Reader Essay: Like a kid again
Greenways recall simpler times
by John Suddath
When I was growing up in small-town central Texas, I either walked or rode my bicycle everywhere. Even when I got my driver’s license at 16, I still walked a lot, even though I gave up my bicycle after relocating to Fort Worth because the city streets were too dangerous.
When middle age began creeping up I tried jogging, but I lived in an area without jogging trails, and the sidewalks, curbs, and street crossings were risky. When my boss broke his ankle stepping off of a curb, I quit walking and didn’t take it up again for 20 years.
After relocating to Washington, D.C., I used public transportation and walked regularly to and from the bus stop or subway station. But when I moved to Raleigh 11 years ago, I drove my car most places and didn’t think much about walking regularly. Unfortunately, it simply wasn’t an option.
But then I had heart bypass surgery in October 1999, and my cardiologist told me that I needed to get back to walking regularly. That’s when I discovered the area’s greenway system and the miles of paved trails that would have been considered a superhighway when the city first was built. I started walking three times a week, and soon after increased to five times a week. Now I walk every morning.
Twenty years before the healthy living and fitness boom, the City of Raleigh began building hiking and bicycling trails around its flood-control reservoirs and along its many creeks. The system now has expanded to 56 miles and connects most of the length of Crabtree Creek from west to east, as well as large portions along Walnut Creek; it also surrounds Lake Lynn and Shelly Lake. Plans are to connect the network to Umstead State Park and expand the trail along the Neuse River. Cary and Apex also are building trails and bikeways, and the Triangle eventually will become a section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail of North Carolina.
The current trend in urban design is to promote multi-use complexes that include offices, retail, and residential components so people don’t have to drive to the store or work. Growing cities like Raleigh and its suburbs also are seeing a boom in downtown residential development, with high-rise condominiums sprouting up next to office towers.
The recent rise in gas prices is causing citizens and politicians alike to consider alternatives to the automobile; there even have been serious discussions on public transit. Throughout the South, cities are regretting the fact that they tore up streetcar tracks and are studying ways to get people out of their cars. We simply can’t deal with all the traffic, which is ruining the quality of life that attracted folks to the South in the first place.
I don’t know that I’ll live long enough to see it fixed, but in the meantime I can enjoy my walks along Raleigh’s greenways, which take me back to a quieter, more peaceful and seemingly more rural way of life. I can forget for a time that I live in a big city, and can watch the rabbits and squirrels as I share my secret with an ever-growing number of joggers and cyclists.