Walking in L.A.: Transit Activism Is Cooler Than You Think Walking in L.A.: Transit Activism Is Cooler Than You Think

Walking in L.A.: Transit Activism Is Cooler Than You Think

by Ryan Bradley

May 31, 2010

Part six in Walking in L.A., a GOOD miniseries by Ryan Bradley on transportation in Los Angeles and what it's like to get across the entire city on foot.

Koeppel grew up in New York City and remembers taking the subway to midtown when he was young and loving the crush of people and the fact that you had to deal with it. He moved to Los Angeles in 1992 and about 10 years later, while he was writing a book that had nothing to do with walking, Koeppel began to seek out the public stairways in his Silver Lake neighborhood. Because he is meticulous and a little bit obsessive, he started mapping his routes very carefully. And because he is a writer, he wrote about his hobby. And because he is a generous person, he started leading people on his walks. And, well, now “I’ve kind of become this gadfly journalist-activist,” he says, as if it were bound to happen given enough time.

We start to talk, the walkers and I, and we agree that it’s kind of novel, walking in a city that isn’t supposed to be walkable. We start to swap city secrets, trade inside information, one-up each other with our street intel. I learn about a vineyard in the Hollywood Hills after I mention the dog-park there. I find out that much of this neighborhood, when it was being developed at the beginning of the 20th century, is named after Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and that the stairs were built in the 1920s and are considered public streets, and that, not far from here, there’s a city road a mile long that’s still completely dirt, same as it was a century ago. Then I make an amateur move: I tell a few of my fellow walkers that I'm writing a story about walking in Los Angeles, that I've been walking across the city, and so ends the secret-sharing; which is fine because frankly, climbing a lot of stairs and talking is hard.

By the end of the three miles it’s dark out and some of the spookier stairways require a significant amount of trust, or a flashlight. Descending the last flight of the night, three teenagers emerge from the shadows, red-eyed and sheepish. There’s the faintest smell of weed in the air, and they stand back against the concrete and watch the group pass by in silence. I’m near the back, and one of them asks, softly:

“What are you guys doing?”

“Just walking,” I say.

“You guys, like, united or something?”

“Yeah. We're united.”

Next up: I am inside a scene from a movie, specifically Live Free or Die Hard. You know, the one where terrorists hacked into the system that controls all the traffic signal and wrecked havoc. That's the one.

Photos by Ryan Bradley.

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Walking in L.A.: Transit Activism Is Cooler Than You Think