Today I woke up feeling somewhat like a human being for the first time in quite a while.
Normally, I would address this very development by jumping on my bike and riding until my legs fall off. However, I have decided to try to treat my body a little more kindly than that. As such, my goals for today include getting the two desert bikes tuned up and taking a little spin. I just need to figure out what 'a little spin' actually means.
What I'd like it to mean is rolling a mile or two, grabbing a coffee at Sister Bean's, and rolling home, on pleasant, quiet streets.
Where my neighborhood is concerned, though, one of the things I'm not really keen on is the fact that to get to the pleasant riding, you first have to escape the neighborhood by traversing a number of narrow, busy roads with poor visibility on which people routinely exceed the speed limit by a significant margin . The nearest really pleasant rides are Iroquois Park (so not doing that today) and Southern Parkway. The nearest destinations where one can sit and have a snack (unless you count the hospital, which probably has a coffee shop of some sort) are only mile or so away -- but it's a stressful mile, rather than a relaxing mile.
Right now, I really miss living in the Highlands, where even if I wasn't feeling too hot, I could easily go out and spend and entire day doing short flights from shop to shop, enjoying used books, ice cream, and other such pleasures. I didn't like riding on Bardstown Road* -- and still don't -- but the Highlands offers plenty of parallel routes and is dotted with neat retail and service venues.
Here, we are not completely without neat little shops to visit, but this part of town was definitely designed around the automobile. This 'goes double' for my neighborhood. Even Iroquois Park, which is almost literally in my back yard, is not directly accessible from Arling Court, or from Arling Ave. Walkscore.com rates my current address a 25/100 -- car-dependent, in their eyes, though I do fine without a car most of the time. My old address rated an 82 -- really quite high, for any address in the United States. The city's average stands at 48/100, almost twice as 'walkable' as Arling Court.
I don't know how or even if we could really transform my neighborhood into a truly walkable one. The Highlands (and its sister neighborhood, the Frankfort Ave/Crescent Hill corridor) works so well for walkers and cyclists because it was built before the private auto was a primary means of transit, and is zoned accordingly. Neighborhoods like mine, on the other hand, were deliberately designed to create a sense of separation between residential and commercial districts -- so even when they're close together as the crow flies, one can only make a direct trip by trespassing in people's yards, hopping fences, and so forth.
Across Taylor Boulevard (or New Cut), a similar neighborhood has dealt with this situation by creating easements to allow shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists. My guess is that the neighborhood in question had no choice; kids walking to school follow the path of least resistance, and it only makes sense to codify that path, rather than punishing the kids. As a result, the neighborhood in question feels much more pedestrian-friendly, and if you're feeling lazy on your bike, you can use the cut-through paths to get from Point A to Point B without wandering from -4 to 4 and back to -4on the corresponding Cartesian grid in the process.
However, my neighborhood is triangular and is laid out across three rather forbidding hills. Its design doesn't really allow for neat little commercial spaces -- to incorporate them, some of the residential-zoned area here would have to be converted to commercial, and even then, the kind of commercial venues I'd really love to see here -- quirky Mom-and-Pop businesses -- would find it difficult to survive, hidden as they would be in the hills. Likewise, significant changes to infrastructure would have to be made to make those businesses accessible to the folks within the neighborhood: for example, sidewalks would have to be added (they should be anyway, but that's another fight), and speed limits would absolutely have to be enforced (they should be anyway, but that's also another fight).
It's not that I really believe this stuff couldn't happen -- but I live in a low-rent kind of neighborhood. We don't add a great deal to the city's tax base. We don't attract tourists. We have no commercial presence to speak of outside of a couple of small places that front on Taylor or Bluegrass, and I doubt anyone associates those businesses with my neighborhood. Technically, we don't even have a school; Hazelwood Elementary and Iroquois High School are, respectively, across Bluegrass and Taylor, and thus not really in my neighborhood, since those roads act as neighborhood boundaries.
Essentially, what I'm saying, is that while I live in the kind of neighborhood that most needs small businesses and improved infrastructure, it is also, by its nature, among those least likely to attract businesses and least likely to receive infrastructure updates from the city.
As someone who believes deeply in starting where you are and also in the power of just up and doing it, I'm not sure how to approach the problem of my neighborhood. We have seriously discussed moving, but part of me thinks that's the wrong answer -- not to mention throwing the baby out with the bath water.
While we don't really know anyone on Arling Ave, Arling Court is a neighborly place. It's a village-within-a-village. I like and trust my neighbors, and we're all on friendly terms. It's the kind of neighborhood where you could throw a picnic in the middle of the court, and everyone would come (in fact, I should really think about doing just such a thing). Yes, there are little things we grumble about, but we also overlook most of those little things in the interest of neighborly peace. We don't have an official neighborhood watch because we don't need one -- everyone looks out for everyone else anyway, and that's how it should be. It is, in these ways, very much like the place where I grew up.
If we could encourage that kind of neighborly atmosphere to spread throughout the Arling Ave area in general, and add some little businesses, we would have quite a thing going, here. That seems like a better plan than moving, especially since DD has lived here, in this house, for some twenty years. The thing is, I don't know if we can make that happen. I'm an optimist about many things, but not pulling the area surrounding my lovely little cul-de-sac up by its bootstraps.
Anyway, I've now spent way more time writing this than I intended to. Basically, what I've been trying to say is something like this: being unwell, and feeling puny and weak as a result, makes it much easier for me to remember why people are afraid to try riding their bikes and walking for transportation in neighborhoods like mine. Poor infrastructure coupled with an entrenched car-culture (which is, in part, responsible for the poor infrastructure) make for unfriendly streets, especially for people on foot (lack of sidewalks isn't a problem if you're on a bike, but is a huge problem for pedestrians and creates unfriendly-looking neighborhoods).
My goal, when I leave home, is to escape from my neighborhood to places where I can relax on the road (once I cross Taylor, or proceed up Taylor, I have achieved escape). Normally, I rely on a combination of stupid, youthful bravado and proven physical prowess to do so; right now, I don't feel like I have either of those.
I would love to find a way to transform this neighborhood so it is no longer somewhere people want to escape, but instead a pleasant escape from the outside world, complete with pleasant places to spend time away from home.
*This is partly a lie. There are times that I like riding B-town Road: specifically, those times when I am feeling really strong, and keeping up with traffic, and I have the legs and the lungs to sprint like a cheetah.
Right now, though, is definitely not one of those times, and the thought of riding on B-town Road is up there with, you know, hanging from a cliff by my fingernails with a churning horde of hungry sharks a hundred feet below.