Crowds at trails.

If you’ve been hiking for even a short while, you’ve experienced them, been frustrated by them, and maybe even given up on a planned hiking trip because of them. The issue plagues the full spectrum of public lands — from well-known National Parks to formerly unknown backcountry spots managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, and even into city parks and neighborhood trails.

The issue is complex and I don’t think a one-size-fits-all solution exists. Previously, I’ve talked about some ideas for National Parks, such as implementing a free lottery permit system for peak seasons and publicizing neighboring public lands to offload some of the users, but — around urban trails, cities and neighborhoods tend to only tackle the symptom of parking without taking into account the needs of park users. The effect is the same as, say, doubling the entrance fees at popular National Parks — you end up building walls around our public lands.

NPS photo by Neal Herbert

Here in the Modern Hiker HQ of Los Angeles, this is an issue that is getting worse and worse and unfortunately the solution always just seems to be “make it harder to park.” But crowds at trailheads mean there’s a demand for public spaces that’s not being met, and elected officials shouldn’t react to that demand by putting up more barriers for prospective park users.

When hikers were enjoying trails in Rancho Palos Verdes, the city just took a bunch of existing street parking and painted the curbs red — with the end result being only people who have a neighborhood parking pass now have access to the trails (and the parking problem just moved to a new neighborhood). It was even worse in Whittier, where the trailhead to popular Turnbull Canyon can only fit about 3-4 cars at best. Nearby residents instituted permit parking nearby (which they got SUPER mad about when the city tried to make it easier for hikers to park), then extended it even farther, so now hikers have to walk nearly a mile along busy, winding Turnbull Canyon Road without sidewalks to get to the trailhead. In neither instance did cities make it easier for users to access these public lands in other ways.

Runyon Canyon

New reports warn a similar fate may soon strike Runyon Canyon, one of the most popular hiking areas in Los Angeles and the only off-leash hiking trail for dogs in Los Angeles County. A recent post at Curbed raised fears that the loud voices of the neighborhood homeowners would once again dominate, establishing No Parking areas near the park’s entrance or charging $4 an hour to park during set times.

I was set to appear on KPCC’s TakeTwo again to talk about this issue on the morning of January 30th, but a few minutes before the interview was set to begin, a producer told me Councilman Ryu’s office called KPCC to protest and effectively had my interview cancelled.

Councilman Ryu’s office contacted me later in the day to dispute that story, saying they were surprised my voice didn’t follow on the broadcast. The timeline the office put forward doesn’t exactly match the timeline I experienced in terms of who talked to whom when and in what order, and perhaps the office was waiting for the motion to pass or wanted to be the first to speak on the issue. Regardless, the story isn’t about me – it’s about Runyon Canyon Park.

It’s tough to keep constituents happy, but based off reactions to the Curbed article, there seem to be some frustrations among park users with Councilman Ryu. When Silver Lake Reservoir had the opportunity to become a full-fledged park instead of a fenced-off bathtub, Ryu was one of two Council Members who sided with homeowners and L.A. lost the chance to acquire some more badly needed public green space.

Ryu’s office is also involved with an ongoing and sometimes very nasty dispute in Beachwood Canyon, where people looking to get photos of the Hollywood Sign are now barred from accessing a public park from a public street. A study commissioned by his office that came out earlier this month was a mixed bag, offering up some good solutions like better access from public transit and some … let’s say “less than good” solutions, like building a gondola over undeveloped sections of Griffith Park or a second Hollywood Sign facing the Valley. Ryu did not specifically endorse any one of the 29 plans when the report was released, but his office told me the report is currently being studied by the City for the next possible steps, and that community outreach would happen before anything was implemented.

Ryu’s office did tweet a PDF of the Councilman’s motion dated December 2017 later in the morning, and there are two takeaways: One, it’s just a call for studies, not a call to action; and two, it actually looks pretty decent. The motion notes L.A.’s abysmal record on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Index (of the nation’s 100 biggest cities, we’re at #74, behind Bakersfield and Reno in terms of park access for our citizens). It also notes Runyon’s position in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, need for infrastructure improvements, and its importance to dog-owners.

The motion instructs various agencies to recommend improvements “to ensure the enjoyment, safety, and security of park visitors, the preservation of wildlife and the natural environment, the enhancement of recreational facilities, and the adequate mitigation of erosion and water runoff at the site,” as well as “recommendations for the improvement of the Runyon Canyon Parking Lot, which should include an improved traffic and parking congestion plan and the feasibility of installing paid parking infrastructure.” Although on the KPCC interview that aired, they didn’t propose any concrete plans as far as what “paid parking infrastructure” or “traffic circulation” might be.

A spokesperson from Councilman Ryu’s office told me “we want Runyon to be there for the next 10, 20, 30 years,” and that the motion “is intended to serve hikers, protect the landscape and wildlife, and preserve the neighborhood.”

So, overall not a bad motion — and at least a promising sentiment from the Councilman’s office about keeping hikers in the conversation. But any future plan for Runyon must ensure that

  1. Fees from paid parking are used to improve alternate access to the park, much in the same way the Griffith Observatory parking fees are used to fund increased DASH shuttle service
  2. More stringent parking restrictions aren’t solely a kowtow to wealthy homeowners, which will end up just pushing the parking problem to other neighborhoods
  3. Runyon Canyon gets some tangible improvements and maintenance out of the deal
  4. Dog owners are not shut out of the ONLY off-leash dog hiking trail in Los Angeles County, as dogs are not allowed on Metro busses or trains

A happy dog at Runyon Canyon

If they’re not already, Councilman Ryu’s office should also reach out to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, L.A. Metro, and other agencies to help ensure alternate transit methods are known and available, and that users who want to explore other trails know about some of the excellent hiking that’s all within the same area — like Wattles Garden Park, the Trebek Open Space, and Coldwater and Fryman Canyons at Wilacre Park.

It’d be nice if they’d be cool with other people talking about this issue on the radio sometimes, too.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.


Jordoost Feb 10, 2018 09:02

Food wrappers, tissue, waterbottles, drug use, dog poop, larger groups whom don't rideshare, loud groups. Some would argue only a small percentage of patrons behave in this manner. I see it ever time I hit any popular trail. Hikers need to get their act together, otherwise there isn't any sympathy.

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Kyle Kuns Feb 4, 2018 11:02

Overall, a nice article. I like that you included mentioning other options in the area. Apparently, being the only off-leash dog hiking trail matters to numerous users. So, I would add to your list the option to identify another trail (or more) that could be converted or another area where a trail could be newly constructed to allow for off-leash dog hiking. This could also potentially help reduce demand if it is roughly comparable and there is no overlap for parking. Perhaps those seeking to restrict should also help fund providing alternatives instead of taking a Not In My Backyard position. So, possibly money for parking permits issued to residents and parking fees collected at the trailhead could go toward creating alternative options (at least until a minimum of one alternative is self-sustaining).

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Casey Schreiner Jan 31, 2018 08:01In reply to: Molly Gale

You are 100% correct - unlike over in Beachwood, the Runyon area has a mix of single family homes AND higher-density apartment and condo buildings. Although it's usually the single family homeowners who lucked into buying three decades ago who drive these sorts of movements, the population in this region is definitely more economically diverse -- although I'm not sure how many apartment dwellers are active in the Neighborhood Council.

And believe me - I am sympathetic to residents. Whenever I write about a trail in near a residential area, I always try to go out of my way to encourage visiting hikers to be EXTRA courteous. All too often, all it takes is one bad experience with a jerk to color someone's perception of an entire community.

There's a lot to consider here - L.A. is a densifying and growing city that for a variety of reasons has not been building the housing or the transit infrastructure to keep up with its own growth. Parking is an issue everywhere - not just near popular trailheads. Heck, on Sunday night I had to drive around my own neighborhood for 30 minutes to find a spot, and it was almost a mile away from my apartment - I certainly don't like it and definitely wasn't all smiles that evening, but I do consider it the price of living in a dense neighborhood. I will say, though, if I PAID for a spot like you did and still had my garage routinely blocked, I'd be pretty peeved, too :)

Thanks for the comments - I'm going to try to stay on this issue, because I'm confident we can find a solution that improves the situation for everyone - and I definitely don't want to see Runyon go the way of Whittier or Rancho Palos Verdes.

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Molly Gale Jan 31, 2018 06:01

Only issue is that at the Hollywood side of Runyon, those aren’t expensive homes — those are rent controlled condos. For about 3-4 blocks in either direction it’s just middle grade condo buildings either full of young broke people in the creative industry or senior retirees. I lived there right against the park for almost 7 years before I finally had to leave because masses of hikers were so aggressive and parking had become SUCH A NIGHTMARE. People often just parked in front of the entrance to our garage out of desperation and they’d pop their hazards on until their trail run was done — and then it’s like “Great. I pay a monthly fee to park in here so that the small amount of street parking is made available for hikers but now I’m screwed too. And I’m going to take a spot that somebody else could use. If I can even find one.” You see how this quickly becomes a pretty multifaceted problem? I really agree with most of your sentiments here but try to remember that a lot of the residents right up at the park are not mega millionaires. We are also there because we cherish being close to the park! We are all on the same team and likely will benefit from a lot of the same solutions! Thanks for being so proactive about protecting our access and experience at parks in the city! Keep fighting the good fight!

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