No, we’re not all pedestrians at some point

There’s a quip a lot of urbanists use when discussing the need for proper pedestrian safety: we’re all pedestrians at some point in our journey. It’s a good attempt to try to both create empathy and demonstrate the universal need for safe streets in our car-centric society.

It’s also wrong.

Now, please don’t get offended if you’ve said this and you think I’m picking on you. I’m not. This has been said by many people who know a helluva lot more about urbanism and street design than I do. I want this bit of rhetoric to be accurate. I want it to be a simple way of conveying deeper meaning. I want it to help people get a better understanding of how we build livable cities…and maybe it will help some people, but it’s still not accurate.

If you get into your car and drive from your driveway to the mall and it’s expansive parking lot, you never set foot on a public street. If you drive from your garage to the underground parking at work, you never even step outside throughout your entire journey.

Now, I’m not just picking a nit, here (though I understand how it might seem that way). No, I’m trying to demonstrate that so much of our development is so car-centric, that we don’t all share the experiences of trying to navigate city streets by foot.

We have spent decades designing our cities so that people never have to be pedestrians. We have done our best to design walking out of vast sections of our cities.

So this idea that we’re all pedestrians at some point in our journey may have value, but it’s limited. We are not at the point where everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their journey. We’re still working towards a time when we can use that phrase and have it be accurate.

The struggle is much greater than getting people to realize they need safe streets for when they’re walking*. In many cases, we still have to get people to actually walk.

*And yes, it’s about more than just walking. Ensuring accessibility for all people is a massive part of this issue.

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