#WalkingLA (or: Let’s stop making those short trips with our cars)

When I first came here, to LA, I was determined to explore the city, walking. If you know this city at all, you know this is not a city for walkers. It is a city for drivers. For cars. Or, people in cars, I guess. But not even ”for” them, the traffic is heavy at all hours more or less, and it is always something to take into account when making plans. We don’t talk distances here, when speaking about going from one place to another, we talk driving time.

My initial project, that of the walking, started out just fine. People would get more or less ”shocked”, when I told them I had walked to the chiropractor appointment or wherever I was going:

”What, you walked?? No one walks in LA”.

That comment was for a walk of about 3 miles, but from the reactions I got it sounded like it would have been something more like 30.

I quickly learned where the sidewalks existed or not in the neighborhood (yes. Sometimes they just…disappear. Very mysterious actually), and to do my errands in the mornings before the heat (that was my first deep understanding of the people here, and their cars. Coming out from Whole Foods and starting my one hour walk back with the things I’d bought in the backpack, in the sun that made me sweat just stepping out from the store. All while the LA people, fully dressed in jeans and sweaters quickly jumped into their cool cars, driving back to their AC:d homes or offices. Red, dripping sweaty and thirsty I slowly made my way home).

After a couple of months I got a bit tired of the walking. Or, not of the walking itself…but of the distances, where there wasn’t really so much to experience along the way. No cafés, no bars, no people except occasional dog walkers…just house after house, car after car. Lots of beautiful trees and flowers in the gardens, but not even a bench along the way to sit down and enjoy the day at. If you don’t live in the area, you just don’t have anything to do there, other than…just passing by, on your way to something else. After some time, that gets really boring.

I also started to realize that one of the things I miss from back home, except for the walking itself, is the socializing that happens (or can happen), on the streets of a ”walkable” town. Back there, I usually bump in to people I know, good friends or acquaintances, or start talking to people I meet just like that. Or I text someone along the way to check if they are in the area…and sometimes they are, and we get together for a coffee – and many times they are not, and then it just became the occasion for a little ”Hi” through our phones. And here – that just doesn’t happen, in the same way. Of course if you live in a walkable neighborhood, that maybe happens around there. But…yeah. It just dawned on me, suddenly, how isolated I felt here, partly from the fact that I’m the ”only” one out there, walking.

To a large part, this is of course politics, things on the societal level, that need to change, to give people better choices to choose from. And on the individual level – well, I would suggest a movement to start with, to stop taking the car for all those short errands – I’ve been surprised more than once here, over people jumping into their car, to go to the store two blocks away and alike. Why??

I mean, I get it, a bit. It’s convenient, in the moment, when feeling too tired to walk to the store for that ice cream. And, it’s just really a part of…how things are done here. Like, a cultural thing, almost. But it’s just so unnecessary. And from an environmental perspective it really doesn’t make any sense, either. The first five minutes of a drive – that’s when a lot of the bad stuff comes out from (and partly into the cabin of) the car (even if it’s a ”clean” one – unless we’re talking electricity here):

”Latest analysis of the EQUA Index data shows that the average daily distance driven in passenger cars in urban areas is not sufficient for a vehicle’s pollution control system to warm up and become fully functional. For the majority of vehicles tested by Emissions Analytics, it can take more than five minutes for pollution control systems to reach operating temperature.”

”Not good. Not not good”, as some people would describe this situation (why elaborate on things when not necessary?).

Back to the here and now. When Anna discovered that I had never had a “real” doughnut since coming here, and we decided that we wanted to go and get some at the donuts store for breakfast today, we obviously were gonna walk. The map says it is about 900 meters to go there from here, or about half a mile. Just around the corner, basically. The rain was pouring outside, so we put on the rain jackets, brought the dogs we were watching for the weekend, and left. Now, rain in LA isn’t just ”rain” as in any other place I’ve lived. It’s….#LArain. Yes, a phenomenon with its own hashtag 🙂 And, yes, people looked at us as if we were crazy, and possibly a couple of very mean dog owners. I’ve heard more than one person talking here about how they just avoid going out when it rains. And I do understand that this weather is sort of an anomaly in this place, so it makes sense that people aren’t used to it…well. I don’t know. I love walking in the rain, all the smells, the wet…especially if you have good clothes for it, of course. And somewhere warm to come inside and dry up afterwards. It’s the best.

Rain or not. Short distance errands, can we just all start doing them walking – or biking – instead of car:ing, please?

***

Some suggested reading about those short trips and why we all should just stop doing them:

www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/what-if-we-kept-our-cars-parked-trips-less-one-mile

www.epa.gov/transportation-air-pollution-and-climate-change/what-you-can-do-reduce-pollution-vehicles-and-engines

www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/environment/2018/05/10/short-trips-and-cold-starts-double-air-pollution

www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/12/children-risk-air-pollution-cars-former-uk-chief-scientist-warns

www.cleanairday.org.uk/news/car-engine-cold-starts-double-air-pollution

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