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Breaking News: People in Los Angeles Drive a Lot

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Over at the Huffington Post, writer Lila Nordstrom has a piece up that bemoans the fact that Angelenos don't walk more. She argues that not only is driving an accepted cultural norm here (true), but that walking in a city is a challenging skill that needs to be learned. She writes:
Last month I got a call from a neighbor in Los Angeles who had seen me out walking eight blocks from our building. He was, very considerately, calling to make sure I was okay. He assumed my car had broken down. This is regular part of life in LA, where the health of your car is the primary suspect in any outing that exposes you to the "elements" (those being sunshine and warm weather).

Inevitably, Nordstrom compares Angeleno's driving habits to her idealized childhood spent "growing up in New York," where the streets were paved with gold and grandmothers were helped across the street and people tipped their hats and said "how do you do" as they navigated the friendly sidewalks of the city:
we used to make a game out of walking...With people from outside of my childhood romping grounds, simple sidewalk-walking is often a perilous adventure.

I'm not sure which part of New York Nordstrom grew up in, but in my experience living there, walking on the sidewalk was no joyful romp upon a grassy knoll. It was more about people bumping into you from all sides, tourists staring up at tall buildings and blocking the sidewalk, men making unsolicited sexual comments directly into your inner ear canal, and a general feeling of "if you touch me I will cut you."

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Also, as a side note, have you ever tried to live in New York with a broken foot? You know, when you can't walk? It's less than ideal.

But the reality of walking in New York aside, I have to take issue with Nordstrom's general assertion, which is that Angelenos don't walk more because we, like the rest of America that is also inferior to New York, are not good at walking:

walking, like driving, is a learned skill that can make the uninitiated feel uneasy. And most of America is uninitiated.

Listen -- it's true that if you live in New York, you have to learn how to navigate around other pedestrians, and that might take a little getting used to.

But we don't exactly have hordes of daunting crowds muscling their way down Melrose, moving together in time to the silent yet universally understood music of human migration. Walking in this city isn't difficult, in and of itself.

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Rather, people drive in Los Angeles (and, indeed, the rest of the country, and the rest of the world) because we don't have good very public transportation, places we want to go often aren't within walking distance, and driving tends to be the fastest and easiest way to travel.

It's not a mystery, it's not a character flaw of Los Angeles residents, it's just a magical combination of a few simple facts and human nature.

It's also a misnomer to suggest that Angelenos wouldn't, perhaps, prefer not to have to drive everywhere. Most people who drive seem to hate the traffic, and would likely take public transportation if it weren't painfully slow or nowhere close to where they live (contrary to popular belief, public transportation -- like the bus -- that takes twice as long as driving is not good public transportation).

But, much like New Yorkers accept blizzards, most of us accept driving as a part of living in this city -- at least for now -- or, I assume, we'd leave.*

*Go ahead, cyclists, and fire up your enraged commenting engines.