‘I Never Was Much of a Driver’: Providence Environmentalist Travels By Foot
August 28, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is a part of ecoRI News’ Rhody Riders series, a collection of stories about people who choose to live without a car and use a combination of walking, bicycling, and public transit to get around the Ocean State.
PROVIDENCE — For about 20 years, Greg Gerritt hitchhiked his way through life.
From much of that period, Gerritt operated a carpentry business in a rural Maine town with the same dimensions as Providence, but many fewer people.
“I was late once, just once,” he said, explaining that he always built in extra time to get from one end of town to another.
While borrowing rides, “I became one of the most visible people in the community,” he said.
Gerritt grew up in New York City, in the Bronx, where public transportation was frequent and cheap, so it felt normal for him to get around without a car. He had learned how drive in college, but he never felt like it was for him.
His aversion to driving stems from his environmentalist and anti-consumerist outlook.
“If I have a car, I have to have more money,” Gerritt said, and there were often times he didn’t have much.
“I never was much of a driver,” he added. “I didn’t really know how to back up.”
When Gerritt moved to Providence 27 years ago, he gave up hitchhiking, but didn’t give up his car-free lifestyle. He started to take the bus, which he still uses occasionally, but since the pandemic began, he mostly walks.
His wife owns a car that they will use to do errands that require transporting things, but usually Gerritt tries to make any trip within a 5-mile range on foot. The 69-year-old averages about 8 to 10 miles of walking every day, he said.
“Everywhere from the East Side to Olneyville to Roger Williams Park, I walk,” he said.
Gerritt often takes North Main Street — which he noted was once a part of Ben Franklin’s Post Road and before that a popular trail for Indigenous people — between Pawtucket and Providence.
The “not too far” walk is one of his favorites.
“By doing all that walking, you get to know the place,” he said. Along North Main, he has developed a “nodding acquaintance” with many of the people who live or work in the area.
Gerritt recognizes that living without a car isn’t easy for everyone. His walking radius is a little bit farther than most peoples’, and living in Providence makes getting around easier because more places are accessible by foot than other community in the state.
“Other than the R-Line, [public transit] is not the most reliable way to get around,” he said.
If he could make a change to how transportation works in Rhode Island, he said he would teach children the rules of the road (and the sidewalk) from an early age.
“I’d get all the kids walking” to promote a better environment, personal health, and public health, he said.
“All buses should be free,” he added. “Then it’d be like hitchhiking.”