clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How sidewalk advocate Jessica Meaney gets around LA

New, 28 comments

Spoiler alert: Competitive walking is involved

Vibrant crosswalks by Carlos Cruz-Diez are found outside the Broad Museum in Downtown LA.
Sterling Davis

How do Americans move through their cities? Here at Curbed, we’re super curious about the transportation habits of regular folks. So, using a diary format, we’re asking real people to track their multimodal journeys for a week and report back with the highs and lows of what it takes to get around town.

Jessica Meaney is executive director of Investing in Place, a Los Angeles nonprofit focused on getting transportation investments to the communities that need them most, which means she does a lot of sidewalk advocacy work.

In addition, she’s got a captivating Instagram account, @SidewalksinLA, where she captures the good and bad of LA underfoot using #LAsidewalks. Here’s Meaney’s extremely walk-heavy Transit Diary.

Tuesday, January 30

My workday starts right in my own neighborhood. I’ve been a renter in Echo Park since 2002, living less than a half-mile from Sunset Boulevard and a super-busy Metro bus hub where I can catch the 2, 4, and 704. I ride the 200 a lot, which stops nearby, too. That’s how I usually get to work. I load cash value on my TAP card—a monthly pass doesn’t make sense because I combine it with riding my own bike, Lyfting, and using the Metro bike share. It’s rad because my job covers my TAP card and Metro bike share costs.

Today, though, I walk to a press conference near my house with Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. The city is installing a new crosswalk and signal on a dangerous part of Sunset Boulevard called Mohawk Bend, where two women were killed recently by a speeding driver.

Selfie with LA Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell at a press conference for a new crosswalk and signal.
Jessica Meaney

Tuesday is my day to bring lunch for my coworkers—we are lucky and have a full kitchen at our office space, so we get to make lunch a lot. I’m carrying ingredients for a birthday celebration for my coworker Amanda’s lunch menu pick—alfredo sauce, pasta, sausage—so my bag is really heavy, but I’m seeing the coolest things as I walk down the street and am going to end up late to the presser with all my Instagram stories if I don’t focus.

After the presser—and a selfie with the councilmember—I walk a few blocks to the bus stop and grab the 2 or 4 bus to downtown, they both go to the same place, and once on the bus it takes 15 to 20 minutes ride to First and Hill where I hop off and onto Metro’s bike share to ride the final mile to Impact Hub, the coworking space in the Arts District where our office is located. Now I can put the bag with lunch groceries in the basket on the front of the bike, whew.

For Amanda’s birthday, we got her a Fitbit! Perfect and much needed because our office is participating in a walking challenge put together by our friends at the Asian and Pacific Islander Forward Movement, a grassroots advocacy group in LA. We are particularly interested in beating our colleagues at another nonprofit, Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, where one of my good friends Rudy works. Ah, healthy competition. The team that has the most steps by the end of the month wins the Golden Wok. Ha. It’s like the Stanley Cup of walking.

I finish work around 5 p.m. and want to swim, get a manicure, and pick up groceries before I get home. So much to do, so little time. I walk from the Hub to the YMCA in Downtown LA—and get in over 2,000 steps in the process—while getting lost in amazing views along the way, like the painted crosswalk at the Broad (it’s a few months old but still hasn’t gotten old with me) and the new wall murals at MOCA. Rad. Swim.

I take a Lyft to an Echo Park nail shop—$7—and watch the State of the Union while getting a super cute light purple manicure. Then I walk to Lassen’s to pick up groceries and am home by 8 p.m. I check my Fitbit: 14,000 steps.

Wednesday, January 31

I ride the 4 bus to work, using bike share to get from the bus stop to the Hub. I have a meeting at City Hall and today I use bike share to get there.

People always ask what made me want to do work as a transportation advocate. I’ve been in LA for over 20 years and have never owned a car, except for a few weeks during a month-long bus strike when a friend’s mom gave me one to get by. I’ve learned to get around LA with a bike, bus, and the help of friends and family. I have a license and can rent a car when I need it. But I really I don’t like driving.

I’ve been in some bad car crashes. In the late ’90s my friend fell asleep while driving home from Zuma Beach and we flew off a cliff, landing on the beach 45 feet from the Pacific Coast Highway.

Construction for Metro’s new Regional Connector train in Downtown LA.
Jessica Meaney

I was also hit once while in a crosswalk coming home from work. I was okay, but did go flying in the air. Everything flew out of my hands and I landed on my butt and hands. I got road rash on my hands and a bruise on lower back from the car’s hood ornament. The driver stopped and we made eye contact after he hit me, but then he kept going to get on the freeway.

All of this and more has made me really focused on being able to get around safely without access to a private car. When I was hit in a crosswalk, it was right before the holidays and all I could think was who was going to call my mom. It was super scary. So glad I was okay.

My years riding the bus in Los Angeles have led me to work professionally in transportation in the LA region. One of the things I am working on now is the implementation of the region’s most recent transportation sales tax, Measure M. In my role as the chair of Metro’s Policy Advisory Committee, which is made up of 27 people from across LA County, we have a call today to talk about the upcoming meeting and setting the agenda.

I take the 2 or 4 bus home—don’t remember which one—and before I go to bed I check my Fitbit: 10,000 steps.

Thursday, February 1

I’m looking at my calendar in the morning and I have several meetings throughout the day at City Hall and in Downtown at the Bureau of Engineering so it makes the most sense to ride my own bike to work. I get to the office in 18 minutes, and I make a video for Instagram: “You know what’s faster than Lyft or Metro? These legs.”

I am lucky enough to live three miles from where I work, I don’t have kids, and my parents live across the country. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s mobility and have the luxury of living close to my job. These factors—child care, family needs, affordable rent, commute distances—are all key when it comes to mobility options.

After work, I ride to El Compadre, a Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood, to meet my friend Rudy, who is our organization’s board chair—and my biggest step competitor!—for flaming margaritas, mole, friendship, and policy talk.

Out of dinners like this, a group of us formed, based on the idea that the built environment directly impacts access to resources and opportunity, most significantly for community members who don’t have access to a car for their trips. With our own personal experiences, research, and data, as well as the shared experiences of others, that group eventually became our organization, Investing in Place.

Not as many steps today—only 9,000. Maybe too much mileage from the bike? My legs are super tired, though.

Friday, February 2

Doh! I was running late—too many flaming margaritas?—and had too much to do, so I Lyft to work. I want to get to work ASAP and have no energy to bike.

Now with Lyft I definitely have more flexibility and options for getting around, but the difference is I can afford it—a lot of Angelenos can’t. Car ownership, fuel, and parking is so subsidized that for many people it appears driving is cheaper, but it’s not. However, I seem to have pretty rad luck meeting super-cool drivers. Especially the one I met last summer and had a brief but fun dating experience with, not to mention a faster way to get to the beach during August—his car!

Or the one I met a few weeks ago, who grew up in Costa Rica, lived in New Jersey, and had been in LA a year or so to pursue an animation career. But what really made that trip super-memorable is that he had me in tears laughing so hard at his Donald Trump impersonation (insert emoji with tears). Today’s driver is Nicholas, who, it turns out, is a cook at a nearby Echo Park restaurant I love. Cost is $9.

Warm winter days make it a treat to walk in LA.
Jessica Meaney

I have another meeting at City Hall today. My colleague Naomi, who is also part of our walking challenge, is going to the meeting, too, so we both decide to walk. It’s the first day of the walking challenge and we gotta get those steps in!

I take the bus home after work, and crash out early watching TV. I only logged 6,000 steps. Glad we have some badass walkers on our team to carry me through on my days where I just want the shorter trip.

Saturday, February 3

One of my besties lives in Orange County, in Fullerton. We usually meet up every so often on a Saturday. Metrolink and Amtrak make it really easy for me to get there. It’s only a 30-minute train trip to her house and and they live right near the Fullerton Metrolink station, so I can walk there if she’s still at yoga or busy with her kids.

The plan is to catch the 9:50 train but I’m not motivated enough to catch the 704 bus to Union Station so I Lyft. I get there with plenty of time to get my ticket for a $24 round-trip and a huge cup of coffee to drink while I read the Saturday Los Angeles Times. Score for a rad morning.

I love riding the train out of Union Station, I can’t stop watching out the window. I love passing Hobart Yard, the freight yard in Vernon.

Summer picks me up at the Fullerton station and we drive past the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, where I see tents from a large homeless encampment. Along one side of the river are huge mounds of dirt. Summer tells me how they put the mounds in there a while back so people couldn’t camp on that side.

After breakfast where my future is told by her kids (using their “Future Box,” of course), we head to the beach—on four (!) Orange Country freeways—to have the best time exploring tide pools. Life is good.

My friends drop me off at the Fullerton station. I take the 6:20 p.m. Amtrak train home and get to Union Station around 7 p.m. At Union Station there’s an art show up that plays videos from trains across the world and I stop to look at that. I still need some steps so I walk to catch the 2 up the street instead of taking the 704 from Union Station. Step total: 9,000.

Sunday, February 4

I start my day walking Elysian Park, which is the park by my house where Dodger Stadium is. It’s the best ever on an early Sunday morning—so quiet and green. It’s amazing to live right next to two parks: One is Echo Park Lake, which is so awesome, and the other, just up a hill behind my house, is Elysian Park. There is a four-mile loop everyone loves, and it’s a treat to get a chance to walk it. I can catch up on my podcasts and log 8,000 steps before 11 a.m. Score!

I do laundry at a laundromat across the street from my house using my granny cart, and walk to get groceries a few blocks away (although lately I’ve been living it up with some Instacart deliveries).

Walking a four-mile trail in Elysian Park on a Sunday morning.
Jessica Meaney

Then I ride my bike about a mile to the local city pool in Echo Park to swim with my friend Alexis. Nothing like a little kick-boarding and gossip to catch up with a good friend. We go to a nearby park to hang with her husband and baby who have been hanging out there while we swim.

Afterwards I have to return some curtains I bought at Target, so I ride my bike a few miles to the one in Downtown. I eat lunch at Mendocino Farms right by Target—so good. On the way home I ride on Figueroa, which is a wide, busy street. I’m comfortable for the most part on it, but recognize I’m not the average rider in terms of safety thresholds. Wish we had better bike lanes.

When I ride home I’m so tired. Step count: 16,000! Crushing it!

Monday, February 5

Terrible, awful connections this morning! What kills it all is the transfers. Usually I just get on the first bus that comes to the stop, it can be the 704, 2, or 4. Today I’m at the stop for close to 10 minutes before any of them come and the first one to arrive is the 704 so I get on it. It gets me to Union Station in about 12 minutes. Then I walk to the Gold Line platform to catch the train one stop over to Little Toyko, and this is where things get not good—it’s over 20 minutes until the train arrives. I should have bike-shared or walked at this rate. When this 704/Gold Line combo works I can get to work in 35 minutes, but today it’s over an hour and I’m over it. Compare that to my 18 minute bike ride last week!

A mural of Sade on a building in LA’s Arts District.
Jessica Meaney

I walk to a meeting in the Arts District and take a rad picture of a mural of Sade and all the other amazing things to look at in the rapidly changing neighborhood. I repeatedly get lost in the beauty of LA’s sidewalks while walking and end up doing Instagram stories a ton. I also get mad and frustrated, which has led to expanding our sidewalk advocacy work to encompass citywide infrastructure planning and coordination. This is why we made shirts for Investing in Place that says LA needs to Stop Trippin’. Get it?

After work I walk to the bus stop through Little Tokyo which has the best shopping. I stop at a bookstore named Kinokuniya to shop for a birthday present for Alexis. I ride the 4 bus home and stop at Lassen’s. The best thing about office lunch is if I bring the ingredients my friend Julie cooks, and the office has a large long table—it’s really special when a bunch of us are able to take a lunch break and enjoy a good meal together.

I check my step count: 16,000! Later in the week we find out that our team is in second place and crushing the competition (which really means my friend Rudy). I’m a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson so when I see the leaderboard for week one, I’m like, “Do you smell what the Rock is coooooking!”

If you’re interested in sharing your Transit Diary with Curbed, drop Urbanism Editor Alissa Walker an email at alissa at curbed dot com.