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The Big Parade: Hiking Los Angeles

My hike, like a million other trips each day in Los Angeles, starts with a ride on a rumbling bus.In the heart of Los Angeles, a band of hikers starts a local-trails revolution--one step at a time.

By the time we pack up in the morning, 25 new hikers have arrived. Andrew shares fresh guava pie–he made a prestart sprint to a nearby bakery. Thirty minutes later, at the start for Sunday’s main loop, we’re up to 80 people. I lead the crowd to the only stairway on the entire route that we won’t climb.

Razor wire and chain-link fencing–installed, illegally, by a resident who lives on the stairway–cut off public access to the steps. I’d been trying for years to get it, and others, reopened. During my explorations, I’d learned of more than 20 stairways that local residents had shut down, usually as a way to restrict “annoying” foot traffic (similar to Hollywood moguls who live on the Malibu waterfront and resist providing public rights-of-way to “their” beaches).

I explain to the group that stairways are legally streets, and I ask whether anyone thinks that he could get away with chaining off the pavement in front of his home. “But why won’t the city do anything?” a newcomer asks.

There’s no good reason, I answer. Over the years, I’d sent letters and photographs and even petitions to the Los Angeles Department of Streets. A few months before The Big Parade, an investigator was dispatched. Over the phone, he confirmed that the closures were unauthorized. But opening them, he said, was a low priority (compared, at least, to filling pot holes and installing speed bumps). To me, this showed exactly how pedestrians were viewed by city bureaucracy: at the bottom of a stairway that went nowhere.

Several would-be activists ask why I didn’t just knock the barriers down myself. Some even volunteer to help. The answer, of course, is that vigilantism shouldn’t be necessary. The stairs belong to the public, and opening them should be a public act.

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