After having read the last two posts to this blog, you may be thinking: why not just ride a bicycle or walk?
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is an auto culture. Long stretches of major roadways are covered with car dealerships, mechanics shops, and automotive parts stores. Virtually every individual yearns to have a car, and in middle class families the norm is one car per adult. Working class and poor families make do with one car, and it is not unusual to see an old battered wreck careening down the road with more rust remover and primer than paint, packed to bursting with family members. No matter that this car probably wouldn't pass a legitimate inspection--it's a car and it goes, therefore one has ascended the social ladder.
The few bicycles one sees in Puerto Rico are in the hands of three types of people: children, street vendors/homeless people, and the occasional sportsperson. Children ride bicycles in cul de sacs, parks, and dead end streets. Street vendors and homeless people load up their bikes with wares or possessions, and it is not unusual to see two such individuals riding one sorry-looking bike through bumper to bumper traffic, risking life and limb at every turn. Professional or competititve bicyclists are more common in the tourist areas and are generally foreigners. There are few bike paths or special accomodations prepared for cyclists. Riding a bicyle in car traffic is extremely dangerous and not recommended. I remember witnessing one accident between a cyclist and a car, and the cyclist went flying through the air upon impact. It was just short of miraculous that he was only bruised and scraped and didn't die on the spot.
Another obstacle to bike riding on the island is the deplorable condition of the roads themselves. Potholes and construction debris that cause flat tires and broken axles for autos can create truly hazardous situations for bikes. I remember when my son was a Boy Scout and rode in a bicycle caravan all the way from Trujillo Alto to Fajardo, he had three flats on the way there, as did most of his comrades.
What about walking? Well, this too can be a dangerous enterprise. Sidewalks are often poorly maintained and uncomfortable to walk on. Diagonal parking is common in many commercial strips, making the life of the pedestrian even tricker as cars slide in and out of slots, stopping traffic as they make their maneuvers. Given the scarcity of parking spaces in many areas, drivers improvise spots on sidewalks and across driveways, and double-parking is an art form. The smart driver avoids the right lane like the plague because of the tangle of misparked vehicles and darting pedestrians. Most restaurants along these stretches have valet parking, not because they are luxurious, but because otherwise the clientele can't find parking. In the hands of the valet parkers, the parking lots become sardine cans packed to the gills with cars, artistically and geometrically arranged like some huge automotive puzzle. One advantage that Puerto Rico has over New York is the cheap prices charged in the parking lots. Generally, one pays about 75 cents an hour to park. In the Milla de Oro (Golden Mile) where all the banks and insurance companies are located in Hato Rey, prices may reach a dollar or more. This is in striking contrast to the $11.00-$40 an hour parking prices of New York City where it can cost you more to park your car for an evening than to buy an opera or ballet ticket.
Another aspect of walking that must be considered is the heat and extremely powerful sun rays. Being so close to the equator, Puerto Rico has 12 hours of sunlight each day, and temperatures averaging from 73 degrees in winter to 90 degrees in summer. The sun is almost directly overhead at all times, and getting burned or dehydrated is a genuine danger. No one walks in the midday sun unless they have to. Air conditioning is highly valued and found in nearly all public spaces, cranked up to a ridiculously cold level. I have to wear a jacket at work every day due to the polar conditions created by the university's central air conditioning, while outside I can fry eggs on the sidewalk.