Seeking Pedestrian Advocates in L.A., Where People Actually Do Walk

An advocacy group is growing as the city prepares to pay more attention to its walkers.

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Reuters

It's been anecdotally debunked almost to a point where it shouldn't be mentioned, and yet there needs to be a final nail in its coffin: the 1982 song "Walking in L.A." – as in  "Nobody walks in L.A." – is not just kind of wrong, it's about as close to completely inaccurate as a statement (or song) can be.

"Everybody's a pedestrian," says Deborah Murphy. "You get out of your car and walk to a shop, you're a pedestrian. You get off your bike and walk to your job, you're a pedestrian. You get off the bus, you're a pedestrian."

It might seem like semantics, but the clarification is important, says Murphy, an urban designer and long-time pedestrian advocate in Los Angeles. By thinking about pedestrianism as a natural act rather than a specific interest, it become clear that the idea of making the city a better place for walking really does serve the interests of all. This frame is what makes it hard to believe that – despite its population of nearly 4 million and predominantly pleasant weather – the city of Los Angeles does not have a pedestrian advocacy organization.

Nearly every big city in the U.S. has one of these groups. There's Walk San Francisco, Transportation Alternatives in New York City and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition in Portland. But L.A. has no equivalent.

Murphy is trying to change that. She's spearheading a group called Los Angeles Walks, which is aiming to make pedestrian safety and planning a more important part of the city's conversation.

It's a newly formed effort, but an old idea for Murphy, who originally started the pedestrian advocacy group in 1998. That effort eventually fizzled.

"People were too dispersed around L.A. to come to regular meetings and many of the people were already involved in other transportation and environmental organizations," says Murphy. "People were supportive of the issues but it always seemed to come back to just me."

Part of the issue, she says, is that it's hard to gather people around the amorphous goal of improving life for all walkers – from those taking long strolls to those who do little more than waddle through the parking lot to get back into their cars. Though she is the head of a committee that advises the city on walking issues, pedestrian safety and planning haven't really been prioritized by city officials. Or residents, for that matter.

But things are starting to change. With a dedicated segment of funding from a transportation-focused sales tax increase, the city is currently on a path to hire two pedestrian coordinators to better understand the needs of the city's walkers. The two coordinators could be on the job as soon as this summer. For Murphy, that's long overdue.

"I've been trying for 20 years to get a pedestrian coordinator on staff at the city of Los Angeles," says Murphy. "We really need like 15 positions, but we've got to start somewhere."

She says the fact that the city is finally coming around to focusing more effort on the pedestrian side of transportation creates even more need for an active and vocal advocacy group. The more people that are involved, the better informed the city can be about where changes are needed.

To help grow that effort, Los Angeles Walks is hosting a fundraiser on April 21. It's going to be a karaoke party, and attendees are invited to sing their favorite songs about – you guessed it – walking. Maybe even that song.

Photo credit: Phil McCarten / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.