Where the Sidewalk Ends: 4 Recommendations for a Greener, Healthier, More Walkable LA

4.5-minute read

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Contact your City Councilmember to protect city trees. 

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Look around Los Angeles and you’re bound to see crowds of people — including youth, individuals with disabilities, and older adults — standing in the sun waiting for a bus. Or you might see a senior pushing a walker across craggy sidewalks, navigating around bulging tree roots. Or worse, you might see communities already disproportionately impacted by extreme heat, poor air quality, and deteriorating sidewalks with very little shade. But, it doesn't have to be this way anymore…

In Los Angeles, we have an unprecedented and extraordinary opportunity to create safe, walkable communities while investing meaningfully in street trees, all while achieving countless public health, safety, sustainability, and resilience goals already in place.

How? The sidewalk repair program spurred by the Willits settlement in the City of Los Angeles, which is addressing the urgent and long overdue need to ensure safe sidewalk and pedestrian access for all Angelenos. The program, which will invest $30 million annually and $1.3 billion over the next 30 years, represents a tremendous opportunity to strategically invest resources to achieve countless health, environment, and equity goals in our city.

The program also presents an opportunity to leverage upwards of $20+ billion from local funding sources that is expected to be invested in water supply and quality improvements, flood protection, and transportation that will take place along the very same streets, sidewalks and parkways of neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.

Where We Are Today

The City Sidewalk Repair Program, approved by the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor in March of 2016, lays out an ambitious plan for expediting sidewalk repairs while directing City departments to investigate a range of options for improving standard practices and leveraging infrastructure enhancement opportunities. This includes, but is not limited to, directives to: protect street trees and advance City urban forestry practices; explore alternative and sustainable designs, materials, and manufacturers; and investigate low-cost and ADA-compliant green infrastructure standard plans (and potential funding sources) to capture stormwater.

As of September 2016, the City is rapidly advancing deployment of sidewalk repair program components to target high-need repair areas, as it was mandated to do. However, there’s a huge problem: the City has yet to conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to understand the full impacts of the sidewalk repair program, and we still don’t have critical report-backs from various City departments on what standards the City will use to protect street trees from removal whenever possible. 

This means that we are already starting to rip up LA sidewalks without any sense of how this program will impact our City’s street trees, or how we’ll mitigate for the damages. This is unacceptable, and will have long-standing consequences for Angelenos if we don’t do things right.

A protective, mature tree canopy can take decades to replace, and given the pressures already placed on our street tree population by drought and pests, unnecessary removal and/or inadequate replacement of canopy could result in permanent loss of the critical protections trees provide. Furthermore, an unintended consequence of rapid sidewalk repair program deployment is that many of the repairs, investments, and construction done in the early years of the program face a high chance of being undone, or redone, as other programs are implemented.

Recommendations

  1. Public Outreach and Education. Key stakeholders, including people with disabilities, low-tree canopy communities, City agencies and elected officials, neighborhood leaders and the people of Los Angeles, MUST understand the public health, environmental, equity, and fiscal impacts of the sidewalk program. We need greater transparency and appropriate communication forums to provide the public with opportunities to provide input on how the City prioritizes investments in our infrastructure.
  2. Protect against immediate threats to street trees. It’s critical to jumpstart repairs to improve accessibility for Angelenos. However, it is possible that we could see 1,000 trees removed in just the first year of the program. It is imperative that the City develops a thorough understanding of the heat and health impacts to communities if urban canopy is removed. We also need ironclad strategies for avoiding tree removals whenever possible and ensuring adequate levels of canopy are maintained. A critical first step is ensuring that the City commits to funding and caring for replacement trees that the sidewalk program removes. TAKE ACTION TODAY! Visit TreePeople's website to write to your Councilmember!
  3. Update and re-imagine urban forestry standards and practices. The sidewalk repair program provides a unique opportunity, given its impact on street trees, to re-imagine a robust, visionary urban forestry program that adequately protects LA’s urban forest for 30 years of sidewalk repairs and beyond. Key to this is updating standards around planting specifications, proper tree species selection, replacement ratios, pruning and watering cycles, and other best practices to reflect the reality of the health of our City’s current street tree population, as well as future drought and climate change scenarios. We also need a citywide framework that prioritizes a data-driven, needs-based approach for identifying high priority planting areas while providing communities in these areas with appropriate resources for maintaining healthy trees. To achieve all of this, the City’s Urban Forestry Division must be adequately resourced to maintain our current canopy levels and ensure we’re planting today for the canopy we’ll need tomorrow.
  4. Leverage multi-benefit opportunities through coordinated planning. Given the contributions trees make to public health, flood control, water quality and supply, and energy savings, the sidewalk program should be leveraged to bring together a range of City stakeholders to advance upgrades to our infrastructure. Spending time now, at the program’s inception, to collectively identify collaborative funding and planning opportunities around infrastructure investments can help ensure we avoid canopy loss and missed opportunities for enhancing public health and livability investments in public rights-of-way.

The City of LA is truly at a crossroads (streets pun=INTENDED). Are we going to join other cities around the US and the world that have recognized the critical life-saving and environmental benefits that a thriving urban forest provides its residents, and make worthy investments in trees as essential city infrastructure? Or will we fail our communities by leaving them vulnerable to heat-related health impacts because we were unable to see the value of our urban forest as we craft new sidewalk repair policies and programs? It’s up to us as a community to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear on this one. TAKE ACTION TODAY and make sure your voice is heard.

Jenny Binstock serves as Policy Coordinator at TreePeople. Contact jbinstock@treepeople.org to get more information or to get involved.


4 ways Measure M will help create safe, walkable communities in LA County

This November, Los Angeles County voters will have an opportunity to drastically improve the way they get around the region every day, and the way people move around LA for generations to come.

The November ballot will include a measure called Measure M, also known as the “Los Angeles Country Traffic Improvement Plan.” Measure M is a half-cent sales tax increase that will generate over $850 million every year to improve mobility and transportation options throughout LA County.

Investing in Place, which tracks public investment in the built environment, recently conducted a poll of LA County voters. The poll shows broad support for a forward-thinking and world class transportation plan for Los Angeles County, with overwhelming support for fixing broken sidewalks, adding safe crosswalks, safe routes to school, and easier access to transit.

Los Angeles Walks supports Measure M because of the enormous impact it will have on the safety and walkability of communities throughout LA County.

Here are 4 ways Measure M will make Los Angeles County one of the easiest places to walk, bike, and roll in the nation:

  1. It will fund walking, biking, and complete streets projects. Over $4 billion over the next 50 years will be dedicated towards walking, biking, and complete streets projects. These projects will benefit people of all ages and abilities, like children walking to school and seniors walking to the supermarket. In fact, $900 million will be set aside to improve access to transit, allowing more of us to safely get to and from the rapidly growing Metro system.

  2. It will help cities repair local streets and sidewalks. Up to 17% of revenue generated countywide by Measure M will go back to cities to repair local infrastructure (called “local return”).  Even though fixing streets and sidewalks is the responsibility of local jurisdictions, many cities haven’t had enough funding to keep sidewalks in good condition or to make them accessible to people with disabilities. Measure M can help. For example, if approved, over $30 million per year in local return will be dedicated to the cities of the Gateway Cities subregion and over $17 million per year to the cities of the South Bay subregion.

  3. It will complete the Los Angeles River and San Gabriel Valley Greenways. Measure M includes $650 million in funding to create a more connected greenway network for people of all ages and abilities to ride, walk, run, and roll with their families and friends, whether for recreation or to get to work, school, or anywhere else.   

  4. It will fund walking and biking programs countywide. Metro has reserved $857.5 million – about $20 million per year – for programs and projects conducted throughout the county, like Safe Routes to School, bike safety classes, public education campaigns, open streets, and bike sharing. Measure M revenue would provide a stable source of funding for these ongoing and important programs, which are currently subject to the uncertainty of grant funding.

Investing in Place and Los Angeles Walks will continue to provide voters with the information they need as they head to the ballot box this November.

For more information on Measure M, please visit www.investinginplace.org


Airport 2 Park Takes a Step Forward

The following guest post was written by Michael Brodsky, of Airport2Park, and reflects the views and opinions of that organization, and not necessarily those of Los Angeles Walks.

Earlier this summer Airport2Park and Los Angeles Walks co-hosted a walk around the entire perimeter of the Santa Monica Airport. The walk examined the environmental impacts of the airport, looked at pedestrian infrastructure there, and explored the movement to replace the airport with a grand park. Soon after, on August 24, 2016, the Santa Monica City Council passed a unanimous resolution “to close Santa Monica Airport as soon as legally possible and begin planning for a park.”

Coincidence? We think not!

This is an historic announcement that sets Santa Monica on a clear path to eventually remove the barbed wire fences and de-pave the airport tarmac of the Santa Monica Airport, opening up 180 acres to walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and everyone in between.

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A rendering of the future former-Santa Monica Airport.

The momentum to turn Santa Monica Airport into a park is propelled by the need to address important quality of life and public access issues. For the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Venice, Mar Vista, and Westdale, the need to reduce the harmful health impacts of noise, ultrafine particulate pollution, and toxic lead pollution caused by airport activity is immediate.

We also need to increase public access to parks and open space in Santa Monica. Surprisingly, the city currently has only 1.39 acres of parkland per 1000 residents. This is just half the average of L.A. County and a quarter of that of the City of Los Angeles. It is the absolute lowest per comparable cities in California. While only about 350 people actually fly out of the Santa Monica Airport every day, there are more than 2,000 daily visitors to the adjacent Clover Park, where we kicked off our walk in August. 

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We met on a beautiful overcast morning in the southwest corner of Clover Park, where only a chain link fence separates the airport runway and the park. Our first stop was at the children’s playground that backs up to the fence. Only 25 feet away, the private planes at Santa Monica Airport fill up with toxic lead aviation fuel. About 50 yards away is an active jet runway and a holding area, where aircraft idle and spew jet fumes and ultrafine particulate matter into the air that people in the park and families in nearby homes breathe every day. Later we would see a pre-school located in a similarly precarious spot, and houses dangerously close to the end of the airport runway.

Thankfully, the August 24 City Council resolution addresses these conditions, directing the Santa Monica City Manager to immediately minimize the current harmful impacts of aviation use. The City would do this by taking over the “Fixed Base Services” and evict private Fixed Base Operator jet companies, removing the “Western Parcel” to shorten the runway to create a safety zone that would remove larger jets, and ending the sale of toxic lead fuel at the airport. City Council member Gleam Davis also gave direction to airport staff to start the Environmental Impact Report and National Environmental Policy Act planning as soon as possible, so when the airport is finally closed, the project to create a new park would be “shovel ready.” 

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The view from the Santa Monica Airport Administration Building observation deck. 

Given all of this great news, the process to close the airport and build a park 1/3 the size of New York City’s Central Park will not happen overnight. There are two important court cases that must be heard in Federal Court that will clarify the rights of the City regarding this land. But we now have a clear roadmap of civic steps that will eventually lead to a greener future for Santa Monica.

For more information on Airport2Park, please visit airport2park.org


Case Study: Creating a Safer Sunset Blvd.

On city streets, change can be quick in life and death. But making changes to city streets in sprawling, complex, car-centric Los Angeles can be painfully slow. It shouldn’t take the loss of life to incite a change, but in Los Angeles and many other places in this country, this is often the case.

So it was on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, where I live.  

Over the course of two years, two people were killed while crossing the street at Maltman Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. A driver struck and killed Danny while he walked in the crosswalk after leaving the 99 Cents store. A year before that, a driver struck and killed Alberto in the same crosswalk. Two lives in two years may seem small, but it’s two lives too many.

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10 Wild Miles in Los Angeles

On July 30th, 2016, Los Angeles walks held its first ‘Wild Walk.’

Will Wright, who came up with the idea for a ‘wild walk’ and who is Director of Government and Public Affairs for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Los Angeles Chapter, wanted to do something new. Unlike other group walks with Los Angeles Walks, this one had no route and no theme. Instead, we would allow our interests to lead us where we desire. In the end, we walked 9.6 miles and trekked over some public stairs, dirt roads and alleyways, and through a few parks. (Check out our entire route here.)

About 15 of us gathered at the Indiana Street station on the Metro Gold Line is East Los Angeles where Will shared the plan (or lack thereof) for the walk. Each person would lead the way as naturally flowed; we were encouraged to stop and point out any interesting architecture, public art, or other point of interest we saw. Will explained that the Wild Walk would only be successful if we got lost at least once (spoiler alert: we did). We also set a goal to use maps or phones as little as possible, which we mostly abided by.  

To begin the Wild Walk, we oriented the group in the general direction of travel towards our intended ending point - South Pasadena, which was about 6 miles as the crow flies and a little over 7 miles using the most direct walking route.

Our first stop was the Pan American Bank on First Street, where we admired murals adorning the New Formalist building. We headed north and found ourselves back on Indiana, taking the newly built steps, connecting the street between Floral Drive and Folsom Street. At the top of the stairs, we stopped to admire Mr. Okuno’s El Pino, a living monument to East Los Angeles’ multicultural populations of the past, present, and future. 

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El Pino, left, and the Indiana Street steps. Photo credit: Eric Brightwell 

We continued north on Indiana Street’s alleyways, skirting the dividing line between the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles. At Fairmount Street we faced our first hurdle: a public stairway that had been illegally locked by residents. After the minor detour, we continued north where we saw a house on stilts, hovering high above City Terrace. The group was drawn to the precarious impossibility of the architecture, which led to our first real setback. We discovered Stone Street was a loop, forcing us to backtrack (mission accomplished).

After finding the pedestrian crossing for the I-10 along North Evergreen Avenue (not very pleasant), we took a pause for water and to play on the playgrounds at Henry Alvarez Memorial Park in Ramona Park. I led the group toward the corner of Indiana Street and Medford Street in the noontime sun, where we happened upon a gentleman selling Aguas Frescas. Sixteen thirsty walkers were happy to support a hardworking street vendor! 

Street Vendor Aguas frescas break! 

We walked along Soto Street, the western edge of Ascot Hills Park. The sidewalks were narrow; it was not the most pleasant to walk, but we continued northward. After joining Huntington Drive, we turned left onto Tourmaline, drawn to a very tall public stairway. At the top of the stairway, we happened upon a local resident, Javier, who some walk participants knew! We filled up our water bottles and took a bathroom break. Javier directed us to the overlook of Downtown Los Angeles on Rose Hill – a great view for sure.

At this point, most of us were losing steam, so we decided to head to the closest Gold Line Station, the Southwest Museum.  We walked along Amethyst Street to Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, where we walked up and over hills, stopping by Peanut Hill Lake, where we took a well-deserved break in the cool shade. We descended into the Arroyo Seco, crossing at the Bridge at Sycamore Park, where half of the group headed home from the Southwest Museum station, while the other half sought lunch,beer, and iced coffee along Figueroa Street.

In the end, we walked nearly 10 miles as a group, visiting over a dozen neighborhoods, with lots of great views and exciting locations along the way. There’s nothing better than walking - aimlessly - in Los Angeles!

Marc Caswell is a supporter of Los Angeles Walks and a Senior Planner at Alta Planning + Design.


Footnotes Feature: Latinos Reinvigorating Walking at Cesar Chavez and Soto St.

With the 2016 edition of Footnotes coming soon, we're revisiting articles that appeared in our 2015 issue. The following piece was written by James Rojas, an urban planner, community activist, and artist. 

By James Rojas

The Cesar Chavez and Soto St. intersection swarms daily with pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and street vendors. It exemplifies how Latinos are transforming LA’s auto-designed streets to promote walking.

Decades earlier Cesar Chavez (Brooklyn Avenue in those days) and Soto was the historic heart of the city’s Jewish community. Today it is one of the busiest Eastside shopping areas. The ubiquitous gas station lies on the southeast corner, and zero-lot-line buildings are on the other three. Latinos have retrofitted these buildings and their façades, and activate the public space to fit their social, cultural, economic, and mobility needs. Every change Latinos make to their streets, no matter how small, has meaning and purpose, representing the struggles, triumphs, everyday habits, and beliefs of LA’s new pedestrians.

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Many of Los Angeles’s pedestrian-oriented streets and districts—Old Town Pasadena, Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, and Olvera Street—are predicated on the transportation pattern of people driving there, parking, and then walking. By and large these areas contain particularly expensive commercial space; their retail establishments tend to consist of national or regional chains. Parking is expensive and is most often housed in massive structures scattered throughout the district.

Cesar Chavez and Soto provides a different model of a walkable place. The businesses tend to be small and local, with a large part of their clientele consisting of everyday residents coming on foot from the adjacent residential neighborhoods. There isn’t much parking, and the merchandise shop owners stock tends to be small or in small quantities (e.g., a four-pack of toilet paper as opposed to a 36-pack) so that people can carry these items home.

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Another difference between this intersection and more conventional pedestrian districts lies in the physical design of the environment. Cesar Chavez’s urban design is do-it-yourself (DIY) in look and feel. The gas station has been turned into a King Taco. The “El Corrido de Boyle Heights” mural by East Los Streetscapers livens up the southwest corner facing Soto. Trees have been planted by residents or business owners themselves. Signs are hand-painted or crafted and exude individuality rather than consistency. Merchandise is frequently placed out on the sidewalk to entice buyers. Building setbacks are inconsistent; some storefronts are simply built-out extensions of people's homes. The result is an environment that is tactile, full of a particular visual and sensual energy, containing a sort of hodgepodge messiness not often found in the more pre-planned pedestrian districts of LA. Somewhat ironically, it is this vibrancy that these other districts try so hard to create via a top-down control of scale, use, tree canopy, sidewalk width, and fountain and public art placement.

James Rojas is an urban planner, community activist, and artist.


Action Alert: Keep Mobility Plan 2035 Intact

Two corridors are at risk of being eliminated from the Plan's Bicycle Enhanced Network: Westwood Blvd. near UCLA and Central Avenue in South LA.

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Westwood Blvd. & LeConte

On Wednesday, the LA City Council Transportation Committee passed a motion that could potentially pull two important corridors, Westwood Blvd. and Central Ave., from the Bicycle Enhanced Network proposed within Mobility Plan 2035, shifting safety improvements to nearby streets. (More details)  

With Westwood Blvd. in the news, we're revisiting an essay that appeared in our 2015 edition of Footnotes: A Report On the State of Walking in LAAs we prepare our 2016 edition of Footnotes, we'll post additional essays and reports from previous issues.

Did you know? LA Walks sustainers receive printed copies of Footnotes. Become a sustainer today! Special thanks to Melendréz for funding the printing of our 2015 report. 

Westwood and LeConte

By David J. Barboza - Pedestrian advocate and urban planner. 

Westwood Blvd Walk

Stand at the south side of Wilshire Boulevard at Westwood Boulevard and look north. You could be forgiven for thinking that you are some kind of urban Daniel Boone, about to ford a river of cars. But cross those ten lanes and you will disembark in a very special part of Los Angeles.

I became acquainted with Westwood Village when I went off to college at UCLA. I didn't know it at the time, but that place planted a seed in my mind. Today I can describe what makes it great: charming historic buildings, shops that come up to greet the sidewalk, streets that (mostly) aren't so wide and loud as to preclude conversation. Back then, I could only look at it and be amazed. Growing up in the suburbs, I hadn't seen anything like it.

Living in a dorm with no parking, walking wasn't a choice; it was essential to everyday life. My feet could take me to so much more than I ever thought possible. In class I heard about what greenhouse gas emissions were doing to the climate, the public health crisis caused by sedentary lifestyles, the financial violence being inflicted on real people by high housing costs. What was I going to do about it, and how could I call myself an educated person if "to know and not to act is not to know"?

Edwin and Harold Janss, the Westwood developers of the 1920s, figured out something that twenty-first-century Americans have forgotten. They pointed to the solution to problems they didn't even know existed, and their elegant creation is still sitting there, hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to find it. Or to put that in wonkier terms, they laid the foundation for a dense, mixed-use, low-carbon neighborhood that makes it easy and pleasant to walk.

If you build an environment that encourages people to drive, people will drive to visit their next door neighbor. If you build an environment that encourages people to walk, their hearts will exult in the joy of the stroll. We need places to walk, but even more than that, we need reasons to walk.

 


Vision Zero project location prioritization: Tell LADOT where to begin

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People walking and biking account for about half of all traffic deaths in Los Angeles, even though they’re involved in only 14% of traffic collisions. Through its Vision Zero initiative, the City of Los Angeles has committed to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in L.A. by the year 2025, with an initial focus on those most at risk - people walking and biking.

Los Angeles Walks, as part of the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance, is working to influence the City’s efforts, and we would like your input.

The City has studied the causes of collisions throughout L.A. and the steps that can be taken to reduce those causes. Now the City needs to determine WHERE to take action first – maybe where the most severe crashes occur, where kids and seniors are most at risk, or in neighborhoods that have been historically neglected.

Take a look at six possible categories for prioritizing Vision Zero project locations in our city, then have your say! Click here to rank those categories from first priority to last. Or, offer a new category the City may not have considered or recommend deletion of one that shouldn’t be considered in the prioritization process.

The ranking will close on Wednesday, March 30, so submit your vote now. Thanks for taking a minute to make sure Vision Zero starts out on the right foot.

About Vision Zero:

Vision Zero is a worldwide initiative aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities by utilizing data and collaboration across agencies and various government departments. The initiative places an emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable of travelers: those who walk and bike.

On August 24, 2015 Mayor Eric Garcetti issued Executive Directive #10, establishing the citywide Vision Zero initiative. A year prior, in September 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) adopted Vision Zero as a key part of its strategic plan. Eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries is also a core objective of the City’s Mobility Plan 2035, adopted by the City Council in January 2016.

To achieve Vision Zero, Mayor Garcetti has established a Vision Zero Steering Committee and a Vision Zero Task Force to support the work of LADOT. The Steering Committee is comprised of the Police, Fire, Public Works, and Water & Power departments as well as the County Department of Public Health. Additional city agency and stakeholder representatives comprise the Vision Zero Task Force, and community-based and nonprofit organizations that make up the L.A. Vision Zero Alliance. 

Since Vision Zero launched, the L.A. Department of Transportation and consultants have analyzed years of traffic collision data to better understand what's causing collisions on the streets of L.A. They have also researched countermeasures that can reduce those collisions, and looked at how similar cities across the country have applied those measures (see full report here).

With this information in mind, the City is currently working to prioritize Vision Zero project locations, and is accepting your input.  Submit your vote by Wednesday, March 30: click here to vote now!

Check back here for Vision Zero project updates, progress reports, and opportunities for involvement in the future.

 

The L.A. Vision Zero Alliance is a group of organizations that leverage their unique strengths and work with community members and the City of Los Angeles to develop safe streets for all residents. Los Angeles Walks is among twelve members of the L.A. Vision Zero Alliance, a growing coalition that also includes AARP California, Advancement Project, Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Multicultural Communities for Mobility, the LA County Bicycle Coalition, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, TRUST South LA, Youth Policy Institute, and more.

Find more information on Facebook or on Twitter

 

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Bob Inman's Love Letter to LA

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On Saturday, January 23, 2016, Los Angeles Walks honored walk leader and author Bob Inman at our Sidewalk Soirée awards dinner. Like his fellow honoree, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, Bob has made a significant contribution to walking culture in Los Angeles. He's led thousands of people on weekly walks and had guided countless more through his writing

Below is an excerpt from the speech Bob delivered on January 23, which beautifully captures his spirit and the spirit of Los Angeles as seen on foot. 

By Bob Inman: 

I consider that this recognition is not just to me, but to a community of people who have adopted walking as the way to embrace our city while getting some exercise. My little address is kind of a love letter to the Los Angeles that we experience as we walk through it.

We see animals: dogs that bark at us and dogs pressed up against a gate that we know are telling us “please let me come walking with you, I’ll be good.” There are chickens everywhere, and goats in Glassell Park. There is that amazing boar in Lincoln Heights just off Radio Hill.

 

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