Nobody Walks In LA

Well, to be fair, what I really mean is nobody jaywalks in Los Angeles. Seriously. My conviction surrounding this issue stems from the day my colleague was ticketed to the tune of about a hundred bucks for jaywalking. Mind you, this was not for casually wandering across the street mid-block, this was for walking against the flashing orange hand at an intersection. Not the solid orange hand, the flashing orange hand.

I was in Manhattan about two weeks ago, and it pretty much took a full 24 hours for me to understand I wasn’t in the city of angels anymore. Initially, I waited like a good soldier at each intersection for the light to flash the “all systems go” white walking guy. And the blocks are really small, have I mentioned that?

Pretty soon I began to notice that people were breezing by me as if it were nothing at all to cross the street regardless of what the pedestrian light said. “Wow,” I thought, “these folks are really brazen.” Really, at the end of the day, the stop lights for pedestrians were suggestions, at best.

Fortunately for me, on my first evening in New York, I had dinner with some locals. I explained my dilemma with the cross walks, and, probably without meaning to, they gave me that “Oh, you poor naïf” look. The succinct explanation offered to me: “Daniel, this is New York. Pedestrians rule. You look both ways, and if there are no cars, you cross. No big deal.”

The next day, I watched for a while, and it was absolutely true. Emboldened by this revelation, I pretty soon tried my first crossing against the flashing hand. Wow—on the 30-ft. wide, one-way streets, it was not a big deal at all. In fact, it was kind of exhilarating—I felt freed to pursue my own goals, as long as I wasn’t threatened by a speeding vehicle.

This works, of course, because so many of the streets in Manhattan are really narrow. Seriously, by comparison, even the typical street in downtown LA is like a thruway—the distance to cross is so great, and the cars are moving so fast, do you really want to take your life in your hands? I have been trained, it is clear, that the car is king, and I need to take my rightful place in the divine order of things.

And so it is. It’s LA; cars rule, peds drool. Will it always be thus? I don’t know. One Thursday a month, in the evening, the emerging gallery district along Spring street comes alive with tens of thousands (I suppose) hipsters out to sample the fare from the food trucks and cruise the galleries. Temporarily the pattern is reversed, and downtown adopts a New York state of mind. It’s a glorious thing.

Maybe as downtown LA continues to emerge, we should have a lot more one-way streets, and generally narrow half of them by making the sidewalks wider and more inviting. In NYC, the heavy traffic is grouped to bigger streets about 10 blocks apart, as far as I can tell. Maybe we need a little more of that.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at