It was a brisk Monday morning in La Habra, California as I stepped out of the house and headed down the hill to the nearby shopping center. On any other day, I would hop in the car and head down the street to make a Starbucks and Target run, however today I was walking.
For those unfamiliar with the city, La Habra is a small suburb in Northwest
Orange County with a population of approximately 61,000 people.
While the statistics for walking pedestrians in the city are not available, Citydata.com was able to determine that in Orange County, 77% of residents travel by car alone to work, and only 2% by walking. This was confirmed by a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau study that stated in Orange County over 88% of people travel to work by car, van, or truck, with only a small percentage of 3% walking.
This statistic became evident as I headed out the door, bundled up in layers of jackets, at 7:30 a.m. on an exceptionally gloomy Monday morning.
As I headed down the large hill, it began to rain, something that I clearly was not prepared for as I had not even thought to bring an umbrella.
In the past, when I had driven down this road it took me a mere 7-8 minutes to get to the nearby shopping center, however traveling by foot took at least 35 minutes.
On a typical weekday morning, as I drive down to this part of town I often noticed many children and parents walking to the nearby middle school. However, on this day I only saw one mother and her two sons, presumably because of the cold and gloomy weather.
As I continued walking, there was not a single person other than myself out walking. The only person in sight was a woman bundled up in a large windbreaker jacket sitting at the nearby bus stop.
I approached her to ask her about her experience with public transportation, and soon realized that she did not wish to talk.
Remaining optimistic of other social encounters, I headed to the Starbucks about a mile and a half down the road.
As I arrived, I immediately ran into a fellow La Habra resident named John who was sitting outside with his dog, and large containers of dog treats.
I stopped to ask John if he was out walking with his dog today and he quickly replied with, “We usually walk, but not today,” as he pointed to the dark clouds above us.
As I walked up and down the major road, Imperial Highway, there was no one else in sight.
I began walking back towards the bus stop where I saw the woman sitting, and this time accompanying her was now two men, also waiting patiently for the next bus to arrive. As I approached them I noticed that they both had headphones in each ear and their heads were hung low. It seemed as though no one wished to be bothered, they were simply trying to get where they needed to be.
After feeling a bit defeated about the lack of people out walking, I headed towards the nearby park that intersects with the busy street and is located near two large housing complexes.
It was there that I ran in to about six more people, many in which who also did not wish to talk. I tried to stop one couple, and they waved and kept walking, as to not be bothered.
I approached the next couple, two La Habra residents who did not wish to give their names, and asked them how often they are out here walking and whether it was to get from one place to the other, or just for leisure activity.
“We walk about every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, mainly for health reasons.”
Following behind them was another couple, who waved in agreeance, followed by a “us too.”
As I thanked them for their time, I continued up the hill back towards my house, and arrived home precisely at 9:15 a.m., leaving me just enough time to get ready for my commute to work.
What I was able to determine from this experience was that in Orange County, particularly the area in which I live in, many people did not walk to get from point A to point B. Instead, they walked simply for the health benefits.
According to the Orange County Transportation Authority, “Walkers on average lose weight, strengthen their hearts, and have less stress.”
In order to encourage Orange County residents to continue moving and walking each day, a variety of programs and resources have become available: OC Healthy Steps, 10,000 Steps-a-Day Challenge, and Wellness Walk Wednesday in hopes of getting more residents on their feet and moving.
While for me walking in the rain was not all that enjoyable, in the future I would like to walk to the local shopping centers more often. It felt nice to get outside early in the morning and enjoy a relaxing walk through the city I call home.