Having recently moved into Center City from the suburbs, my husband and I are among the many empty nesters who left behind lawn mowing, leaf raking, and spending way too much time in a car. We are enthusiastically embracing this simpler life, enjoying a vibrant city where something interesting is always happening. Where else can you sit at a sidewalk coffee shop and see a Ben Franklin impersonator, a cat on a leash, and proud activists shouting out for their favorite cause, sometimes all at the same time?
But for me, the very best part of living in the city has been downsizing from two cars to one because we drive so rarely. The savings alone on car maintenance, insurance, and parking have been welcome, but the health benefits - losing weight, toning muscles, and feeling awesome - are even better. With more than 400 miles of bike lanes, sidewalks with crosswalks on every corner, and clear signage for motorists, getting around should be easy no matter the mode of transportation.
So why do I feel like an avatar in a video game every time I leave my house? I have this out-of-body experience where I'm looking down into the game as my character dodges skateboards, cars driving in the bike lane, errant pedestrians crossing silently between parked cars, and bicyclists intent on beating the SEPTA bus. Whether walking, biking, or driving, my mini-me bobs and weaves and stops short to avoid a steady stream of obstacles. It's a jungle out there.
Can't we find a way to share the roads? The alternative is not just inconvenient and annoying but dangerous.
In 2014, 166 pedestrians and 19 bicyclists died, and 3,985 pedestrians and 1,298 bicyclists were injured, throughout Pennsylvania, according to a state report. Each day that year, 332 reportable traffic crashes occurred - about 14 crashes every hour. Reportable traffic crashes killed three people a day, one death every eight hours, and injured 219, about nine injuries every hour. When I read that a duck vehicle allegedly killed a tourist who was crossing the street while looking at her iPad, I was saddened at the unnecessary loss of life - yet another black eye for the city I love. I know we can do better.
When Mother Nature and time allow, I feel safer bicycling on the Schuylkill trail. Though I've explored just a fraction of the 60 finished miles, I always enjoy the adventure. Pedaling past the iconic boathouses and watching muscular, tanned rowers float down the river always makes me smile. Many times I pass brides and grooms posing dreamily outside the Water Works, excited for the events of the day and the rest of their lives. I witness tourists climbing the Art Museum steps and watch skateboarders fly through the air at the skateboard park.
But inevitably my avatar returns, breaking the serenity. I'm back dodging a family on a stroll, five abreast, taking up the entire path. Or tourists snapping adorable photos of their adorable children, all oblivious to what surrounds them. Then a biker clad in the latest cycling apparel that silently screams "I'm a real biker so get out of my way" swerves onto my side of the trail to avoid said tourists. I appreciate when someone behind me calls out "On your left," which I've learned means "Move over, I'm coming through," though recently I tried that with a meandering walker who not only didn't move over but told me to stop yelling at her. Maybe it was my obviously not "real biker" outfit that failed to sway her.
I don't mean to whine. I'm in love with the city and the lifestyle it affords. But I urge my fellow walkers, bikers, and drivers to safely enjoy the ease of travel that Philly offers. Take it from a recently transplanted suburbanite - it is a gift.
Not having to jump in the car for a loaf of bread or trip to the bank is refreshing. If each of us could just consider the next guy, maybe we could reduce the casualties and truly appreciate all our city has to offer.
Terri Akman is a Philadelphia writer. firstname.lastname@example.org