By Risa Wilkerson on May 12, 2014
I’ve often heard, and like the saying, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I love knowing that the seed I plant today will turn into food I enjoy later. Likewise, when I first learned about designing communities for healthy lifestyles, I was passionate about making a difference in my own neighborhood. I started nurturing seeds of change and wanted to experience the fruits of my (and all our partners’) labor. It would be the first time I had the chance to live in such a place.
I have no childhood memories of walking and biking to school because we lived in the country. Though I loved my childhood home, I didn’t establish a habit of active living. Therefore, after getting married and starting our own family, we didn’t think to choose a home close to our children’s schools. And so we drove to every destination.
When I began promoting walkable, bikeable communities, I tried biking to work. But the challenges of a chaotic family schedule and feeling safe in traffic were barriers I couldn’t easily overcome. I tried taking the bus to work, but it required a transfer and took 45 minutes for the eight-mile commute. After several years of advocating for active community designs, my desire to experience such supports intensified along with my frustration of frequent delays in progress. At least with gardens, the benefits manifest within months.
In 2008, I moved from Michigan to North Carolina to take a job with Active Living By Design. Living in this community was like fast forwarding to harvest time. For the first time in my life, I lived near work which enabled us to have only one car. In our community of Carrboro, every day I see people of all ages walking, running and bicycling along the streets. People are pushing strollers, walking their dogs, riding their comfort bikes with baskets of grocery bags or touring bikes in groups.
While not perfect, Carrboro has many of the important ingredients to enable this active lifestyle. State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. It creates a sense of civility that I really appreciate. A new sidewalk was installed on my street last year, part of a plan to complete pedestrian networks. The city has acomprehensive master plan for recreation and parks that include miles of multi-use paved trails and more. Twenty-six miles of bike lanes exist now.
In addition, the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition, an active bicycle group, promotes bike commuting and safe routes to school through events, a bicycle-friendly business program and other advocacy efforts. I see an increasing number of bike racks (and they all fill up fast), community gathering spots and a supportive social culture for driving less. It also helps that the town is densely populated with limited parking. And that the Chapel Hill/Carrboro transit system is free.
We now enjoy walking into town for groceries or to dine out. I have multiple running routes starting from my front door. I enjoy a neighborhood park weekly where they recently added a trail connector from a housing complex to a street with bike lanes and sidewalks. It’s heavily used.
None of this happened overnight. In fact, I’m learning that Carrboro has been developing this supportive environment for about 30 years. And as it evolves, momentum and support grows. So, if you believe in tomorrow, build a bike lane. #build4tomorrow