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Take a walk, ride a bike, get together

It used to be so stress-free, gassing up the car. You'd spend a few pleasant moments at the pump, enjoying the smell of gasoline and trying to catch what you could of Dr. Laura, whose bossy voice was trickling from your car radio. Then you'd roll merrily away, barely glancing at the receipt.

Now, we've gotten quite a jolt.

A trip to the pump, where prices have soared, leaves us breathing fire. We not only glance at that receipt, we stew over it. Some people cry for price caps -- an artificial measure that, to my way of thinking, makes no sense. Others blame the president or spread jokes on the Internet.

But here's a better idea:

Maybe we should think more about walking and bicycling.

Like most things in Buffalo, it's not as easy as it sounds. Our area isn't kind to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Has anyone but me ever tried to walk along Transit Road? You'd be crazy to try.

Does anyone else fear to step into a crosswalk?

Bicycling to work, too, is a formidable proposition. No wonder we're told to wear helmets. It's dangerous out there.

Yes, we've come a long way since sainted Frederick Law Olmsted laid out our easily navigated system of parks, designed to entice people to walk. In Buffalo, cars rule.

On the bright side, we're not alone.

"Every place is like that," says Mark Plotz, program director for the National Center for Biking and Walking. "There's no one out there advocating for pedestrians. I think cars constitute 85 percent of all trips taken. Bikes -- less than 1 percent."

"Last time most people were on a bicycle was probably before they got their driver's license," laughs Plotz, who, true to his vision, bikes to work in car-congested Washington, D.C.

It's time Buffalo moved, huffing and puffing, ahead of the pack.

Justin Booth, of the Wellness Center of Greater Buffalo, is trying to help. Booth, 27, grew up on Staten Island and moved here when he was recruited to play basketball for Buffalo State College.

Now, he broods about how to get all the citizens in his new hometown moving -- young, old, disabled, everyone.

The journey begins, he suggests, in your own neighborhood. You walk more if you have somewhere nearby to walk to, like banks, restaurants and libraries.

"People have been promoting walkable communities as a way to spur economic development," Booth says. "Think of Niagara-on-the-Lake. All those storefronts, great sidewalks, outdoor patios. You want to walk there. No one goes to Niagara Falls Boulevard to walk."

Our perpetually widening thoroughfares discourage pedestrians. Main Street in Williamsville, cute as it is, teems with heavy traffic. "How do they bring back quaintness now that they have a four-lane highway?" wonders Booth, who lives downtown.

Booth practices what he preaches. He walks to work every day, and he also walks his daughter to school. But he points out that downtown, too, has its share of problems.

"Say you're staying at the Mansion on Delaware, and you want to go see the Michigan Street Baptist Church. Most people would rather park and walk," he says. "But the Elm/Oak corridor is a barrier because of the high-speed traffic."

How do we begin to make Buffalo a town of walkers and cyclists?

By uniting, Plotz suggests. By pressuring developers to build sidewalks, not cul-de-sacs. By educating motorists and bugging our officials to look out for our interests.

Those high gas prices just might give us incentive.

"The streets are going to be safer when more people are walking or bicycling," Plotz says. "Once drivers have seen it from the viewpoint of pedestrians and bicyclists, they're going to be more respectful."

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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