Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


 One of the features of walking in Los Angeles (and I know it’s not unique to LA but it seems both more pronounced and more appropriate here than anywhere else I’ve ever been) is that you’re seldom far from a freeway.  As a serious pedestrian you regularly have to walk over or under one.  Over is generally better, I think, because you can look down and watch the traffic flow, or more likely grind to a halt, “bummer to bummer,” as we like to say.

And as I observe my fellow bridge pedestrians (who admittedly are not huge a number most of the time) I find that they’re divided into two varieties: those who stop for at least a moment or two and look down, and those who stride swiftly across the bridge, keeping their eyes fixed straight ahead of them, as if pretending the freeway isn’t there.

Will it surprise you that I’m one of those who tends to linger, and yes it sometimes feels a bit contrarian to be up there staring down at traffic, but then I think that people are perfectly happy to stand on a bridge that crosses a river and watch the boats go by, so why aren’t they happy watching the cars and trucks?  One answer might be “pollution” and of course I have no rebuttal to that, but you know it’s not like I pull up a deck chair and sit there for hours, basking in the exhaust fumes, I just stop for a minute or two, enjoying the rush and the roar below me.

In fact there are quite a few places in LA where you can stand on a bridge and actually stare down at the river, although unfortunately the Los Angeles River tends to be a dry concrete channel for much of its length; great for car chases and such, but not exactly a roaring cataract.

Still. I do like looking at the river – and I especially like looking at the way the graffiti have been cleaned up – painted over with white oblongs, creating a bizarrely appealing minimalist art work.

And if you’re on a bridge in downtown Los Angeles, chances are you’ll also get a view of a railway line or two.  It’s like looking at God’s model railway.

Elsewhere you can look down and see all kinds of edgeland mess and complication, ruin, reclamation and repurposing, which of course I love.

I was doing this most recently because I wanted to take a look at the Sixth Street Bridge, which runs from downtown to Boyle Heights and is about to be demolished and replaced.  Nobody particularly wanted this to happen: the current bridge isn’t that old, built in 1932, but it’s suffering from “concrete cancer” and will be gradually taken down before it falls down, and a whizzy new bridge, described as a “ribbon of arches” will be put in its place. 

The new one will cost $440 million and according to Councilmember José Huizar, in whose district the project is happening, it won’t just be a way of getting from one place to another, but “a destination itself that people come to visit." 

To that end it will have ten-foot wide walkways and (wait for it) a viewing deck.  Just how many people will want to walk between Boyle Heights and downtown L.A. remains to be seen.  Completion is due in 2018.  How many will want to stand on the viewing platform and look down at the river and the railway line is even less knowable, but personally I think it’s very much to be encouraged.

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