As a runner, I always make it a point to know a “new place” on foot. But as I got to know a piece of California better, I soon realized why everybody drives in here.
Being a pedestrian in California is just plain difficult. And that is an understatement. Because of luxury of space that they do maximize, everything is quite some distance away. And getting around via public transportation is quite trivial, at least for me. I can literally count in my hands the number of times I saw buses on the road, so my very limited time outside the office can’t be wasted in waiting.
Since I’m a runner, you can imagine that I’d attempt to go to “nearby” places on foot. Since the weather was pretty pleasant this past few days, I decided to give it a go. And so from my hotel, I decided to walk and run to a “nearby” commercial center at least 4K away.
My first road “culture shock” was pedestrian lanes always having a “red” light despite parallel road traffic having “green.” This is because in California, they seem to place very high priority in keeping traffic (cars) moving, and so everyone in allowed to turn right even (unless when explicitly prohibited) on red signal. So if you want to get across, you have to press a button.
The problem is, these buttons aren’t found in all intersections with traffic lights. It was quite a bit of concern because I didn’t know how I could get across without placing my safety at a huge risk. In places like these, your Filipino road-crossing skills are pretty valuable.
The next challenge I had with these intersections was the very limited time you’re given to get across. The longest one was probably just around 30 seconds, so yeah, good luck if you walk real slow. And it takes a very long time for them to turn green from the moment you press the button. Even if parallel traffic is green, if there’s not enough time to accommodate the crossing time it won’t turn “green.” You have to wait until the next cycle. I placed a quote around green because pedestrian traffic lights here are white and red, a white “walking” light signifying you’re allowed to cross, a blinking red hand light signifying that the light will turn red soon (do not attempt to cross, or hurry crossing if already in the middle of the road), and a static red hand light signifying not to cross. Some crossings have countdown counters so you have an idea before it turns completely red, but for the most part your guess is as good as mine.
The next one would be sidewalks. The missing sidewalks. Being my second time in the US, I’m no longer surprised that some areas, even in cities, don’t have sidewalks. Of course there are places where pedestrians are prohibited (like freeways), but it’s just a bit surprising that pedestrians would be “discouraged” in some segments of city roads. Good thing that I have an alternate road inside this residential area so even if it also does not have sidewalks, it’s not as risky as city roads.
Lastly and the most daunting: the number of intersections! It takes a long time just to cross an intersection (unless you want to jaywalk) to it’s quite frustrating to be having momentum as you were running, to be stopped at an intersection. Temperatures are often below 15°c in the afternoon so you quickly get cool. There goes your warm-up!
After realizing that it’s a losing battle against these intersections, I just decided to walk until I found (via my phone’s Google Maps) a relatively long, contiguous path my way. I really wasn’t aiming for a personal best as my “run” is motivated by shopping and dinner, so it wasn’t heart breaking. I still did to get a lot of sweat though despite the cool weather.
Going back to my hotel was another challenge as it was already dark and getting uncomfortably cool, and my stomach was quite heavy because of dinner. But to my surprise, I actually ran faster on my way back! Familiarity of the route probably helped a lot.
I felt a huge relief as I approached my hotel as I was able to discover what it’s like to run in California. And it was after this run did I realize why everybody drives in California. Even I would’ve preferred to just drive here.