Sustainable commuting modes such as transit, carpooling, and biking are getting more and more attention as we look to combat climate change. One commute mode that tends to fly under the radar is walking. Unlike any other mode aside from telecommuting, walking has zero carbon impact. It also requires little to no special gear or knowledge, meaning it can have little to no cost. While many people walk at least a bit every day, who thinks about using their own two feet to get to work? Skip Durocher, Partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP and Co-Head of the Minneapolis office, that’s who.
Skip has been commuting on foot to his downtown Minneapolis office since 2014. His commute is 1.8 miles each way and takes him about half an hour – or, as he puts it, “with traffic, and downtown traffic in particular, it probably doesn’t take me all that much longer to walk than it would to drive.”
Skip didn’t always walk to work. He had a car commute for decades before his wife suggested a different way of doing things. I interviewed Skip in January 2022 to get more insight into his commute. Read on to learn about his initial reluctance to walk to work, how he fell in love with it, and why his advice to others is simply: “You’ve got to just try it!”
Edited for length and clarity.
Catherine: Why did you start walking to work?
Skip: We Lived in Plymouth from 1990-2014. When the last kid left the house in 2014, my wife announced that we were moving to Northeast Minneapolis. One of the selling points that my wife had was that we’d been driving for the last 25 years, wouldn’t it be fun to be able to walk to work? At the time I thought ‘Well, I don’t know if that would be fun or not…’
Parking in the Dorsey building (at 50 South 6th Street) is expensive. I’m an extraordinary tightwad, especially when it comes to paying for parking. It’s also time consuming just to get out of downtown Minneapolis in a car.
When we did move, I sort of begrudgingly thought ‘well, okay I’ll give it (walking) a try, I won’t have to pay for parking and it’ll get me a little exercise.’ Within a few weeks of buying the house, I walked to work for the first time, and it’s been pretty much continuous since then unless I’m traveling.
It didn’t take me very long to really fall in love with it.
Catherine: How did you prepare to start walking to work?
Skip: I figured it out as I went. I knew the general geography of the area, had a pretty good idea of different options. I could either stay more neighborhoody in Northeast and head toward the Mississippi River, or walk directly over to Hennepin Ave where there are more businesses.
Catherine: How has walk commuting changed your preparation for your day or changed your day in general versus driving to work?
Skip: I never really enjoyed my driving commute, either driving to or driving home from work. It was just something I had to do.
Walking is a different story. In the morning it clears my head and gives me a little bit of exercise, so by the time I get into the office I feel like I’ve already accomplished something.
At night, I actually find that I look forward to the walk home. That’s something I could never say (before) – I might’ve looked forward to the end of the day and getting off work and enjoying the evening, but I never looked forward to the commute home.
I always look forward to the walk home, even in the middle of winter. I really enjoy it, I enjoy seeing the city, I enjoy seeing people. I enjoy all sorts of weather whether it’s cold or hot or rain, I enjoy all of that. On both sides of the commute, I’ve found that it’s mind clearing and relaxing, and at the same time I get a little bit of a workout.
Shortly after I started walking to work, I got onto Hennepin Avenue one morning, and before I got over the bridge, there was a coffeeshop called Taraccino. It’s no longer there, sadly, but it was there when I first started walking back in 2014. I’m an early riser and I was usually walking in by 6:30 or so. I started timing my walks so I would get there right when they opened. I’m not a fancy coffee guy, I like plain old black coffee. I would stop in there every morning and pick up a cup of coffee. The barista guy that was there, he and I hit it off… He was probably there for a year, year and a half before he moved on. He was a big Minnesota Gopher fan and I always wore a Wisconsin hat because I’m a Badger. I don’t think he ever knew my name, he just called me Wisconsin. So that became my walk of choice, heading over on about 5th Street to Hennepin towards the bridge, stopping at Taraccino, picking up a cup of coffee and giving the barista a hard time about the Gophers, and then continuing my walk over the Hennepin Bridge. From there, I really like walking down Nicollet, so that was my route. For a guy from small town Wisconsin, it had a very urban vibe.
Catherine: Do you walk every day?
Skip: The only times that I don’t walk are if I’m traveling or I have a reason to have a car downtown. Say I’ve got to drive out and meet a client or go to court, in those instances I’ll take my car downtown. The weather never stops me. I’m lucky because our building has shower facilities. I’ve commandeered a closet in our office where I’ve stashed a number of suits, ties. I can travel light, wear my “walking to work clothes”: in the summer, it’s shorts and a t-shirt. In the winter, it’s long underwear and outdoor pants, a puffy coat with fleece underneath, and I have gloves and a warm stocking hat. Either way I sweat. I’ve actually gotten to know people both from work and other people in the building who I see every day in the shower facility.
Catherine: How do you walk in winter? What changes, if any, do you adopt?
Skip: For footwear, I use one of two options: a heavier pair of tennis shoes that have better traction, and my wife bought me some LL Bean boots. They are not real high, just over the ankle, they’re rubber, pull on, and have really good traction on the bottom. That’s what I’ll wear if it’s sloppy it all. If the snow is deep, I have a pair of higher up boots.
One thing you learn is to try to be careful about the ice. Once in a while if you have a thaw and then a freeze, the sidewalks get very icy. I had purchased a few years ago those crampons that you put on the bottom of your shoes. I put them on right at the door and walked across our wooden porch. My wife saw that I was leaving marks in the wood from the metal, that’s when she bought me the LL Bean boots and I stopped wearing the crampons.
One of my favorite memories: a few years ago, my wife (who also worked downtown) had walked to work with me that day, or maybe she bussed. It was a blizzardy day in Minneapolis, we actually shut our office down early that day and my wife’s office shut down early too. We decided to walk home together at like 3 in the afternoon. It was virtually a blizzard, howling winds, snow… We decided we would make it as far as getting across the Hennepin Avenue bridge and we would reward ourselves by stopping at the “new” Nye’s for a cocktail in the afternoon. There were just a couple other people in the bar – there’s always this camaraderie built by adversity, so we all really enjoyed that afternoon in the bar together. Of course, then we had to walk home after a couple cocktails, which made it even more interesting.
Catherine: What do you do if something comes up during the day that prevents you from walking home? Or if you unexpectedly need to get somewhere quickly?
Skip: Until this year when my wife retired, if for whatever reason I needed a ride home (there were a few times if it was pouring rain), I might either catch a ride with her, or call an Uber. A few times I would ask one of my buddies, my partners at the office to grab a drink after work, and then con him into driving me home. My wife became a bus rider and became very familiar with the bus routes, so once in a while I’d jump on a bus.
Needing to get somewhere quickly has come up a number of times, and I’ve dealt with it several different ways. One, if it’s something I’m going to with somebody else from my office, I check to see if they have a car, and a lot of times they do so I ride with them. Two, if my wife had her car downtown, I would borrow that if she didn’t have something else going on. Or else a cab, it’s very simple to grab one of those or an Uber.
Catherine: Have you encountered any challenges?
Skip: Other than those weather conditions I’ve not had any adversities; I’ve not had anybody harassing me. Nothing but positive experiences.
Catherine: What advice would you give to others who might be interested in walking to work?
Skip: Give it a try! I approached it with a bit of reluctance. I’m not somebody who easily adapts to new things, so the idea of me converting from being a 25-year car commuter to walking? I was a bit apprehensive, and I was surprised at how quickly I adapted and how much I enjoy it. It didn’t take very long at all.
There are so many positives to it: the environmental positives where you’re not contributing to pollution. Saving money – wear and tear on the car and parking. Getting exercise, mind clearing aspects of it. For me, crossing the Mississippi river every morning’s so interesting just to see how the river looks different every day, the sun rising as I’m coming in, a certain aspect of beauty to it. There are so many positives and no negatives. You’ve got to just try it. I think most people would be surprised by how much they enjoy it.
Wellness Culture at Dorsey & Whitney
Skip noted that the leadership of the Minneapolis office all try to set a good example by walking: Bill Stoerie, Managing Partner of the Minneapolis office, and Bridget Logstrom Koci, Partner and Co-Head of the Minneapolis office, also walk to work from their homes in downtown.
Dorsey & Whitney initiated a formal wellness initiative, “Well Ahead”, in 2015. The initiative brings in acclaimed speakers on wellness topics, puts on a recurring “Bike to Work Week”, and organizes “Embrace Winter” contests.
Shower facilities at Dorsey & Whitney are free and open to all lawyers and staff.
All employees have access to closets for storing items such as coats, bags, and work clothing to change into on arrival.