On a recent weekday morning, my husband and I decided to walk, rather than drive, the 1.4 miles from our home in Lakewood Hills to our neighborhood’s newest breakfast joint. It’s not too much farther than the Lakewood Shopping Center, to which we always want to walk but don’t often make the effort, thwarted by our young children, hectic schedules and weather conditions (too rainy, too hot, or too something at any given moment in Dallas).
But on this particular day, we had just dropped off our children, had a little extra time to grab a bite, and the weather, though a bit muggy, was pleasant with temperatures in the low 70s. So, lacking any of our typical excuses, and feeling shamed by the recent barrage of “people in Lakewood need to learn to walk” that recently had filled the Advocate’s website and Facebook comment sections in response to the Alamo Drafthouse-Lakewood Theater news, we set out.
Walking through our neighborhood was lovely enough. We ran into a few people walking dogs and pushing strollers, and greeted our neighbors with waves and “good morning”s.” The sidewalks are continuous down La Vista so we didn’t have to walk in the street until we reached the Lakewood Country Club.
Scrolled into the golf course gates’ ironwork is “1912,” the year the club was established, which I have to assume was a pre-sidewalks era. The only sidewalk anywhere along the country club’s property is the stretch between La Vista and Gaston along Abrams, as well as a short segment on La Vista adjacent to the 15th green that starts and stops abruptly with no apparent purpose.
If it weren’t for La Vista’s road humps, the walk along the golf course would be treacherous for pedestrians. As it is, it’s not pleasant, save for the wafts of honeysuckle blooming this time of year. The current country club construction only makes it worse, and walking allows much more time to ponder why the city gave the club permission to build what is essentially two-stories of tennis courts atop a parking garage without requiring it to construct sidewalks along its property for the good of all of its neighbors (rather than simply the few who can afford to fork over tens of thousands of dollars annually).
The next major hurdle is the stoplight at La Vista and Abrams. The prospect of six lanes of cars hurtling around curves with no clear view of the light until they are mere feet away … let’s just say the “walk” sign at that intersection’s crosswalk isn’t very reassuring, and I’m not sure I would risk it during rush hour. (And at night? Even more unlikely unless I’m wearing a reflective jumpsuit.) But it wasn’t rush hour, so we made it through without any hurried drivers trying to mow us down so they could save three seconds traveling to very important places, I’m sure.
After that intersection, we were officially in the Lakewood Shopping Center, and I expected to be overcome with a sense of urbanity. Instead, flanked by the empty Compass Bank parking lot on one side and the backsides of shops and restaurants on the other, it wasn’t so much cityscape as concrete jungle. Not until we reached Liberty Burger did I begin to sense a different aesthetic. As we strolled through, however, I did wish for larger windows on the storefronts to make the journey more interesting. Too much of the retail architecture, perhaps as it has evolved over the years, feels like a cold shoulder rather than open arms.
We crossed La Vista at Gaston — an intersection I’m convinced would benefit from a diagonal crosswalk — and continued our march toward Buzzbrews. (Has anyone else never noticed the treed median in the triangle of Gaston, Paulus and La Vista?) We passed the egress of Swiss Avenue on the way, a mistake we didn’t make on the way back. Though it took a few more minutes, heading from Buzzbrews down Skillman toward Swiss and sauntering down the surprisingly quiet and unsurprisingly picturesque avenue was much more enjoyable than taking in the La Vista-turned-Live Oak views of the vacant car wash, Wells Fargo bank drive-through and aging Lakewood Landing exterior.
The walk was most definitely a time commitment. What would have been a 10-minute round-trip route by car took us roughly an hour instead. Still, it was relaxing as well as invigorating (I didn’t feel nearly as bad about ordering, and inhaling, the Hippie Miss Piggie).
Would I walk there again? Would I walk anywhere often? I want to say yes. But we are such a car-centric city that not only does it go against our cultural grain to walk, but our infrastructure isn’t really conducive to it. I don’t just mean that you take your life in your hands when walking near Dallas drivers, though that is true; I mean the things that make walking fun, such as beautiful cityscapes and interactivity, don’t really exist here. Exercise and environmental altruism are good motivators, but we have plenty of other ways to achieve such goals.
In the recent “Walking New York” issue of New York Times Magazine, one particular writer notes that his hometown of Pittsburgh was “a city where almost no one walked, except the poor.” That struck me as true of Dallas as well. Why? So many reasons, stated so much better by people more educated on the topic than I, which we’ll cover in due time.
For now, though, we’re looking for a few people who live in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Lakewood Shopping Center to join us for an experiment of sorts: Commit to walking and cycling, rather than driving, to the shopping center for two weeks, and tell us what you experience. We want volunteers from Abrams-Brookside, Junius Heights, Swiss Avenue, Lakewood Heights, Lakewood, Lakewood Hills and any other neighborhoods with residents willing to brave the streets. If you’re interested, email Advocate editor Keri Mitchell.
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