Friday, April 1, 2011

Where the Sidewalk Ends

I like to walk, and I like to walk fast. I relish in wide city sidewalks and pedestrian trails. I gratefully appreciate other walkers who respect the rules of the road, mimicking the flow of auto traffic by sticking to the appropriate side and allowing faster walkers to pass.

Some cities are a walking heaven. Washington D.C., you won my heart because your residents resolutely obey the rule of "walk to the left, stand to the right" on your mile-long Metro escalators. Hong Kong, your efficiency triumphs over your density, as you know the proper meaning of "queue," and your busy city-dwellers hurry along in orderly lanes. Chicago, your Magnificent Mile tourists may not always walk as fast as I like, and I have rarely seen people actually walk up or down your escalators, but you do have some nice wide sidewalks.

My dearest Kathmandu: you know I love you, but not for your streets. I have already covered the challenge of crossing streets in Nepal, but that game of human Frogger no longer fazes me. Far more frustrating and exhausting is just walking on a sidewalk.

First, we have the matter of the sidewalks themselves, which, for this urban planner, are a nightmare. Where sidewalks actually exist (and no, gutters do not count in my book), they are usually in a state of disrepair. Or repair. From the pile of gravel completely covering this slice of sidewalk, I cannot tell which is the case.

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Sidewalks often start and end abruptly, leaving you to climb on or off a two-feet high mini cliff. I tell myself that it is like urban hiking to make myself feel better. For any child who ever loved the poetry of Shel Silverstein, I have some information on Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Sidewalks frequently give way to parking lots, either forcing you to battle motorists on the road or to make friends with these guys.

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And commerce frequently bleeds out from storefronts, taking over any slice of sidewalk that is reasonably flat for displaying wares.

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When it comes to the last, I can't really gripe. The entrepreneurs take over sidewalks with a selection of goods that is, if not beautiful, usually intriguing.

And these goods? Well, they're just darn right cute, and they can take over my sidewalk any day.

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