Letter from the Publisher
by Vanessa Johnson
Posted on June 12, 2006
I have to admit that when it was suggested that we do a story on rising gas prices, I was not enthusiastic. For most Americans, cheap gasoline is up there with our right to free speech and to bear arms. I have written in the past that I think this is harmful in the long run, and frankly, I think the stories are boring, and I always skip them.
Then I was talking to Rafa, one of our writers who gave up his car for good last year, and he suggested writing about what it's been like riding his bike around East El Paso for a year. So this is my way out of running a rising gas story. It's a lot more entertaining and maybe provides some inspiration for you (the reader) to get out and see what life outside the car is like.
I can promise that such a life is at least more interesting, if not more convenient. I'm extremely uncoordinated on a bike, and would need a bike tunnel with padding before I'd venture to work on mine, but I've been walking to work for a good part of the past two months. The desire to walk comes to me in spurts, after I'm tired of using my car for a while, or particularly when I have paid a mechanic the equivalent of a month's rent and have the fantasy of selling it all together.
My first casualty is always fashion-related. Although people seem to need to remind me I am tall enough without them, I enjoy wearing high heels, and have never gone for the "tennis shoes and suit" look à la New York businesswoman. In the winter I can wear boots comfortably, but I'm now stuck with sandals or flats until I get to work to change into my heels that now live under my computer.
Mark D's poem that ran in my first issue of Newspaper Tree, during another one of my walking periods, sums up what most of us miss from our vehicles. [poem] There is a heightened awareness of architecture, alleyways, sounds, and topography; other people are often friendly, saying "good morning" or "hello" as paths cross. Americans who visit Europe frequently remark on the amount of walking necessary in cities that were designed pre-automobile. My brother is not so much an anomaly in Europe, as he would be here, as someone in his 20s who doesn't have a license and has never owned a car.
This past weekend, we hosted a discussion/party in honor of Jane Jacobs, who praised the "foot people" who add to the vitality of cities. Trends in urban planning have gone full circle and now encourage pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and promenades, even if they are within safe distance of a parking garage. Our current City Council has the strategic goal of El Paso becoming the least car-dependent city in the Southwest. This would be one of the most difficult but significant accomplishments our city could achieve over the next several decades. Unfortunately, many of the steps involved would require a complete reformulation of concepts of land development, roads, and the right of cities to have monopolies on public transportation. Most people can get behind the idea of adding bike paths and commuter lanes, but fundamentally altering our reliance on vehicles would require radical changes that I have not yet seen proposed, nor are likely to garner widespread support.
Most people who walk or ride their bikes aren't so concerned about gas prices. For me, it's healthy physically and mentally. It's a great pause in the day where I can ignore my phone and see a beautiful view of Downtown from the hill and of the mountains when I come home. I also know that walking or biking to work is not an option for a large majority of El Pasoans, and that our city, like most in the West, is not friendly or even safe for many of those who choose to do so. But I do know that a lot more people could hit the sidewalks and streets, whether it's to a nearby restaurant in the evening, or around a neighborhood park in the morning.
Not that I'm giving up my car yet. I still like to drive too fast, listening to music too loud and feeling generally apocalyptic, thinking that our age of oil will soon end. But when it does, it will be the bikers and the walkers who are most prepared for life in the slow lane.
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