Tag Archives: walkabout

Walkabout: Yongmasan, Seoul

Well, it’s about time for another walk through a random part of a city, right? The ground rules were laid out here. Last time found us in suburban Murray, UT. Today we’re in a very different place: Yongmasan, a station on the 7 line subway in Seoul. With a free day in Seoul, I picked it out randomly – well, sort of: literally translated, Yongmasan means “dragon horse mountain,” which sounded kind of cool.

Just outside the station, there’s this overpass on Yongmasan-ro, set among Seoul’s ever-present density.


This view is from about the same place, back towards central Seoul.




Oh. Well, that’s hard to miss. This park and enormous dry waterfall were just steps away from the city. The falls were dry at that time of year (May) but they must be pretty interesting in the summer monsoon.


A trail led up towards the top. Well, why not?


If it looked like it was steep from far away, well it looked the same close up.


Like LA, Seoul has many hills and small mountains that rise abruptly from the surrounding valleys. It only takes a little elevation and a little effort to get a great view of the city. This isn’t really that different than the view of Glendale from Mt Thom, right?


Um, well, yeah, it is.


Of course, after scrambling up to the top in flip flops like a fool, I came across this slightly more improved trail.


The views from Yongmasan stretch across much of the city. Unfortunately it was foggy, and an iPhone 4 camera doesn’t really do it justice anyway.


Descending the mountain (the right way), I came out to this street at the foot of the hill, with community garden plots. And lo, what is that, a four-story podium with open parking at the ground level!? Clad that thing in stucco and it’d be at home anywhere in LA! (Well, except for the zero setback.)


It doesn’t take long to get back into the city.


Tuck under parking is hugely popular in this neighborhood.


Wandering south past Junggok Station, came across this way cool street arcade and vending area. Modern development is more likely to be malls… which are cool in their own way.


After some food, I headed west to the Dongbu Expressway, which you certainly won’t be seeing featured in urbanist blogs about Seoul anytime soon.


I crossed the river on Cheonho-daero, to Janghanpyeong, and – I swear I’m not making this up – randomly found the headquarters of the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation, which runs the 5-6-7-8 subway lines. You’d never know that the 1-2-3-4 lines are run by a different agency. Maybe they cooperate with each other instead of engaging in turf battles that hurt riders?


That’s it for this time. Next: back to Montreal!

Walkabout: Murray, UT

In a previous post, I suggested that if you’re an urban- and transit-minded person visiting a city you don’t know much about, you should deliberately get off the beaten path in that city’s transit system. The idea is that doing touristy or business traveler-y stuff, you get a distorted idea of the city. You’ll learn more about LA transit riding the 720 or the 207 than you will trying to get from the airport to Union Station.

Early this summer, I had a little free time in Salt Lake City. I didn’t have enough time to make it all the way to one of the ends of the lines (other than the airport, which doesn’t count), so I picked Fashion Place West. This station is about halfway out the lines south of Salt Lake City in Murray, where the Red Line and the Blue Line merge together. The UTA light rail system is heavily branching – three lines converge onto a single corridor – which can make providing frequent service to the ends quite difficult. This may not be a huge issue in a place like Salt Lake City, where a single central business district dominates. Anyway, off we go.

Like many western US cities, Salt Lake City is blessed with amazing natural scenery that encourages you to enjoy the long view. From the station, the dark mass of the Oquirrh Mountains rises above the interchange of the 15 and the 215 in soft twilight.


To the east, the much larger Wasatch Front rises in the distance down Winchester St, which leads to the Fashion Place mall, half a mile from the station. This street won’t win awards, but they do have bike lanes and decent sidewalks.


Transit-adjacent barn. It’s not that the density tapers off quickly away from the station; there’s very little to begin with.


Unfortunately, the route to the mall takes you across the 215. That view though.


Still, it’s not a long walk to the intersection of Winchester and State, which has a lot of commercial development.

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As you’d expect for a newer US suburb, it’s auto-oriented development, which makes for a little longer walk to get to the actual stuff. It would have been nice to explore further north on State, including some of the nearby residential neighborhoods, but it was getting late, so I grabbed a drink (and food, because Utah) and then headed back to the station.

This is admittedly a difficult area for walkability. The light rail line takes advantage of an existing freight rail corridor, but that means some nearby development is industrial. The 15 and the 215 freeways break up the built environment. There are mixed-use districts and a TOD district in Murray, but at stations further to the north. Most of the land between the Fashion Place West station and State is zoned R-1-8, for single-family houses with minimum 8,000 SF lots.

In places like this, a light rail line may almost be acting like a commuter rail line – albeit one with very good frequency! The parking lots around the station will no doubt drive many urbanists crazy, but they’re probably a necessity to make the line practical for a lot of users. The station has a bus loop, which seems like overkill considering the frequencies on the two routes serving it, though it is the end point for both routes.

I only had a little other free time while in Utah, and I ended up using it to see Temple Square. The next installment of this series, whenever it is, will take us back to Seoul.

Walkabout: Naebang, Seoul

If you’re a politician, a big fancy consultant, or a global thought leader, what to do you do when you visit a major city in another part of the world? You probably fly into Shiny New Airy Spaces International Airport, hop on the Global Thought Leader High-Speed Rail Line, and head downtown where you visit a bunch of places with high-end amenities and architectural showpieces like stadiums and convention centers.

Then you come home, pass through an old, congested airport terminal, and stand on the curb breathing exhaust while you wait for a car service to pick you up, since very few US airports have high quality rail connections.

Any wonder that US politicians and global thought leaders are obsessed with airport transit and convention centers?

The problem is that as an international traveler, the way you experience a city’s transit system is very different from the way that ordinary people experience it. Most people riding transit aren’t going to the airport or convention center or stadium very often (unless they work there). The vast majority of transit riders are trying to go about some mundane daily business – going to work, school, or shopping – in the places that the system serves.

So, what should you do if you want to experience a city the way residents do? Easy, just get out a rail map, pick a random stop, get off there, and start walking around. If I have time and the system isn’t too expansive, I like to try to pick one midline stop and one suburban terminal. (In theory, this works just as well – if not better – with buses, but it’s often harder to figure out the frequently and span of service for bus routes on an unfamiliar system.)


You want me to just pick a random stop that I don’t know anything about? Yes. In fact, this really doesn’t work in a city you know, since you probably have preconceived notions about the neighborhoods around most of the transit stops. The goal is to learn things you wouldn’t learn in a structured exploration.

What if I pick a boring neighborhood with nothing to do? Even better; you’re learning about a part of the city that the tourist bureau doesn’t want to show you.

What if I don’t speak the language? Even better! Now you’re experiencing a city the way recent immigrants might.

What if I pick a dangerous neighborhood? This is a potential concern. In general, many Americans (especially a certain generation that rhymes with Maybe Doomers) overestimate the level of danger in cities. Go during the day when it’s light out, and just act naturally.

What if I get lost? You have a smartphone, don’t you? Before you head out, scroll around the neighborhood in your maps app to load a bunch of data into the cache (phone memory) so that you can see where you are even without cell service. Also, there seems to be a lot more free WiFi in some countries, and you can almost always find a local restaurant or coffee shop that has WiFi nowadays.

If the stop spacing on the rail network is reasonable – like say, a mile or so – you can plan to walk between two stations, which helps give you a feel for what the city is like a little further from a transit node.

Okay, enough introduction. Here’s what I saw when I had a free day in Seoul, and a random jab at the map led me to Naebang.

Naebang Station

Seoul is a very dense city, so no matter where you go, you’re going to see some urban environments. I exited Naebang and headed east on Seocho-daero. (Note: streets in Seoul are often just numbered sequentially with a local neighborhood name, which can be a little confusing.)

Heading uphill, there’s this Flatiron-esque building on a triangular lot.


This street is actually pretty wide an auto-oriented, like many modern arterials in Seoul. Neighborhood streets are a different story, as we’ll see later.

Seocho-daero leads you uphill and dead-ends; look back and you’ll be rewarded with some views. Urbanization in Asia is far more advanced than anywhere in the US outside Manhattan.

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In the distance, you can see some green hills. Seoul’s dense urban environment is frequently broken up by hills, many of which form nice neighborhood parks. In a way it’s a little like. . .  Los Angeles. Is Seoul a glimpse of a future denser LA? A thought for another time.


Turning around, it’s time to head up into Seoripul Park.


There are some nice, graded paths, but why not scramble up some rocks when you can?


Just a little ways up, I reconnected with the main path through the park.


Seoul is dry in the winter, but has a summer monsoon that dumps a lot of rain. That keeps things very green in the hills.

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So. . . dense. . . and yet the parks provide a real escape from the city.


Alright, now we’re back out into some steep streets fronting up onto the hills. I like the merciless use of overhead power distribution. Also, it does snow in Seoul in the winter, pretty regularly. Next time I go, I want to go in winter and see how people navigate those hills in snow.


Off of the arterials, you can see part of how Seoul achieves such density – really narrow side streets.


Of course, all those towers help too.


I kept walking downhill. Narrow streets and mid-rise development abound.


And hey, I was able to find where this is in Google Maps!

I kept wrapping around the hill on the street, into a neighborhood that looked a little more upscale. Nice sidewalks!


The building on the left was completed after Google street view’s last pass.


Seoul – not scared of funky design.


Oh, and one more thing: all those mid-rises in the upscale neighborhood? They’re all podiums with parking on the ground floor. Ha!