September 09, 2012

Day Two Without Driving

People always joke that "nobody walks in LA."

But why is that?

Is it because the city is just too huge to navigate on foot? Is it possible that nowhere you'd want to go is within walking distance?

There are some incredibly walkable areas in LA - Los Feliz, Silverlake, West Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire - but typically, those neighborhoods only allow you to walk around within their own perimeters, and not from one area to another.

In fact, based on the way the cities of the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area were built, it can be very difficult to be a pedestrian. And, in some cases, it's nearly impossible to walk safely.

Today I chose to walk two and a half miles each way in an out-and-back to the movie theater in Century City, a destination that's within easy walking distance from home. This time, I would only be traveling through two cities (as opposed to yesterday's four): Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, since Century City isn't actually its own city. If one can trust modern cartography, it's a straight shot from home, all the way down Santa Monica Boulevard. A walker coming from my street shouldn't have to navigate their way over there; they should just keep walking. Right?


Like a typical hike along a river or a creek, with several water crossings where the trail just ends and picks up on the other side, the appearances of sidewalks along the north and south sides of Santa Monica Boulevard are spotty at best. There are some lovely gardens on the north side of the boulevard near the eastern boundary of Beverly Hills where I live, but once you get to Wilshire at the Beverly Hilton, pedestrians are forbidden. You have to cross Santa Monica over to the south side in order to cross Wilshire at all, but if you stay on the south side, you are imperiled. Past Wilshire, the south side's sidewalk narrows greatly along a line of cypress trees, and then disappears altogether where North Santa Monica Boulevard and South Santa Monica Boulevard converge, necessitating some median-hopping and Frogger-like maneuvering without aid of crosswalks, traffic lights or yield or stop signs.

There is another choice: after crossing the Santa Monica / Wilshire intersection, if you then double back to the north side of Santa Monica from the south side, you get a nice, long stretch of uninterrupted sidewalk all the way to Century City. Only problem? Getting back across Santa Monica, which, at Century City, becomes as wide as the Sargasso Sea, with multiple lanes of traffic moving in both directions around a central bus/transit lane. A crosswalk is hard to find, and without one, a pedestrian becomes likely roadkill.

On the way back home at dusk, the north side of Santa Monica - though walkable - is poorly lit, particularly at the gardens area, where the sidewalk becomes a dirt path that winds its way far from the street lights and traffic, in a worrisome, darkened area ripe for a surprise attack. Instead of following it, I gripped my pepper spray and walked through the grass by the curb, ready to jump out into traffic if approached by anyone. (I think South Santa Monica Boulevard may be a better option in the dark in either direction...)

Given my experience today, it is no wonder that I saw few other LA walkers along the same path. Although today's (relatively) easy excursion was worth the trip, maybe I'll just stay in my neighborhood tomorrow...

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