Walkin’ in a town that loves its vehicles
Now, I know people around here like to make life more complicated for themselves.
They say exactly the opposite. They say they moved to the foothills to get away from it all, to rediscover a simpler way to live, to get back to nature and bring harmony to their souls, if you will.
These are laudable goals, and I believe the people who profess them do so totally ingenuously. Which raises the question:
Why is it so frickin’ hard to walk from Nevada City to Grass Valley? Or vice versa, of course?
OK, “frickin’ hard” may be an exaggeration, but I’m sort of an expert in this regard, because most of the time now when I go from my home near downtown Nevada City to the offices of The Union in the Glenbrook Basin, I walk.
The walk itself is not difficult. It’s a little hilly, sure, but the exercise is one of the reasons I do it. (Believe me, I need it.) What’s difficult – more bothersome than difficult, really – is that for so much of the trek, I’m sharing the road with the 8,000 Subaru drivers who live here, too, as well as the other folks in cars.
There is no safe, reasonably direct route for pedestrians traveling between our two towns. I have to come over Nevada City Highway, separated from certain death on the grille of a Mack truck only by the faded – and oft ignored – white paint demarcating the bike trails on the shoulder of the road. Then I come down Old Tunnel Road, which is safer, if only because I can throw myself down the hillside if necessary.
Even once I get down to civilization and sidewalks, it’s a pain. Try punching the button to get the “Walk” signal to cross Brunswick sometime. That signal lasts nearly long enough for you to take one step, maybe two if you’re on methamphetamines. I can barely make it across without getting run over, which concerns me because, demographically speaking, I’m younger and supposedly more spry than most of the county. If my grandma ever wanted to cross Brunswick, she’d need a couple days’ worth of provisions, so she could bivouac for the night at the median. Or she’d need a car.
Cars. That’s the thing about our gorgeous, all-natural, silently springy western county. Everyone needs cars to get around it, because everyone lives 14 miles out of town, usually somewhere off of Greenhorn. (I have no idea why, but 75 percent of the people who live here live somewhere off of Greenhorn.)
So, because everyone uses cars for transportation, walking has turned into a special event. Lots of people in Nevada County really, really like to walk. But they call it “hiking” and drive miles out of their way to do it. The Sunday drive has been replaced by the Sunday hike, in what must be an example of what McLuhan termed the reversal of the overheated medium. Or something. Yeah, I’m real smart.
I’m not real smart, but I do think it would behoove us to explore making this community more walkable. Actually, we’d be making it more bike-able, too, which may appeal to more people. (Me, I tried biking for a few days on Nevada City’s fabled Seven Hills. And then I bought a pair of hiking boots.)
If we’re really committed to preserving our quality of life, if we’re really committed to enriching our souls, if we just want to give our teen-agers an option besides hitchhiking between our two towns – we should get moving on getting a system of trails put into place.
Let’s do it fast, Nevada County. Run, don’t walk.
Josh Wimmer lives in Nevada City. His column appears on Fridays. E-mail him at
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