When one wants to explore the city of Los Angeles and learn about it’s culture, history and interesting past – you need to look no further than the cities chief pedestrian, Dan Koeppel. Dan has been leading groups of people on walks up stairs, down hills, through tunnels and overpasses for years and I have had the opportunity to join his organize walks in the city I love.
Most articles that talk about Dan and his walks always start with the Cliche “Nobody walks in LA”, well we will spare you the silly reference to a missing persons song and just say that Dan has shown us that walking in LA is a look into the past and future of LA and requires very little but a sense of adventure and your two feet. The Big Parade LA is the perennial event that Dan puts on each year that explores the stairs of Los Angeles that are a bygone connection of LA’s past to public transportation. Last week he lead a group of walkers around Los Angeles on his 10 LA bridges walk. KCET published a good primer on the 10 LA Bridges walk including the organization, way points, rules and structure in addition to an homage to Will Campbell who’s 10 bridges bike ride was in part an inspiration for this walk.
Having lived near Downtown Los Angeles I was very familiar with the bridges that connect the eastside to the city center. Most of the time I ride my bike across these spans to get to NELA and environs and have had the opportunity to join one of Will Campbell’s aforementioned bike rides. Biking these bridges is certainly a harrowing experience, only one bridge has any biking related facilities and so you must share a lane on a narrow bridge with cars getting up to highway speeds. Walking was the perfect mode to experience the bridges and take time to admire structures, features and the history.
It’s Chinatown Jake
The weather gods were smiling upon us on Saturday morning as the overcast sky provided much needed shade from the hot sun. The meeting point was Chinatown Goldline Metro station. Many of Dan’s walks include public transportation options from the start and ending points giving options to leave the car at home. The commitment to public transit is important to highlight that Los Angeles is a city that is explorable even thought it covers a lot of square miles. Dan has proven with his model that walking and riding transportation is fun and not that scary once you get the hang of the system.
As the group gathered I saw some familiar faces that I have seen on Dan’s previous walks and we all got our big hats, bottles of water and sunscreen organized for a fun day. About 35 walkers joined from the start, but Dan organizes these walks so well that he has options to join in at any time. Working north to south we did a zig zag pattern over the Los Angeles river.
The walk along Broadway through Chinatown offered city views from NELA, East LA and DTLA. Once we got to our first bridge a surprise visit from city councilman Tom LeBonge as he pulled over to greet the group. I am not sure what he said as I was a little behind taking pictures of the Goldline and DTLA which from the Broadway bridge is a premium view. Once LeBonge finished his photo op, Dan started to discuss the history of the bridges in Los Angeles city and pointed out some details and facts of the Broadway bridge. I wasn’t taking notes as I wanted just to enjoy the day so I will provide some links for the facts: KCET again has some good resources on the history of the bridges.
The walk covered 10 of the 27 bridges and as we made our way over Boadway to Sping St and then over Main street my reflection turned to the city we don’t see. The city seen from a slower pace opens up. When in our cars or even on a bike the city seems to be a Monet painting up close, but as you step back and slow down, we see the city unfold in front of us. A piece of street art, a old sign, details of the old buildings stand out as you can focus and enjoy.
As the crow flies there are not a lot of miles between Broadway, the northern point of the walk and Olympic, the southern, but with the river, railroad, warehouses and freeways in the way it is hard to make a straight line path so we must zig and zag. One of my favorite bridges oddly enough is one of the most nondescript and overlooked. The Main st bridge is on the shorter side and really is not as sexy as some of the other bridges, but I like this bridge because it is the only one that is at grade with the railroad tracks. So crossing the bridge you get views of the rail lines from north to south which to me is a interesting aspect of that bridge.
Broadway, Spring, Main to 1st we moved along at a good pace stopping to admire the neighboring bridges and learn a little about the one we were on. Walking on bridges is certainly not an ideal pedestrian experience. High curbs, narrow sidewalks, trash, broken glass and other road and human remnants make walking on these bridges less than ideal. In addition cars get up to speed so you have racing cars to add to the mix. Between the bridges were stretches of roads where we would cross over or under the freeway system, which to me is an even poorer pedestrian experience. Cars speeding on a freeway makes a lot of noise and I notice it hard to hold conversations with my walk mates as we made our way. So certainly these areas are not ideal for pedestrians, but the walk was certainly worth the noise.
As the walk moved on to the numbered street bridges, we entered Boyle Heights and were treated to Prospect park, Mariachi Plaza and Hollenbeck park as well as old interesting houses in various states of repair. I’ve biked through these areas many times, but walking lets you see the people and houses and streets – it lets you be human.
A Bridge too far
After lunch we continued on 4th and then 6th streets both paramount in Los Angeles as the 4th st bridge is the link that Ciclavia has been using to connect the east side to DTLA and the 6th street bridge for it’s iconic status and views. 6th street was the end of the line for me. I wanted to complete the cycle, but my feet were not accommodating. With the 18 Metro bus stop in view I got my TAP card ready for a short ride to DTLA to catch the Redline. The other Brave walkers continued on to 7th street and Olympic before heading over 4th street at Lorena and ending the walk at the Indiana Goldline station.
Overall this was a great experience. Dan does a really good job of organizing and executing his walks. The people are friendly and the history is interesting. Here is the route the walk took, in all about 14 miles and change.