Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve come to see walking and the rights of pedestrians in an entirely new way. Living in New York and Europe accidentally gave me the impression that sidewalks are a matter of civic necessity and duty, and that walking to the post office or nearest grocery store was something that could be taken for granted. Sadly, all over the planet, that’s not the case. It doesn’t take a genius to put together obesity, depression and financial disparity problems as outcomes to a community that makes driving the only safe option to go about daily life. If ever there was a place invested in the automobile, it’s Los Angeles. Double bummer.
But that’s changing in some big ways. My biggest cause for optimism looking out into the new year comes from an organization called Los Angeles Walks. They recently published a list of the 12 Best things to happen to LA Pedestrians in 2012 I’m super proud of Los Angeles and an amazing population of trailblazers who aren’t waiting for the city or anyone to improve the safety and beauty of our city. We’re organizing, voting, planning and even going to school to learn how to make a difference. Now that’s encouraging!
From pedestrian coordinators to polka-dotted plazas, this was definitely a banner year for L.A.’s walkers. Across the city, we’re seeing physical improvements to our streets and sidewalks as well as a changing perspective from citizens who are actively proving a certain ’80s song wrong. Of course, we still have a long way to go—we still have far too many pedestrian collisions, including a recent “epidemic” of hit-and-runs—but we definitely think 2012 was a big step in the right direction for making the city more safe, accessible and fun for walkers. So, in no particular order, here are our picks for the 12 best things to happen to L.A. pedestrians this year.
1. The city appoints two pedestrian coordinators: Walkers won two official advocates in City Hall this year as the LADOT named two pedestrian coordinators: Margot Ocañas and Valerie Watson. The duo is working hard to update L.A. pedestrian infrastructure—like signaling, striping, and signage—and improve safe routes to schools and transit. And speaking of safety…
2. L.A.’s first continental crosswalk: Just this week, L.A. saw one of its greatest pedestrian victories as a “zebra stripe” crosswalk debuted at the intersection of 5th and Spring. Our own Deborah Murphy spoke at the press conference with Mayor Villaraigosa on how the new design will help make walkers more visible. 53 more crosswalks are planned for 2013, at intersections prioritized due to their high rate of pedestrian collisions.
3. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City book: Part urban planning primer, part love letter to walking, the former design director for the NEA’s fantastic book makes an excellent case for why focusing on the pedestrian experience will improve our cities. Not since Jane Jacobs have we seen a writer who describes a vibrant American sidewalk with such eloquent, blissfully jargon-free writing. The book only has a few examples from L.A., but maybe that’s a good thing—learning from the stories of other cities in this book will certainly help to inspire some change right here at home.
4. Sunset Triangle Plaza: Who would have guessed that a half-block of chartreuse polka-dots would get so much attention? An unprecedented collaboration between Streets for People, the L.A. City Planning Commission and the L.A. County Department of Public Health resulted in the city’s first street-to-plaza conversion in Silver Lake for only $25,000. The plaza itself needs some tweaks—the color’s still controversial, neighbors complained about the loss of parking, ugly plastic barricades showed up after a car took out a few planters—but the good news is that the process is documented, and any community can adapt (and improve on) the model for their neighborhood.
5. Parklet pilot program approved: In August of this year, the City Council approved a new pilot program pioneered by the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative to build parking space-sized parklets across the city. Four locations were announced right away, and if the six-month program goes well, more will pop up around L.A. in 2013. We’re all for the parklets, but we prefer the more L.A.-specific name: Let’s call them “plazitas!”
6. Christopher Hawthorne’s Boulevards project: As part of a series that launched this year, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic has been documenting L.A.’s famous boulevards, from Sunset Boulevard’s changing personality to Harbor Boulevard’s history of political unrest. The fact that the architecture critic at our paper of record is focusing on L.A.’s streets shows a true shift in the city’s attention to urban design. Bonus: Maybe because of Hawthorne’s project, the L.A. Times launched a campaign to let readers report damaged or missing sidewalks.
7. Police return to Pedestrian Advisory Committee: After Los Angeles Walks, Midnight Ridazz and LACBC presented at City Council, police representatives re-joined the LADOT’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, signifying a unified commitment to safer streets. Especially in light of the recent rash of pedestrian deaths on L.A. streets, this partnership is extremely important. (If you’d like to attend an upcoming meeting, the committee is still looking for representatives from many council districts,details here.)
8. Opening of the Expo Line and Orange Line extension: These two projects illustrated the dedication of the city to providing transit options for its residents as it continues building (rebuilding?) a world-class transportation system. The Orange Line now connects the extremely popular bus rapid transit line to rail in Chatsworth, and the new Expo Line brought much-needed service to South L.A. and Culver City. And,despite political battles, the second phase of the Expo Line is on schedule, which means we might be riding that light-rail-to-the-sea as soon as 2015.
9. The L.A. Weekly’s hit-and-run investigation: A devastating feature in the L.A. Weekly just a few weeks ago explored the tragic “epidemic” of hit-and-runs on our streets: 48 percent of traffic accidents in Los Angeles are hit-and-run offenses (much higher than the national average of 11 percent), and approximately 100 pedestrians are killed each year in Los Angeles by hit-and-run drivers. Yet the city and LAPD are not doing enough to prosecute and prevent these crimes (read our response to the article). Investigative journalism like this is important to amplify the conversation about safer streets, and we applaud the Weekly for taking on this issue. Update: They even did an excellent follow-up article on how hit-and-run victim Don Ward tracked down the driver who hit him.
10. Big objects moving through L.A.’s streets: First it was a boulder for LACMA, then it was a space shuttle for the California Science Center. (What’s next? One of the pyramids creeping up the PCH en route to the Getty Villa?) But instead of eliciting groans from drivers, closing our roads to move Levitated Mass and Endeavour to their destinations transformed L.A. into massive street parties where people discovered new ways to navigate the city without their cars.
11. It started to feel like everyone walks in L.A.: From the Big Parade to the Great L.A. Walk, from Trekking L.A.’s neighborhood walking tours to the L.A. Conservancy’s exploration of historic districts, we saw a groundswell of pedestrian tours, itineraries, and events throughout the city. Our only regret is that we can’t possibly keep up with all of the pedestrian urban exploration happening around us!
12. Rebirth of Los Angeles Walks: Of course we couldn’t help but include a revitalized Los Angeles Walks in our round up. You might know that L.A. Walks has been around in some form since the ’90s, but 2012 saw our official relaunch with anew steering committee and vision for the city. After our awesome karaoke fundraiser in April, we set to work on our campaigns, hosting three community meetings across the city, and we organized “WalkLAvia” parade down Figueroa during the autumn CicLAvia. And we got plenty of press which helped connect local walkers to our cause. We’re excited for 2013 and hope that you’ll join us as we work to make L.A. a great place for walkers. Thanks to everyone for your support!