Nobody Walks in LA

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In 1982, the song “Walking in LA” by the new wave pop band Missing Persons quickly made Los Angeles the poster child for a national bad habit. 

You won't see a cop walkin’ on the beat
You only see him drivin’ cars on the street
You won't see a kid walkin’ home from school
Their mothers pick them up in a car pool

And the refrain — “Nobody walks in LA” — became an unofficial motto for the city.

Los Angeles resident Alissa Walker makes her living writing about urban planning and architecture. For her, the song’s claims are just wrong.  She gave up her car six years ago and she walks, bikes, and uses public transit. And she’s not alone: a national study used by city planners estimates that 17% of all trips in Los Angeles County are made on foot. In fact, Los Angeles ranks just behind Portland, Oregon in walkability according to Walkscore. So why, she wonders, hasn’t the city been able to shake its 30-year-old punch line?

Walker tracked down the song’s writer, Missing Persons’ drummer Terry Bozzio, who insisted he had no agenda against pedestrians. Bozzio was inspired by New York comedians like David Brenner who’d appear on the Johnny Carson show: “’I'm going to go to the bathroom.’ ‘Yeah? Take my car.’”

But Walker got some good news: the city’s Department of Transportation just hired two pedestrian coordinators, who will be training engineers to rethink how streets are designed, and making pedestrian plazas and bike routes more available. Because it turns out, people actually do want to walk in LA.


Studio 360 Exclusive: “Commuting in Los Angeles”
Eddie Solis wrote this car-free punk anthem for LA’s walkers (performed by Solis and his band, It's Casual).


Slideshow: Walking in LA

Music Playlist

  1. Words

    Artist: Missing Persons
    Album: Spring Session M
    Label: Capitol
  2. Walking In L.A.

    Artist: Missing Persons
    Album: Spring Session M
    Label: Capitol
  3. The Red Line

    Artist: It's Casual
    Album: The New Los Angeles
    Label: Friendly Hills Recording Company

Alissa Walker takes photos of some of her favorite walks around Los Angeles for her blog This pedestrian plaza located in the Silver Lake neighborhood was once a street.

( Alissa Walker )

This bizarre sidewalk runs between two lanes of the 110 Freeway.

( Alissa Walker )

Residents who lived on hilly streets used stairways like these (of which there are hundreds) in order to access their local trolley stations. Now an event called The Big Parade explores these stairways on epic urban hikes.

( Alissa Walker )

Some alleys have been made into pedestrian walkways. East Cahuenga Alley in Hollywood has transformed from a scary thoroughfare into a quaint spot for outdoor dining.

( Alissa Walker )