Los Angeles to pedestrians: why bother?

I’ve disliked the car culture of Los Angeles for a long time – even before I understood terms like induced demand or externality.

I was 18 the first time I came here, in town to compete on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. Although I was confined mostly to the hotel and the Sony lot, the most indelible part of that trip – beyond the contestant experience, of course – was how to get anywhere I had to either slink along in traffic (if I took a taxi or bus) or cross eight lanes of pavement (if I dared to walk to get some food).

Since then, I’ve returned seven or eight times. The third time, I was barely 21 and, of course, all I wanted to do was go to some LA bars with my friends. We had to draw straws each night to see who’d be the designated driver. That was a lot of fun, let me tell you.

A little over a decade after my first trip, I’m here for another Tournament of Champions, this time as an observer. I’m crashing with one of the contestants at the Hilton in Universal City, near Hollywood. If we want food, we have to eat at the overpriced restaurant or walk 20 minutes via a sketchy highway underpass.

I’ve been running for about four years now. When I came to visit a friend in Malibu last year, someone picked me up in her car and we’d drive somewhere to run. (Imagine that: having to drive to get somewhere to do exercise!)

This time, I don’t have a car, so I have to make do with what’s at my fingertips. I saw it was about four miles round trip to get to Hollywood Reservoir, from where I figured I’d be able to see the famous sign. It was a worthy trip.

Universal City to Hollywood Reservoir

The Los Angeles infrastructure had other plans. The sidewalk alongside Cahuenga Boulevard suddenly came to an end.

Running Hollywood - 03

I’m stubborn, but I’m not suicidal. No driver will expect anyone on foot.

I turned around and tried to take another route, but that, too, lacked a sidewalk. I consulted Google Maps, which suggested what appeared to be a waterfront path called Muddy Waters Drive.

Muddy Waters Drive

It was only a mile north of where I was, and would take me back to the hotel. Perfect.

I only had to cross two rivers of traffic once I arrived. When I took this photo I was halfway across, withstanding the second of two 75-second waits.

Running Hollywood - 08

Finally, I was across. And then I got this.

Running Hollywood - 10

All righty then. Turning around (that’s a common theme in this post) I ran south once again. The sidewalk ended soon after.

Running Hollywood - 11

At this point, I was pissed. How could any place restrict access to those who can afford a motor vehicle? What was so shameful about being a pedestrian, a runner, even a cyclist? (I did see two different cyclists attacking this hill, so they do exist even in this area.)

I’d like to see someone sue the hell out of this town, particularly for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Running Hollywood - 12

I kept having to switch sides of the street. I gave one of those “push here to cross” buttons a solid smack out of frustration.

Even when there was a sidewalk, these wise urban planners saw fit to throw an obstacle in the way.

Running Hollywood - 14

Then I decided to do some unforeseen speed work, I suppose, treating a shoulder as my personal sidewalk. I’d wait until the coast was clear, then gun it until I could get to the next protected area.

I felt like an idiot. This guy, on the other hand, parked his broken-down burner facing the wrong direction just around the corner from a blind turn. Brilliant.

Running Hollywood - 17

Up above, I saw a clearing and what appeared to be a barbecue pit. I ran up, hoping this was some sort of sidewalk. It was not.

Running Hollywood - 18

Higher up, there was a fence. I thought about hugging it while I continued west, but saw a lot of garbage, and got scared someone might be hanging out, unwilling to entertain visitors.

Running Hollywood - 19

I went back down to street level and saw what appeared to be a nub of a sidewalk. I ran for my life, hoping a police officer wouldn’t see this moron sprinting alongside a three-lane access road.

Running Hollywood - 20

This morning, I’ll be hitting the treadmill. A shame, too, because it’s a nice day.

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4 Responses to Los Angeles to pedestrians: why bother?

  1. michaelcairl says:

    It’s easy and even proper to dump on L.A. for this but it’s a widespread problem. Recently I went to a meeting with a client in Morristown, New Jersey. The train station was about a 12-minute walk from the office and it was a nice day, but the sidewalk along Madison Avenue was, to say the least, discontinuous. I saw no other people using what sidewalk there was. With a continuous sidewalk maybe people would actually walk from place to place. Sigh.

    • Nathanael says:

      New Jersey’s a damn nightmare when it comes to stuff like this. LA is actually much better than New Jersey, believe it or not. (The City of LA, that is. The suburbs, not so much.)

  2. Bill says:

    Ever since I moved to Orange County last year, every time I mention that I walked, say, a mile to a local grocery store (instead of driving), people react with amazement, as if I told them I’d climbed up the side of a building to the 40th floor instead of taking the elevator. It’s a vicious circle: things aren’t built with pedestrians in mind, so citizens come to believe that walking is unusual, so they don’t expect things to be built with pedestrians in mind.

  3. addicted4444 says:

    This is the main reason I could never live in a city other than NYC, or maybe Boston. I grew up outside the U.S. where not being able to walk someplace is unimaginable. I went to college in an LA like city, and pretty much felt imprisoned my 5 years there. I was fortunate I was on campus which was indeed very walkable. But I am so glad I got a job in NYC after, because I would have hated living there and working off campus.

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