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Walking In L.A.

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The Missing Persons, a 1980s rock group, recorded “Walking in L.A.” that, despite the song title, is about not walking in Los Angeles.

“Nobody walks in L.A.” go the lyrics; not cops on the beat, kids bound for school and certainly not commuters going to work.

But the song acknowledges rare pedestrian sightings in the city of cars, such as “lame joggers,” homeless people pushing shopping carts and "somebody who just ran out of gas, making his way back to the pumps the best way he can."

And then there’s me.

I spent four peripatetic days in the Marina del Rey area of Los Angeles this month. I figured I didn’t need a car because everywhere I wanted to go – from the automotive conference I was attending to restaurants and such – was within walking distance.

My short cab ride from the airport to the hotel cost about $25, and the chatty cabbie told me of recently taking a guy from LAX to San Diego, a 121-mile drive. That had to cost a lot, I said. “Yeah, it was a good fare,” the taxi driver fondly recollected.

Not so warmly do I recall my hoofing time in Los Angeles. It is a pedestrian-unfriendly city of 3.5 million people with seemingly as many cars plying the roadways.

For the carless, crossing an intersection becomes a challenge and an exercise in patience as waves of vehicles keep on coming and the “Don’t Walk” signs stay steadily lit.

Push the pedestrian-crossing button and eventually – after green traffic signals for vehicular left turns, right turns and through traffic – the “Walk” sign briefly flashes on. It’s like: “Oh, yeah, the pedestrians. You have 10 seconds, nine, eight…Come on, pick it up!”

Then it's on to the next intersection to repeat the process of waiting, waiting, waiting for the light to change. Linger at the curb like that anywhere else and you'd get arrested for loitering.

Walking in L.A. is so uncommon, a native who strolls around different neighborhoods dedicates a website to that offbeat activity. Every town harbors oddballs; this guy is the Los Angeles version.

Last week, I returned there, this time with a car, heading from LAX to Orange County. Traffic was so bad, it almost made me want to get out of the car and walk.

If one thing is worse than walking in L.A., it is driving there. It baffles me why people subject themselves to the frustrations of interminably sitting in traffic or creeping along at speeds that barely nudge the speedometer needle.

The traffic jams seem around the clock. Four years ago, I was interviewing someone at Volvo headquarters in Irvine. Preparing to leave, I mentioned to a PR guy that I was next driving up to Pasadena, about 35 miles away.

“You better head out now, or you are going to hit a lot of traffic,” he said at 1:45 p.m. (And, yes, I did hit a lot of traffic.)

En route to Orange County on my most recent California visit, I encountered excruciating delays on I-405. Turns out, there were two multi-vehicle accidents in separate locations. That one-two combination easily turns a congested L.A. freeway into an open-air torture chamber.

Driving I-405 during “normal” conditions a few years ago, I topped a crest in the roadway south of Long Beach and looked upon an awesome sight: 12 lanes of freeway packed with vehicles as far as one could see in the L.A. haze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cars in one place at one time.

Of all the states, California makes the most noise about proposed stricter regulations against vehicle emissions. I understand the state’s cause for concern, considering nearly 34 million vehicles are in operation there, according to the Federal Highway Admin.

But it’s ironic, perhaps even hypocritical, for Californians to drive so much, and then complain about pollution from their cars.

Everyone is for a cleaner environment. Auto makers are mindful of that as they look for new ways to make cars greener.

But if agencies such as the California Air Resources Board are so utterly worried about tailpipe emissions, they might, in addition to haranguing auto makers, tell the citizenry to stop driving so darn much.

California needs more pedestrians and fewer motorists.

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Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for WardsAuto.com. His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

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