Stop → Look → Listen → Blog

Generally speaking driving in Los Angeles is straightforward, fun and for the most part stress free. Although it must be said, when I was having dinner at The Crooked Well in Camberwell, before I left for the US, a friend asked what it was that I thought I’d miss the most. He himself had spent time living in Los Angeles, so he knew what to expect. I thought hard and offered a couple of suggestions based on my experiences in and around California in years gone by. Heinz baked beans maybe? HP Sauce? Proper bacon perhaps? Vegemite? All of these things I knew I’d miss. But now, having spent nearly three months out here, I can safely say that the one thing I think I miss most is…manual transmission.

Most people will say that driving in LA is much easier with an automatic, but I will always miss having a clutch and ultimately the control that a stick shift offers. So aside from having to overcome this particular pickle, which is not impossible, the only other difficulty with driving in Los Angeles is dealing with pedestrians.

That might sound a bit harsh, but permit me to explain. Pedestrians here have zero road sense, which in essence means that they can – and frequently do – simply step out in front of oncoming traffic and it ends up being the driver’s responsibility to stop and generally try and not hit them.

In addition, pedestrian crossings are often placed in the most ridiculous of positions – they are often found just after an intersection, so when someone starts to cross the road, you’ll have to stop in the middle of a four-way crossroads, completely blocking traffic, while some old lady pushing her little trolley takes an eternity to go from one side to the other. Which brings me to box junctions, or the complete lack of them.

Americans have no concept of leaving any space in the middle of a busy road. Time and time again I’ve seen cars poking out and left high and dry in the middle of the intersection long after the lights have changed, consequently causing a massive headache for other drivers when their respective lights have turned green. Granted, occasionally – and I mean very occasionally – you might see a KEEP CLEAR written on the road, but it’s as though no car driver here expects to see any instruction written on the tarmac and they just happily drive right over it and then stop. It’s only when a vehicle does actually emerge from a junction and finds him or herself unable to pull out does the horn honking begin.

Keep Clear? Perhaps a big, stripy yellow box would make it clearer

What’s this silly writing on the road? That can’t be meant for me

But I really want to focus on pedestrians and try and get across what a bunch of thick-headed twats they are here.

Only the other day I was driving down Rose Avenue in Venice and some complete moron stepped out right in front of me causing me to hit the brakes hard. He slowed as he walked in front of my car and he pointed at me, as if to say, “Hey you. You stop.”

If I’d actually been able to utter a word as this unbelievable moment in time passed in what seemed like slow motion, it would’ve been along the lines of, “You fucking idiot, you can’t just fucking step out in front of fucking traffic!” but alas I was speechless.

And let’s look at Rose Avenue a little closer. It actually connects downtown Venice to Lincoln Blvd and extends eastward, past Penmar Golf Club, past Santa Monica airport all the way to Venice Reservoir. But the bit that’s relevant is the approximately 1.3km stretch between Main Street and Lincoln Blvd. There are a number of coffee shops, snack bars and restaurants along here that always seem to be packed, both during the day time and in the evening. So much so, that many are hailing it as the new Abbot Kinney – a road very well known on the West Side for being the epicentre of every type of eatery you can imagine.

Even the New York Times has taken notice, declaring that this “once-seedy stretch” (that would be Rose Avenue) is “blossoming.”

Along this small stretch of road are three traffic light crossings, a staggering four all-way stop signs and one dedicated pedestrian crossing.

That equates to a designated crossing for pedestrians every 162 metres. Is it just me, or does that strike anyone else as a little excessive? Is this what’s required to ensure pedestrian safety?

And yet, even with all those crossings at their disposal, when they step out in the road, they seem to think they have right of way. I mean, the idea of having to walk a little bit further down the road to get to a crossing…seems ludicrous here. The concept of waiting until there’s a space between cars and then using one’s senses to determine when it’s safe…is utterly unheard of.

It was time to consult the California Department of Motor Vehicles website and the only details I could find regarding pedestrian right of way was under Section 21950 Right of Way at Crosswalks. Here it states that “between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control signal devices or by police officers, pedestrians shall not cross the roadway at any place except in a crosswalk”. People of Los Angeles, you hear that..?! You don’t have right of way if you step out on a part of the road that isn’t designated a crossing, marked or unmarked.

What makes it worse is if there’s a parked car, or even a food truck, partially obscuring your view of the sidewalk by the STOP sign – as often happens. Obviously no responsible driver is going to scream down Rose Avenue doing 90 – it’s immediately obvious that this is built up area and requires caution and the speed limit is 30mph anyway. Plus of course you have to actually stop at a STOP sign regardless of whether there’s actually any one else around. (That’s another headache altogether.)

But…as you begin to drive away from your stationary stance if you don’t see someone for a split-second as they step foot out by that STOP sign because you simply can’t, because your view is obscured by a parked vehicle, then Woe Betide You.

As you suddenly catch sight of that pedestrian and have to brake once again they will look at you like you’re the anti-Christ, like you’ve just boiled their goldfish or raped a nun. You might even get a telling off-style finger wagging. Should you be really unlucky and have a cop see this, well, depending on the day they’ve had, who knows what might happen.

All this is made worse at night, since pedestrians still insist on crossing in places that don’t have traffic lights or any other lights for that matter. Especially if they’re wearing dark clothes.

It’s no wonder then that I keep reading about all these traffic accidents all around LA every day on Twitter. To begin with I thought the motorist’s were to blame, but now I suspect that many were simply the unfortunate victim of a bad visibility, poorly educated pedestrians and a lame-arse set of road rules. The fact that the people of LA need to be taught how to cross the road does seem to be recognised, with the occasional story making its way into the newspapers, but I honestly don’t think having a designated crossing every 162 metres is the answer.

Follow Londoner in LA on Twitter at @londonerinla