Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Being a Pedestrian in Durham

The other day, carless, and baffled by the DATA bus schedule, I decided to walk from my house to 9th Street (a little cultural center near Duke's East campus.) I have walked comparable distances and farther in other places in the world like New York -- three miles. But Durham is different!

For one thing, there are hardly any sidewalks. If you live downtown, then all is well. Things are walking distance and you only really have to deal with the heat. My walk, though, required walking on some pretty car-centric roads, not even that accommodating of things like bicycles. Try crossing two lanes of cars turning onto the entrance ramp of the highway!

In some places, once you are safely across the street, there are little footpaths worn into the grassy shoulder. Here you can see evidence of the foot traffic, but the thing is that you don't really see many people walking. It's just you, and the cars. And it definitely feels different to be the lone walker during rush hour! If you do pass someone walking in the other direction, someone is going to have to move to the side so that the other can pass, but it's okay because you understand each other, both being part of the fellowship of Durham pedestrians.

Actually the main thing that walking around in Durham makes clear are the strict class levels of transportation. Not having a car to get around, definitely sets you in a certain economic and societal level for the most part. You can see it in the way people act about the bus system here, and the fact that the majority of people you do see riding buses or walking around are non-white, and unlike me, routinely get around Durham carless. For me, as someone who can borrow a car pretty much whenever I need to (with some advanced notice), it is illuminating to remember that the city is way more than my daily experience and routine.

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