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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Not sidewalks...walkways

Photo by Bryson Gilbert from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
What do you think of when you hear the word “side”?

The sidekick perhaps? You know that character who isn’t the hero (and may not even be in every installment or episode)?

How about that side dish you have to be reminded to order while you’re thinking about your main entre? The garlic mash or rice pilaf that was but an afterthought, it stays on the side before being scrapped, scraped away (because the side is for refuse…)

I'd like to propose that Toronto retires the term "sidewalk" and replaces it with the more intentional "walkway."

An "aside" is "beside the point," nary worth but brief mention so as not to digress from what's important, the point, the road. Someone may be dismissed by being told to "step aside,” and no one wants to get sidestepped, sideswiped, sidelined, or even be beside oneself.

"Side", with all these negative connotations, must have some negative subconscious for people who walk. Besides, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (I must tip my hat to my virtual pal, Dr. Harbeck, the great word-taster - check out his site and you'll get it).

And, on the linguistic construction of the word "sidewalk", “side” shows up first, followed by “walk.” All the negativity of “side” hits us up front, ever reminding us, every time we use the word, that walking is not first, it is second – not primary, but secondary.

Yeah, no.

We learned to walk before we learned to talk - walking helps our brain develop and connect with the world. Walking is primary, primal, marking the next step in engaging and interacting with the world as only humans do. Walking, the way we do it, is uniquely human — walking is humane.

We've got driveways. Parkways. Expressways and thruways and runways. There are all kinds of ways we have ways, and most these ways are car-oriented. Why do we act surprised, then, that our society is so car-oriented? We make ways for things with that lead ways. So, let’s make way for walking.

"Walkway" is a much better word to capture the essence of the dignity, beauty, simplicity and priority of walking.

Walkway is like right of way, because walking is right. Walking is the way. And the word leads with "walk" because walking leads (as flaneurs know). Protecting walking from stigma, promoting walking as a primary, preferred mode of transportation, is humane.

As Toronto continues to struggle with its transportation identity (walkable city? Car-dependent? Transit-supporting? Ridable?) it's a great time to rescue walking from the stigma that sprawl has cast upon it; to re-elevate and make relevant walking as a functional, and safe mode of transportation; an asset to our view of modal integration.

I no longer call them sidewalks, blech - they are walkways. Let's adopt this new terminology, this semantic, city-wide. If we talk the talk, it'll help us walk the walk.

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