A big two-day parade is in the works for the streets of Los Angeles that will cover dozens of miles through several neighborhoods. Just don't expect floats, a grand marshal or even marching bands.
The sixth annual Big Parade, a free urban hike open to anyone who wants to join, is set for May 30 and June 1.
Up to 600 walkers are expected to participate throughout the two days, and they will traverse more than 35 miles and climb about 100 public stairways while taking in some intimate and panoramic views. They'll also learn a little history and hear live music in a city that, despite its mythical love affair with the car, is ranked as one of the most walkable in the country.
“The Big Parade is a great example of an event that combines everything I love about walking in L.A. — community, history, nature, architecture — into one adventure,” said longtime participant Alissa Walker, urbanism editor at the blog Gizmodo and a member of the steering committee for Los Angeles Walks, a pedestrian advocacy organization.
“You end up meeting your neighbors and seeing parts of your neighborhood you've never seen before. But you also gain a greater understanding of how the city is knit together.”
Dan Koeppel, a 52-year-old New York transplant and avid pedestrian who founded and organizes the Big Parade walk, is quick to point out that Big Parade and urban hiking is not an original idea, but it does focus on what city streets where meant for in the first place.
“What I'm doing and what others are doing is recapturing the original purpose of the streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles,” he said.
It's a purpose that in the past few years has been regaining momentum.
According to Walk Score, a Seattle-based online company that ranks cities across the nation based on walkability, Los Angeles is now ranked as the 13th most walkable city in the U.S. with a score of 63.9 out of 100. The 2014 report ranked New York as the most walkable city in the country — it received a score of 87.6 — out of 141 rated cities with a population of 200,000 or more. Long Beach ranked 11th with a score of 65.8.
Much of the Big Parade is focused on the old stairways that dot the city. It's how the event got started, after Koeppel, who is a journalist, wrote an article for Backpacker Magazine in 2003 about urban hiking in L.A. that highlighted the stairs.
After the article came out he was contacted by Andrew Lichtman and his wife Yen Chen, a downtown couple and avid hikers who didn't know Koeppel personally but nevertheless asked him to take them on a walk.
He took them, along with a few other friends, on a 17-mile walk that covered 49 stairways. The following year he decided to do it again and through word of mouth it continued to grow every year, with the first official two-day Big Parade walk taking place in 2009.
This year's walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday downtown at Grand Park, near the fountain. From there, walkers will make their way to the Music Box stairs in Silver Lake, where the first day of the event will end. Day two starts there the next morning at 8:30 a.m. and ends at Griffith Observatory around 7 p.m.
Along the way participants will see city landmarks, hear culture-oriented talks about architecture and the city and listen to live music at designated stops as they stroll through a series of attached loops that range from about 2-7 miles each. The loops make up the route and make it easier for participants to join the group for just a few blocks or for longer treks.
Each day contains a main loop starting around 10 a.m. and is about 6 miles long — it's usually the easiest to traverse and includes the biggest crowds.
But the overall walk is very leisurely with the slowest in the group setting the pace for each loop. So while there are specific times and addresses for arrivals and departures for each loop, the schedule is fluid and relaxed.
“The theme of the Big Parade is that we walk at the pace of the slowest person. I don't care how slow you are, how old you are, whether you're disabled in a wheelchair and we have to carry you up the stairs, we will walk together no matter what,” said Koeppel.
Koeppelupdates the location of the main group every 15 minutes on Twitter so anyone wishing to join can do so at any time. He expects about 20 people to complete the entire 35-mile walk with others stepping in and out of loops throughout the event.
“If people want to join us en route, the key is to intercept, don't chase. Figure out where we're going to be in 30 minutes, walk there and park yourself there,” he said.
The detailed route isn't publicized until a couple of days before the event, just to ensure that more people join up on the scheduled days and walk together, since the Big Parade is also about camaraderie and making new friends who have an interest in walking in L.A.
“It's meant to be really inclusive. It's really a way for people to connect to the city,” said Bob Inman, author of “A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles” and a longtime Big Parade participant who also helps Koeppel with the yearly route.
“Through all these stairways, one after another, it's almost like a magic carpet that takes you through a lot of areas with views of the city, but also intimate stuff, like old homes, people's gardens,” he said. “But the idea is not just the stairs but really just opening people's eyes to a variety of neighborhoods.”
Though the walk is meant to be inclusive, the elevation gain provided by the many stairs can still make it challenging for seasoned hikers like Elizabeth Thomas, a professional hiker who holds the women's unsupported speed record on the 2,181-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which she completed in 80 days and 13.5 hours in 2011.
Thomas spends up to six months out of the year on hikes and walked the Big Parade last year when she was invited by Koeppel to speak about her hiking experiences.
“I was blown away about how challenging and rewarding it was,” she said. “One of the things I enjoy about (wilderness) hiking is seeing hidden little things, and this was the same experience of living life at 3 mph and seeing murals, gardens in Silver Lake and so many great hidden little gems I would have never seen.”
The Big Parade Los Angeles
When: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. May 31 and June 1.
Where: Starts at Grand Park, 227 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, on Saturday; Music Box stairs, 936 N. Vendome St., Los Angeles, on June 1.
Follow Richard Guzman on Twitter: @Richword