On Foot & Bike: How L.A. Celebrates Its Multicultural Roots

Pobladores Reenacment in 1936

On August 31st, Los Angeles celebrated its 232nd birthday by staging a symbolic approximate 10-mile walk and bike to the city’s birthplace. Legend has it that Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781, by a diverse group of families, or the pobladores, made up of 44 settlers of Indian, African and Spanish descent. This traditional 10-mile trek emulates the path taken by L.A.’s original pobladores who congregated at San Gabriel Mission, before setting off to the designated site that would give birth to the new City of Los Angeles.

The birthday celebration and longstanding ritual sends a powerful message to Angelenos today— that L.A.’s history is firmly rooted in tolerance for ethnic and racial diversity. It also serves as a reminder that cars didn’t always dominate the local landscape. During the walk, Angelenos can embrace their multi-cultural roots throughout the still underdog Eastside, in the jagged hillside neighborhoods and early L.A. suburbs of Eaglerock, Highland Park and El Sereno. They can also fathom a time when getting by on foot, and perhaps on horse in the 18th Century, was actually possible. For many, this serves as a small beacon of hope that the city can again adopt a more human scale, where walkers and cyclists alike, can find some space to share amongst the concrete freeways, suburbs and sprawl that have dominated L.A. especially since its automobile-centric, post-war development.

In fact, there seems to be more multi-modal action brewing in L.A. these days. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition established in 1998 has been steadily gaining membership in the last decade or so. According to the LACBC’s L.A. Bike and Ped Count, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists is on the rise, with over 15,000 bicyclists and 75,000 pedestrians counted in 2011. This year’s L.A. Bike and Ped Count took place in early September, and 2013 bicyclist and ped figures are expected to rise. Organizations such as CicLAvia, L.A. Bike Trains and volunteer-run Los Angeles Walks are part of a newer generation of creative and grassroots advocacy folks that have emerged in the last few years, adding greater dimension and depth, as well as a very collaborative spirit to the L.A.’s very own increasingly robust people-powered movement. Los Angeles Walks, for example, has partnered up with LACBC and CicLAvia in order to raise awareness about the need to make L.A. both bicycle and pedestrian friendly. And it is doing so with very limited sources of funding.

Over a nice Japanese curry lunch in Downtown’s Little Tokyo, City of L.A. Planning Assistant and L.A. Walks volunteer, My La, explained to me that activities such as L.A.’s Birthday celebration and campaigns sponsored by groups like L.A. Walks, “give Angelenos the opportunity to experience and discover L.A. on foot, and most importantly, to have fun while doing so.” A true ped-planning enthusiast, her Master’s thesis at Cal Poly Pomona aims to show that effective pedestrian planning can lead to more safety for those on foot. My La, who has also volunteered to assist in analyzing the results from this year’s L.A. Bike and Ped Count, recalled one of her favorite inspirational quotes during our lunch, “The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.” by Werner Herzog. Angelenos may be pleasantly surprised to find this quote applies to their city, as well.


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