their neighbors.

On foot, the world is as big as you wanted it to be, but also more intimate. Before the advent of motorized travel the means justified the end. Connected to time and place, in a literal sense, movement required people to interact with the environment. Human civilization was achieved on foot; perhaps this is where we will find the resolve to save it.

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