In preparation for “Walktober” Vital Communities staff member John Haffner explores pedestrian travel in a two-part contribution to our Getting Around series. This first part focuses on John’s adventures getting to know his new home of White River Junction by foot.
While I’ve been on the job at Vital Communities since January, I’m only a few months into being a resident of the Town of Hartford. My wife and I bought a house (our first) in the Taft’s Flat neighborhood of White River Junction and one of the joys about this location is that I’m so close to many of the places I regularly need to go. I’m walking distance to Vital Communities’ office where I work, the co-op where I get groceries, White River School where my 4-year-old attends preschool, and all the shops and amenities of downtown WRJ.
This proximity to where I need to go puts me in an enviable position. The rolling natural landscape and the meandering country roads are certainly a draw of the Upper Valley, but so too are the streets of our villages, towns, and cities. While any form of motorized transport can cover great distances at speed across our beautiful region, it is undeniable that walking gives you a much more intimate and detailed impression of the individual communities that make up the Upper Valley. I thought I’d use our “Getting Around” series to share my experience getting to know my new home through one of the most basic modes of transportation – walking.
My regular commute from my home near Hartford High School to Vital Communities’ office on N. Main St. takes me down Hartford Avevue, where I can either continue straight up the hill to where Hartford Avenue meets Main Street, or take the scenic route by turning left on Maple and crossing the river at Bridge Street. One of the fun things about walking this commute is that I get to witness the changing pedestrian landscape that has been nearly 20 years in the making.
If I walked this commute when the Town of Hartford was working on their last bike/pedestrian plan (published in 2009), it would have looked a lot different. Back then, the section of Hartford Ave I would have taken down to where the road intersects Maple street would not have had a sidewalk (see image at left below).
Now, there is enough separation for me to safely walk my 4-year old down to White River School in the mornings and tow my groceries back up the hill in the evening with my Walk to Shop shopping trolley (your Vital Communities transportation team is working to bring these great trolleys to the Upper Valley soon!).
It’s not just about commutes and grocery runs when it comes to walking around WRJ, however. One of my favorite walks in town is crossing the river on Bridge Street to the supremely walkable downtown core of the village. Even though I moved to town during a summer of intensive public works projects and the recent flooding in the basement of the Gates Briggs Building, I have still been able to enjoy meandering through the village center’s vibrant collection of shops and restaurants. And in case you haven’t heard, in spite of the recent flood, downtown WRJ is indeed open for business, and there are many ways you can help our local businesses bounce back.
If you’re feeling spritely, after a stroll through downtown you can head north on Currier Street and pick up the footpath in front of The Village at White River Junction. This path takes you through the woods up to the Terraces Historic District. Not only is it a lovely walk, it is also a unique historical encounter. Old-timers will no doubt know it as “the carriage road” and will have to forgive this flatlander’s pedestrian (pun intended) knowledge of such a local gem. Still, it bears repeating that local historians have interpreted this as an informal path connecting the emerging merchant class neighborhood of the Terraces to the town center in the late nineteenth century.
This path reminds me of a term that I love in pedestrian planning parlance called a “desire path.” A desire path is an informal route trodden by frequent pedestrian traffic in spite of there not being any formal infrastructure designating it. Desire paths are at once confounding for planners as they routinely circumvent expensive infrastructure like sidewalks, and yet they are also an insight into where travelers desire infrastructure to be located.
The carriage path to the Terraces District reminds us that in spite of decades of focus on transportation planning for vehicle travel, the modest pedestrian will regularly find a way to get where they need to go. This Walktober I hope you are able to put your feet to the pavement and explore the intimate journeys of your favorite places in the Upper Valley.
In the follow-up to this post John will talk with Matt Osborn, a senior planner at the Town of Hartford, about some of the recent pedestrian projects in town as well as explore some of the historic and contemporary barriers facing pedestrian infrastructure planning. Stay tuned and happy Walktober!
This interview is part of our Getting Around transportation series, where we interview individuals who are seeking alternatives to driving by themselves. We northern New Englanders drive more per capita than most other Americans, and transportation is our biggest producer of greenhouse gases. So it’s great when people find ways of getting around the Upper Valley that don’t involve driving by themselves. Bikes, e-bikes, buses, carpools – what’s your transportation story? If you would like to share it, please reach out by emailing Leona.