Ever since I began blogging about my experiences as an LA pedestrian, I've deliberately kept the spotlight on the rosier aspects of living here without a car, with the aim of encouraging others to mimic my experiment and popularize walking here.
Today, that changes.
The tricky thing about being an LA pedestrian is that it's a bit like venturing into the frontier during the Manifest Destiny era. A handful of people are doing it, but not enough to make the territory more easily negotiable. For all the money I've saved, calories I've burned, and heady books I've read thanks to not driving in LA, I've also had several brushes with danger.
Here, I'll cover three of the most common "walking hazards" that LA pedestrians should expect to deal with.
I. Careless Drivers
In a city like New York or Boston, there exists a balanced culture of pedestrians and drivers. What this means is that drivers are generally aware of pedestrians. You can step into a crosswalk with reasonable assurance that some inattentive driver isn't going to roar through the crosswalk and run you over.
Unfortunately, that assurance has yet to reach LA. Not only have I witnessed several near misses between cars and pedestrians, I've nearly been clipped myself. The other day, I set out from my house and began to cross Normandie Avenue, only to be cut off by a car that pulled a right turn and whipped around the corner as though rehearsing a driving stunt for the next Mad Max film. The driver didn't even stop. He sped up and roared away.
I think it's safe to draw a correlation between these close shaves and the lack of pedestrian culture in LA. In some neighborhoods here, it's weird to see a person using the crosswalk. So, the only recourse I can offer is this: always remain attentive when crossing the street, even when you have the right of way. If you see a car barreling toward you, never assume that the driver sees you. Run.
II. Skate Kids
SoCal is famous for its skateboarding scene. LA is where the Z-boys cut their teeth and honed their moves during the 1970s. Today, thousands of local kids aspire to match the prowess of the former lords of Dogtown. The trouble, for pedestrians, is that most of these kids suck at skateboarding. And that poses a unique danger for people who share the sidewalks with the skate kids.
Imagine. You're walking through Downtown LA with your earbuds in, rocking out to Chapterhouse when suddenly, 140 pounds of bone and muscle slam into you from behind, knocking you to the pavement. As your iPhone shatters and your lumbar spine strains, you see a skateboard clatter across the ground a few yards ahead. What happened? You've just been hit by a skate kid!
By now, I've seen skate kids monopolize the sidewalks with enough recklessness that I've stopped using my headphones when walking in public. The thought of colliding with one of these hellions is unsettling, not only for the physical and material damage one could incur, but also the potential that one of these kids belongs to a wealthy and litigious family that might have the gall to sue the person their kid collided with. My advice: if you hear the wheels of a skateboard grinding behind you, keep walking in a perfectly straight path until the skate kid passes. And, if the kid almost hits you, curse loudly and chew them out. Someone has to.
I know, I know. Dogs are furry snugglebugs that exist to mend our hearts and inspire us to make the most of our lives. To be clear, I'm no canine curmudgeon. There are few things I find more disarmingly affable than a big, friendly dog rising up on its hind legs to give you a hug. One of my housemates has an adorable little mixed breed scrapper named Totina who greets me by skittering around the kitchen each morning when I cook breakfast. It's a wonderful way to start the day.
Alas, this inherent cuteness does not apply to the dog encounters I've had as an LA pedestrian. There are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood. All of them are paranoid and highly aggressive. And by now, just a few months into my walkable LA experiment, I've had enough adrenaline-fueled brushes to designate dogs as my number one walking hazard.
It's bad enough when you walk by a fenced yard and a berserk pooch throws itself against the slats, roaring so fiercely that you take off running. On more than one occasion, I've encountered angry un-penned dogs on the streets of LA! I do not suspect that these dogs were strays. Each time, the dog tore out of a house yard and proceeded to guard the house from which it ventured by barking, snarling and even stalking in my direction. I employed the same de-escalation strategy each time: swiftly walk away from the dog, avoid making eye contact, and scan the area for a fence to hop or a tree to climb in case the dog charges. The last time this happened, I called the LAPD and reported the un-penned dog, but by the time the police arrived, the dog had vanished and taken my case with it.
As with careless drivers and skate kids, it only takes one encounter with a violent dog to get yourself messed up. What scares me most about the dog hazard is the lack of precautions that one can take. You can lessen your odds of a car or skate kid collision by being mindful when you cross the street and not using headphones when walking in public. There's no way to plan ahead for a run-in with a mean dog. All you can do is react.
That's enough anxiety-inducing material for now. In the weeks ahead, I'll explore more LA walking hazards. I'll also discuss the logistical inconveniences of pedestrian life here. Some of these inconveniences have been acknowledged in previous posts, but now that this experiment is approaching three months, I think it's time to dig deeper into the shortcomings of strolling in LA.
For now, keep on walking and watch your back.