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Chronicle: Car-free Camden

The need for municipal administration and taxation arose largely from the need to build and maintain roads for public use. The early settlers all had to agree to let public roads be erected on their lots wherever deemed necessary and instead of paying taxes they were required to help build these roads and keep them passable by working for a period of time. every year for the first ten years of colonization.

Keeping the roads passable was the name of the game and no one had to worry about the danger of a group going by too fast. The roads were slow, rocky, muddy and often washed out. And in the winter they were slippery and all sorts of other things.

The need for sidewalks did not arise until the roads began to be heavily used by horses and other livestock and the city center became dense enough that sanitation problems arose. Lines began to form between the use of city roads by those who had horses and those who did not.

In the March 24 edition of the 1903 Courier-Gazette, the editor offered the following reminder: “We maintain that we are not, as ratepayers living in a progressive community with an active chamber of commerce, do good when we allow the elements to make walking unbearable for a whole winter… We pay to make the middle of the streets comfortable for the horses, never to be heard of complaining, but we leave poor, tender-footed humanity slipping and stumbling and breaking bones and commandments and appearing to obey quite as a matter of course.

How many times have we heard complaints about pedestrians walking on the road even when there is a sidewalk? Well, I bet the reasons are almost always similar to those of 1903.

Yes, of course there are inconsiderate pedestrians, but most of the time people only choose the road over the sidewalk when there is a noticeable disparity in conditions. Almost all roads in Camden are in better condition than the sidewalk, if any, and it is the sidewalks, not the roadways, that are frequently clogged with telephone poles and post boxes.

Just as cities prioritized the passage of horses and carts over making sidewalks passable for people, we fall into the same patterns today with cars. Some assume that the only people who use our sidewalks are those who walk by choice or children who are not yet old enough to drive. They also tend to imagine that the activity is seasonal and that in winter everyone is driving.

There are of course many reasons why someone might choose to walk around town rather than drive, but there is also another demographic group: the carless. I’ve been renting rooms in our home on Mechanic Street since 2008. Advertising on Craigslist, going through all the requests, and getting to know people during their time has shown me that a lot of people are without a vehicle, either by chance or by choice.

In fact, I got so used to having people without cars that we started charging more if a tenant needed to park a car in the driveway. The reasons why our renters have not had a car are many, including financial problems, physical disability, license revocation, anxiety, preference for walking, never learned to drive, no need a car, and probably more than I can think of. of.

When I first moved back to Camden after college I quite comfortably shared a car with one of my housemates, but the longest time I was without a car was around 9 months . My kids were quite young at the time and I worked on overcoming my nervousness on a bike so I could pull them in one of these carts.

Much of our city is designed and operated on the assumption that everyone needs or wants or can afford a car, but it’s time to start acknowledging the fact that not everyone has one. If the carless in Camden suddenly all had a car they needed to park and drive, we would notice an increase in congestion. Along the same lines, if a few more of us could do without it more often, we would all benefit from cleaner air and less congestion.

One of the many barriers to creating affordable housing is that everything has to be built on the assumption that we are building space for as many cars as people, and sometimes more.

For people who already need to walk or cycle, we owe it to them to make that experience as safe and accessible as possible and that will mean reclaiming some space and preference that has been ceded to automobiles.

Alison McKellar is a resident of Camden and Vice Chair of the Select Board. His opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of the Camden Herald. We welcome guest letters and columns reflecting other viewpoints via [email protected]

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