Despite my current obsession with the French driving rules that I must master in order to get a French driver's license, I do not regularly use the one car our family owns here. (I tell why I need that license in an earlier post, April 2012 A is for Autoecole.) Some know that in Seattle I was a keen urban walker, walking the mile to and from elementary school with my children nearly every single day, rain or shine, usually with my black and white floral Marimekko umbrella in hand. (Even in physically-active Seattle, some thought we were remarkably dedicated.) My spouse and I selected our Seattle neighborhood in part because of its sidewalks and the walkable proximity of grocery stores, a post office, and a pub. In true U.S. fashion though, I used my car for my main grocery shopping, the transporting of kids to after-school activities, and my commute to work.
In the U.S. but also here, walking has largely been "engineered out of existence," as aptly noted by Tom Vanderbilt in a recent Slate Magazine article (The Crisis in American Walking, April 10, 2012). We have created other means to get where we need to go and we use them when we can, because they require less physical effort, or they feel faster, easier and more convenient. Some confer more social status than others too. Like a flashback to my own childhood, nothing elicits groans more than my suggestion of a family walk on a quiet provençal Sunday afternoon; after all, why WALK when we can drive, and what if someone sees us? Furthermore, the bus-riding son tells me that riding the bus just isn't that cool, even in Aix. It may be that Aix doesn't have enough well-developed, attractive alternatives to cars because there aren't enough people here to popularize them. Paris, on the other hand, is full of stylish walkers, and then there are those incredibly hip business men and women on rented vélos (bicycles), while in the center of Lyon a few weeks ago, I couldn't help gawking at the half dozen grown women zipping around elegantly on foot scooters.
The Connexion. 2012, April 17. "Sales drop as fuel prices hit record." The Connexion. http://www.connexionfrance.com/Fuel-petrol-diesel-prices-record-Doubs-13628-view-article.html
Vanderbilt, Tom. 2012, April 10. "The Crisis in American Walking." Slate Magazine. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/walking/2012/04/why_don_t_americans_walk_more_the_crisis_of_pedestrianism_.html