Archive for the ‘Guest posts’ Category

Car Free in Cortland (Part VII)

The Politics of Walking

By Emma Ignaszewski

It’s been almost 25 years since the Unknown Protester stepped in front of a column of military tanks and halted their advancement on Tian’anmen Square.

It’s been almost 60 years since community members in Montgomery, Alabama, elected to boycott the buses until the seating was desegregated – many people chose to walk in lieu of supporting an unconstitutional, immoral, and systematic policy of racial discrimination.

And it has now been over 100 years since a group of suffragists marched over 225 miles from New York City to Washington, D.C., in protest of sex-based restrictions on voting rights.

Just like the raised fist of the Black Panthers or the three-fingered lips-to-air symbol in the sweepingly popular Hunger Games series, how and when one chooses to walk can translate into a vigorous political statement.

I don’t walk just because I don’t have a car. It’s not a last resort. I don’t truly view it as “alternative transportation” because I believe that self-motivated transportation (by foot, wheelchair, crutches) is our first resort.

So what am I fighting for? What am I walking for? My health, the environment, safety, to experience my community. These are priorities that can all be politicized as causes. And supporting each of them makes an investment far more valuable to myself and future generations than a car payment.


Car Free in Cortland (Part VI)

By Emma Ignaszewski
Getting around town this time of year certainly isn’t a picnic. It’s not even a brown bag lunch. But it certainly has its just desserts.

I was riding on public transit Monday morning, and the windows were glazed with ice like translucent fireworks hailing the crisp veil of snow over Cortland. Leaning against the glass, I watched the world go by as if painted in thick swipes of blue and white, light grazing shadow like old friends.

I wonder if Monet saw the light through an frosted window. I wonder if Van Gogh captured skies past ice and the fogged up breath of morning.

And it all would have been for naught had I been driving – no chance to spend thirty minutes in silent observance of frozen lace on the window.

Thank you public transit, for transforming my morning commute into a moment forever framed in beauty.

Car Free in Cortland (Part V)

Oh, the end of summer. It makes me hold on to the sunshine a bit tighter, motivated to drink the warmth while it’s still managing to cling to the air, however tenuous.

A couple of weekends ago, I was off to visit friends in Ithaca, and one of them suggested I bike. I was hesitant, having only recently dusted off my quadriceps and WD-40’d a lovely 80s road bike friends of a friend lent me (thank you!). But I know that it won’t be too long until biking is simply not an option (at least not a safe one, in my opinion). So I spent the most lovely Friday evening cycling over to Ithaca, winding my way along Fall Creek, blanketed in the softest of late afternoon shadows. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of the season.

The ride back was a bit less enjoyable. It was raining for a bit, then so humid I was biking atop clouds recondensing along the road. The hill just northeast of McLean was very challenging (and yes, I walked a couple dozen yards of it). But gliding back down into Cortland, past Lime Hollow and SUNY Cortland, seeing the college students begin to fill the sidewalks and explore downtown, it made me feel…affectionate.

Cortland has character. Maybe not your heroic leading lady or quaint barbershop tenor kind of character. But character nonetheless, even if it’s subtle.

I’ve yet to put my finger on exactly what is Cortland’s character, but it’s on days like this, when the wind is levitating seeds from the fields, when the ants are hiding in shady sidewalk cracks, and when the shyest passer-by holds a smile just for a moment, that I feel Cortland’s character almost ready to reveal itself to me.

Savor the end of summer by walking or biking or rollerblading or skateboarding or something that gets you outside and on your way to an inspired new understanding of the world around you. I might see you on a sidewalk somewhere, and if I can tear my eyes away from the clouds and the yellowing leaves and the gentle rolling hills I’ll smile at you.

Emma Ignaszewski

Car Free in Cortland Part IV

We have a problem with the way we see walking and biking and public transit in Cortland. A lot of us see it as a last resort, an indication of class or ability or the amount of money we have. And I mean in a negative way. Sometimes, as I cross the street in front of a car waiting at an intersection at an inopportune time for the driver, I get nasty looks, impatient waves. Hurry up, they say.

But you know what? Drivers can make up that time in a moment, and are limited by the cars in front of them. If they accelerate until they reach that limiting reagent, then there’s no net loss. It’s my road, too. And we’re all pedestrians. You don’t drive up to your desk; cars are made specifically to get people to a place where they start walking. Parking lots are as much for walkers as for drivers. They’re blacktop portals where drivers transform into walkers (no matter if they’re walking a mere twenty feet).

Jan’s post about empty buses makes me think of something else, too. There are complaints that there are only one or two riders on a given route during the day. If you don’t see enough people on the bus to make you happy as a community member, or public agent, or taxpayer, then YOU SHOULD RIDE THE BUS. We’re already paying for it. So milk it. It’s cheap (the absolute cheapest I’ve ever encountered), it’s easy, we have a system that lets you get on anywhere along the route and get off at personalized destinations.

So what are we doing in our cars? What does it take to shift the paradigm? I’d argue that our perception, our very language, is an important first step. I walked to Hall’s Hill Blueberry Farm a few weeks ago to stock up on the most delectable blueberries I’ve ever tasted. It’s safe to say they are absolutely and deliciously gone by now. The owner was a bit stunned when I showed up with my backpack and water bottle, sweating and smiling. He asked why I was already sweating, and when I said I had walked, he said “No, you didn’t.” That’s not the first time that’s happened to me, either. People express confident doubt upon learning I walk from x to y. It’s a funny thing, a little difficult to respond to; “Um, yes, I did, actually.”

They might be impressed. “Wow, that’s six miles. Each way.” And as much as I am flattered by the awe, I’d love if it weren’t a big deal. I’d love if people walked and biked and took the bus all over the county, region, nation. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful norm?

And it happens, gradually. My coworkers have easily gotten used to my tales of travel by foot. They’re supportive, which is awesome. And nobody’s worked up about it in either direction – no one says it’s impossible or dangerous to not have a car, and I’m not evangelical about walking. I wish our society and culture were more zealous about it, but that’s a long process. It’s happening in other places, though. There are towns in Germany that don’t allow cars except in a parking garage on the outskirts for regional trips, and Jan has posted about more than one city ripe with bicycle culture and pedestrian pride.

People (though perhaps more U.S. citizens than not) think we’re the greatest nation in the world – comprised of innovative leaders, brilliant social entrepreneurs, thinkers light-years ahead of their time. But it all comes down to what we do. And if what we do isn’t smart, isn’t sustainable, isn’t forward-thinking, then neither are we.

Emma Ignaszewski

Car Free in Cortland (Part III)

When people think of summer vacation, they might imagine loading up the car with duffels full of swimsuits and sunscreen, squishing coolers bursting with sandwiches and beverages of choice between the kids in the backseat. Others might think of hopping on a plane to visit family or friends in distant states with sea-studded and sand-laden shores, or immersing oneself in a foreign and captivating culture.

About a month ago I took an early summer vacation and touched not car nor plane, not ship nor bike, RV, nor other vehicular derivations. I visited four different state forests in four days and spent nights under star-lidded skies. Days brought sunlight riddling through canopies of birch and maple leaves aglow. I walked from my front door to Taylor Valley State Forest, through Hoxie Gorge, Tuller Hill, to Kennedy and ate my last bite of GORP (good old raisins and peanuts, aka trail mix) in a stunning and stunningly empty park in Virgil.

Backpacking is an adventure I’ve had the opportunity to build a love for during at least thirteen of my twenty-three years. I’ve also had the pleasure of introducing people to the independence and challenge of strapping all the necessities to your back and walking as much as eighteen miles in a day. That’s a distance equitable to the width of the City of Cortland times nine.

You don’t need a car to go camping here in Cortland County, and I think that’s amazingly fortunate. Growing up in a big city – smack in the center of a big city – walking to your campsite wasn’t an option. Camping required a firm amount of planning and resources, and getting the right gears to turn in that sticky machine that is family scheduling was barely short of magic.

And I understand that it’s likely the same for the scads of people who have a colorful pastiche of spontaneous and planned commitments here in Cortland. I’d be wildly happy if half the people here went camping this summer. I’d be wildly happy if half the drivers here went without a car for a week. I’d be over the perigee moon if people tried to do both at once.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an amazing event – TEDxFlourCity – in Rochester, NY. I’m working to organize TEDxCortland ( for November, and I wanted very much to attend the event in Rochester to experience firsthand the incredible wealth of ideas and collaboration that TEDx events offer. But I also wanted to investigate whether the car free lifestyle is suitable to such whims as going out of town for the weekend, to a destination not exactly within walking distance.

I awoke at 4am on a Saturday to catch the Greyhound leaving from the County Office Building to Rochester via Syracuse. From the station in Rochester, I walked a couple miles to the venue and, after nine or so hours of filling my senses with the wit, emotion, and ideas of the Rochesterian community, collapsed onto my hotel bed, delightfully exhausted.

There was absolutely nothing I could find to complain about or constructively criticize regarding the bus service. I found myself to Rochester and back without a hitch, and full of the kind of revitalization exposure to new and different cultures and experiences can offer.

The more I explore life without a car, the more I feel truly independent. It’s not cars (and in some cases not even transportation) that give people access to fresh and fulfilling experiences. It’s initiative.

by Emma Ignaszewski

This is Part III of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland.

Car Free in Cortland, Part II

I do a good deal of graphic design, through work and play. Smart design is an incredible tool that we use to survive, communicate, and innovate. A huge tenet of design, particularly in recent years, is the idea that form follows function. The shape, appearance, manifestation of an object should serve its function. For example, these candles are shaped such that they catch their own wax drippings:

This plate attaches to a jar of nutella, salsa, etc:

This utility strip allows you to plug in a variety of devices at once without worrying about adapter size:

Not only are these kinds of things brilliant, but they’re also fun and obvious improvements that show how important design is as a tool of accomplishment and progress, of achieving goals.
And we have goals – like reducing obesity below its horrendous rate of 60%. Reducing carbon emissions and eliminating those brown clouds over cities that fog visibility and cling to our lungs. And teaching our children how fulfilling it is to live actively, healthfully, happily.
One obvious, beautiful way of making great strides in achieving these is walking. Leaving our cars at home and using our muscles and calories to propel us towards work, school, a healthier body, environment, and spirit.
But Cortland isn’t designed for walking. It’s designed for driving.
There are many streets without sidewalks, even streets that lead to incredibly important destinations like grocery stores and banks and offices on Groton and Route 13.
Stoplights are rigged against pedestrians. At Main and Groton/Clinton, for example, the walk signals appear all at the same time and not for long, requiring one to jaywalk if they don’t want to wait through cycle after cycle of changes. I’m young and thankfully rather spry, and even then if I want to cross both ways I have to cheat. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who simply can’t walk as fast, or uses a wheelchair.
Many lights favor cars. Even if you arrive with plenty of green light to cross, if you haven’t pressed the walk button before the light changes, the signal won’t change from its glaring orange hand and you’re stuck waiting an entire cycle.
At the Riverside Plaza intersection on Clinton, the system favors cars, only giving walkers a fraction of the time to cross, then remaining green but on no walk for an extended length of time.
These are not the kind of systematic conditions that encourage walking. No, they’re actually quite deterring. I went running back in February, snow on the ground, cold cutting the air, and the length of time I had to wait at each stoplight on Church Street easily surpassed that I spent running. I have not since run on Church Street, selecting instead Greenbush as my main southern thoroughfare – but it’s without designated crossing areas on larger roads.
Cortland’s transportation system is biased against walkers. It’s not good design – it certainly won’t help us achieve the most important goals for our community.
How can we make it better?
We could at least make light time equal for cars and pedestrians. We could program walk signals so they automatically display walk every cycle.
We could improve the sidewalks where roots have left slabs looking like they’re Californian tectonic plates.
And, testing the mechanics of supply and demand, we could walk more.
This is Part II of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland

Emma Ignaszewski

Car Free in Cortland

My intention was to stow away the car keys this week for Bike/Walk to Work Week and write about my adventure. But I got sick on Monday and still didn’t feel so great on Tuesday morning. So I’m trying to walk as much as possible the rest of this week but will plan to do the whole car free thing another week.

However, we have someone in our office who has been living the car free life since January and I asked her to write about her experience of living without a car in Cortland. Here is Emma’s story. – Jan

Car Free in Cortland, Part I:
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, member of a one-car family in a nation where drivers who share a car with three others are quickly becoming extinct. Then again, I didn’t drive much, as I calmly let my learner’s permit expire at 17 and ignored acquiring a license until I was 22. I hitched rides with my friends, carpooled, walked and rode the city bus to school with my sister. After I graduated, Phoenix built a light-rail system, which only made it easier for my sister, who developed impressive familiarity and ease with the public transportation system.

In college, I didn’t need to drive. And it was pleasant, walking the hills of Ithaca, loving the feel of sunshine and snowflakes on my nose. Through the rain, I participated in umbrella parades, yellows and reds and polka-dots studding the bluster and blue. I exchanged smiles with people I knew, people I didn’t know.

When I told my grandparents (who lived in Steuben County for seventy years) that I was moving to Cortland, my grandpa said, “So you’re getting a car, then.” It wasn’t a question for him. But it was for me – would I need one?
I’m an AmeriCorps service member, fresh out of college. I don’t have much money, and I’m not making much money. A car seems excessive to me, a luxury. I have the good fortune of working with very generous and friendly people, who gave me rides through February and the hairier parts of March. But I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, knowing that, if I were still in school, I wouldn’t even think twice about walking through a blizzard. Walking is the most natural and instinctual mode of transportation.

It’s my home base, the context I live in. I buy small batches of groceries every few days on my way home from work, but it’s not a hassle. It’s just what I do. Yesterday, I walked 2.4 miles round-trip to and from work. In the evening, I also walked 3 miles round-trip to the bank so I could deposit my paycheck. It takes time and effort. But I also had the opportunity to enjoy how the sun pushed through the sleet and made the budding trees that much brighter against the cobalt sky. I listened to a podcast about a man who can play piano, each hand a different rhythm, have a conversation, and listen to a completely different imaginary symphony in his head.

Walking is sort of like that – it has so many purposes. It’s my transportation, sure, but it’s also exercise. It’s human connection – I have positive interactions passing people on sidewalks (and I’m pretty sure most notable interactions that happen between vehicles are of the negative ilk). I use the time to reflect, to learn (I’ve developed a keen fondness for radio shows), to listen to music. It’s therapeutic. It’s also a gentle transition, giving me time to gear up for work, to gradually relax after work so I don’t walk in the door and plop down, mentally or physically exhausted. It’s exhilarating on cooler mornings like today’s. It puts a bit of spring in my step, especially now that the crabapples and magnolias are blooming. It makes me happy.

This is Part I of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland.