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Lauren M.G. Burt: The etiquette of a walkable city

The best communities are those that are inclusive of all their citizens, including the people who share the streets. As spring weather welcomes increased foot-traffic of walkers, runners, bikers and people taking in a beautiful day, a spring awakening may be necessary to brush up on how to use and best share outdoor spaces in our fine city.

When it’s cars vs. pedestrians, pedestrians always win. When visiting cities like Minneapolis and Chicago, I was amazed and envious by how respectful drivers are to pedestrians. Drivers must be aware, especially in warmer months, of having more people out and about. And yes, all people on foot and bikes should do their part and obey crosswalks and avoid jaywalking. The two groups must have respect and awareness for each other. It is a two-way street after all.

Basic rules of the road are as follows: stay to the right on the sidewalk, trail or path and be aware of your surroundings. Bikers and runners should pass on the left and say, “on your left” when passing someone. For safety, runners should go against traffic when running on a road. Never go more than two people abreast. Don’t hog the road and make it hard for people and cars to pass. Share the road. Everyone will be safe and happy.

City parks were created for the masses to enjoy — not to serve as a public ashtray, puppy-poop receptacle or conference room. Think twice before smoking at a public park. People are trying to take in nature, not second-hand smoke. To the people who insist on having a lengthy phone conversation, it’s your prerogative but be aware of those around you. And for the litterbugs and dog owners who refuse to clean up after their animal — you don’t need an etiquette columnist to tell you those are a no-no — I know you know better.

As a downtown dweller and someone who enjoys walking to work, I love taking advantage of our city landscape. Unfortunately, I’ve had harrowing experiences as a pedestrian and runner, and I hear the same stories from many friends across the metro. I often ponder how our city could flourish even more and have greater foot-traffic if people felt encouraged and safe. But to create a mindset of street civility, a change of perception is required.

Des Moines is no longer a sleepy town in fly-over country. It is a thriving, growing city that demands the same amenities and lifestyle as its counter-parts. Community leaders want to promote healthy and active lifestyles, but to make that effort successful and bring it full circle, there must be more public awareness to support a universal understanding for all who share public spaces. It is my hope that city leaders, developers and stakeholders consider one more piece to the walkability recipe: the promotion of civility to truly create a walkable city.