According to the pedometer on my smartphone, it’s 3.2 kilometres from my apartment at Queen and Dufferin to my office at College and Bathurst. My twice-daily trip takes me past art galleries on Queen West, through the dewy grass of Trinity Bellwoods, and up streets lined with bay-and-gable houses. With a stop for a morning coffee or croissant, the walk takes just shy of 40 minutes.
I’m lucky to live in a walkable city made up of a dense, interesting mix of neighbourhoods. My walking route rarely changes, yet there’s always something new at street-level: a vintage clothing store opening, a sidewalk sale, an impromptu picnic, a lineup at the gelato place, street performers, new street furniture, festivals, baby leaves on the trees, huddles of hipsters outside the Drake. Walking reminds me that the city around me is always changing.
And that there’s always a need for change. I walk through Queen and Ossington, past CAMH, where I recognize the faces of panhandlers and morning wanderers who I share the sidewalks with. Street poverty stops being anonymous when you notice that the man who smokes in the bus shelter has gotten a fresh haircut for the summer.
A little over a year ago, I was living in midtown Toronto and working in Guelph. Not wanting to spend the money or the carbon on a personal car, I traveled by TTC and Greyhound bus. Streetcar, subway, walk, bus. The trip took about two hours each way and was prone to delays, especially during the winter months when storms and ice guaranteed truck and car accidents on the 401.
What a change.
My quality of life has improved dramatically. I’m happier and, logging upwards of 10,000 steps a day, arguably healthier. Since walking costs nothing, I’m saving money, as well as time and carbon. There are no traffic jams on sidewalks, and no dreaded short-turns. During the winter months, public transit is still an option, although I managed to walk most days. There’s no such thing as bad weather, my dad used to say, just bad clothing choices. During the minus 30 days, I trudged along snow-logged sidewalks in thick winter boots, thighs swishing in my snowpants. In the right outerwear, walking an hour sure beats standing in the wind twelve minutes, waiting for a streetcar that’s half-likely not to have space for new passengers.
I may not always live in downtown Toronto, but I’ll certainly choose to live and work in places that are friendly to pedestrians.