By Collin Hall
I spent most of my teenage years in a neighborhood that might as well have been an island. That subdivision in Bossier City, Louisiana had no sidewalks and was surrounded by throbbing highways where trucks howled by at 70 miles per hour.
A lone Circle K sat tired at the far edge of the neighborhood, an oasis of cheap candy and even cheaper soda. But walking there – just a short eight tenths of a mile – meant risking life and limb. My little sister is telling the truth when she says she is “stranded in her house” – she doesn’t have a license yet, and without a car, there is truly nowhere to go.
I know well the isolation that car-lessness brings. But because I live year-round in Cape May County, I also know the joy that a walkable neighborhood affords. The towns of Cape May, Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Ocean City, Avalon, and Stone Harbor are so wonderful in part because their downtowns and business districts cater to walking folks first and cars second.
If you live in the City of Cape May, you can walk or bike to basically anywhere in the town without the terror of high-speed cars whizzing by. Some roads make it tough for cars and bikes to share the lanes, but the posted speed limits are low, and most businesses are designed for foot traffic rather than parking lot traffic.
Wildwood Crest is similar, but not quite as walkable and with fewer shops. A robust bike path connects most of the town – it’s a joy to walk the entire 5-Mile Island on a cool fall day.
North Wildwood is a great town for walkers, especially on festival days when Olde New Jersey is closed to car traffic. Renters can drink the night away at bars just a hop and a skip from one another. And the drunken walk back to housing is easy.
Wildwood is similar, but without the intense bar presence. There are many grocery stores within walking distance anywhere on the island, and well-marked pedestrian crossing points make it easy to feel safe as a walker.
In Stone Harbor, you can head to the beach, catch a movie, grab a bite to eat, and return home without ever getting in a vehicle.
Sea Isle is similar. The streets in Sea Isle are skinny, which discourages speeding and gives walkers a reason to sigh relief. The close-together entertainment district is great to stroll down.
I hope more towns, like my beloved Villas, take notice. There’s a world where Bayshore Road, the main stretch that separates the east and west sides of Villas, is a vibrant, walkable strip with easy foot access to attractive local shops, a slower speed limit for cars, and a better-marked bike lane.
But Villas is a better place to walk than any Southern neighborhood I ever lived in. People, bikes, skateboards, and cars all share the neighborhood roads, even if the balance skews more towards drivability than walkability.
Our peninsula’s walkable towns are clearly a draw. I love to imagine a world where every town had easy walking access to shops and other basic amenities. When my grandmother talks about the days of her youth, much of her joy came from small towns that emphasized walkability. Those same towns have since been cut through with major highways, in the case of Converse Louisiana, or have been so vacated by businesses that community life is a shadow of what it once was.
All of this to say: Cape May County’s shore towns do better than most, but there’s always room for improvement. A walkable town is a thriving town!