Walking Downtown Los Angeles with L.A. Walks and California’s Top Pedestrian Advocates

Old toy warehouses. Coca-Cola bottling plants. Bridge-cable manufacturing. A sushi restaurant with cardboard furniture. Angel City Brewing. Buildings covered with colorful graffiti.

Poster from last year's "Art in the Streets" exhibit

This is the old and the new that inhabit an area of Downtown Los Angeles that most people just catch glimpses of from the 101 or the 10 as they drive by. On Thursday, a group of pedestrian advocates visiting L.A. for the 2nd Annual Peds Count! conference did more than just glimpse: they walked.

And while they walked, they not only learned about the history of the Arts District and experienced the feel of the area; walking also hammered home the point that walking in a city known for its car travel is not an alien concept.  It’s interesting, and social, and actually quite pleasant.

“I really think that the heart of this movement is about reconnecting us to our streets and our neighborhoods by encouraging people to walk,” said Glendale-based Rye Baerg, a walk participant and regional policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. “When people walk they have more interactions with their neighbors, see things that would just wiz by in the car, and make themselves healthier all at the same time. What’s not to love?”

Most of the 40 people on the walk hold opinions about walking did not need to be swayed. They were pedestrian advocates, planners, and engineers in town for a pedestrian planning, research, and advocacy conference. During the day, they attended sessions that featured the latest pedestrian research with the aim of promoting pedestrian safety, transit access, healthy environments, and sustainable communities.

Nevertheless, some were surprised. “I never knew any of this was here,” said a San Clemente-based Caltrans pedestrian planner as she studied some of the large murals painted in preparation for a Museum of Contemporary Art “Art in the Streets” exhibit last year.

The Arts District was historically a warehouse and manufacturing area, but became a haven for artists in the 1970s. Two city ordinances helped it become the neighborhood it is today. One, the Artists in Residence Ordinance, allowed artists to work and live in their loft studio spaces in abandoned warehouse buildings. The other, the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance of 1999, makes the approval processes for restoring old buildings less rigorous. The Southern California Institute of Architecture moved into the old Santa Fe Freight Depot building in the area just after the ordinance went into effect.

Los Angeles Walks and California WALKS, both pedestrian advocacy organizations, hosted the event Thursday, which was designed to be an educational social break from the conference. The group started at the Gold Line, took it one stop, and walked to One-Eyed Gypsy. Then, they walked along cracked sidewalks and among old warehouses to Villains Tavern. Along the way, members of the group talked and smiled at various other walkers—students, people walking dogs walkers, and patrons of the few restaurants in the area (including the one with Frank Gehry-designed cardboard furniture, R23).

Deborah Murphy, founder of L.A. Walks, said simply, “Everyone walks in L.A.”

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