Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Walking in LA

Look ahead as we pass, try and focus on it

I won't be fooled by a cheap cinematic trick
It must have been just a cardboard cut out of a man...

These are the lyrics from "Walkin' in LA," a song by the band Missing Persons. I remember it well, partly because of Dale Bozzio, the lead singer, who had this quirky, high-pitched voice and that gaudy fluorescent '80’s makeup. She ranked up there with Bananrama and the Bangles in my adolescent mind for her new wave style. The lyrics are about driving the streets of Los Angeles and seeing someone walking. The singer thinks it’s a mirage. The chorus goes:

Walkin' in L.A.
Nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A.
Only a nobody walks in L.A.

Today I walked in LA. Downtown LA to be exact. I left an early morning meeting and went in search of more coffee and WiFi. I was told to go to a Starbucks across the LA Freeway, which meant crossing over this tiny sliver of a sidewalk on a bridge. The woman who directed me said, "I know it seems extreme. I get nervous walking over it, but I don't know of anyone who's been hit."

She shook my hand and wished me luck.

The pedestrian walkway is barely wide enough for two people to pass. On your left is two lanes of traffic speeding down Figueroa Blvd. On your right is a small guardrail protecting you from the LA freeway below:

Coming back across the bridge later, it was particularly thrilling to walk into the speeding traffic. Especially the buses.

It was while driving through LA several years ago and watching a woman try to walk that public health official Richard Jackson started thinking about how our built environment is killing us. He considers it to be one of the most important public health issues of our time, up there with epidemics like AIDS. Jackson co-authored a book titled Urban Sprawl and Public Health, which analyzes the ways in which our design and planning choices are making us obese, sick, depressed and—in the case of pedestrians across the country—bumper targets.