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Walking to work isn’t something I even thought possible growing up in South Florida. When my now-husband and I started college at the University of Miami in 2004, he had a car we used for longer trips, but mostly we walked or got around on the free University shuttle. It was comfortable inside the college campus bubble, but I graduated largely unaware of Greater Miami’s incredible diversity.
Now, after thirteen years of living in Miami – three of which have been without owning a car – my husband and I have a newfound love for this place we call home.
I grew up in Broward County suburbia. It took a summer internship in Washington D.C. for me to realize how different city life could be with access to a robust, citywide public transportation system. When I wasn’t traveling via mass transit, walking felt enjoyable on large, clear sidewalks. I loved the freedom of experiencing the city on foot, and wanted to move there after graduation. When I returned to Miami, I tried the MetroRail system, which was surprisingly fast and relatively inexpensive, while not as dependable or useful as D.C.’s well-connected network of buses and trains.
After graduating at the nadir of the 2009 recession, I enrolled in AmeriCorps, first working in Liberty City, and later in Opa-locka. I lived in Coral Gables and didn’t own a car, but I quickly learned how to combine walking with riding the bus, train, trolley and/or Tri-Rail to get to work. That, instead of getting behind the wheel of a car, made it possible to connect with people from all walks of life and really get to know the neighborhoods I was working in. Of course a smartphone definitely made it easier for me to understand Greater Miami’s geography while recalculating routes whenever mass transit ran on “Miami time.”
Eventually, my husband and I found jobs closer to home, in Coral Gables. We discovered how fast commuting by bicycle could be, especially during rush hour. Around the same time Lyft and Uber came onto the scene, so we’d use their ride-sharing service for rainy days or long trips, and decided it was time to sell his car.
Biking around present-day greater Miami comes with serious risks though. We’ve had our share of close-calls on the road, and almost two years ago he was rear-ended by a reckless driver. After that happened, I began craving a peaceful, slower pace of commuting. We soon found a new neighborhood in the family-friendly Shenandoah, just 10 minutes on foot from the Center for Social Change, where we both work. Walking our local streets we’ve gotten to know the neighbors and local parks, and have simplified our daily commute in a way that wasn’t possible before.
I understand being able to walk to your job isn’t something everyone can do, but exploring your community regularly on foot is something we can all do, for fun and/or fitness. Planning walks along with a bus or trolley ride home can expand how far you go, and mixing bicycling with transit is another way to make car-free trips possible. Expanding the methods of travel I used throughout Greater Miami over the years has transformed the way I see this community I once wanted to leave. When you navigate a place on foot, or by bicycle or mass transit, you notice and connect more than you can zipping through in a car.
What if I told you meaningful connections have always been here, and all you have to do is get out of your car for a few hours to experience them?
Let me give you a hand to get on your feet!
As the City Organizer of Jane’s Walk – a global movement of free, citizen-led walking tours – I’m extending an invitation to Miamians of all ages to join walks led by their neighbors this weekend. These walks, inspired by writer and activist Jane Jacobs, have engaged tens of thousands of people in more than 200 cities around the world since 2007.
#MiamiWalks will embark in Miami this weekend for its second year. I look forward to seeing you out walking between Friday, May 5th and Sunday, May 7th.
You can find tours in the following neighborhoods. Click-on them for details and to RSVP:
RSVP on Facebook here.