Visit an Island

Fantastical pockets of intimate, highly visible public space, traffic islands are often thought of as lines separating the flow of traffic or, for the pedestrian, points along a transportation node for very brief stops. But, they are also absurd and diverse way-stations in our urban infrastructure. In some countries, everyday residents build small homes, shops or other permanent structures. In other countries, everyday people can visit these places for temporary activities such as picnics or protests. Whereever you go, you can visit these city sites, hidden in plain view, that contain layers of stories compressed into an isolated space, a vaction place that triggers a connection to the deeply existential idea of an island.

Please visit United States Island Law for a bulleted list regarding the use of traffic islands for peaceable assembly as well as related case law.

Additional information



What is Peaceable Assembly or the Right of Assembly?

The right to peaceable assembly is of central importance to our understanding of what is a city and who creates it. The history behind this right, which goes back to the 13th century, has evolved greatly. In the U.S. it used to be a central part of citizenship and street life but this changed in the end of the 19th century.


Island Insurance Issues

In late June 2010, Islands of LA encountered a dilemma around purchasing liability insurance, which was requested by the city, a neighborhood group maintaining the traffic island and LACMA. The various parties required the coverage in order to plant a radish garden and have related, small gatherings on a traffic island. This would be for [...]


Traffic Islands: A History of Gathering

If you visit a traffic island in the United States, where public space for assembly is a rare commodity, you are celebrating and participating in a history of gathering. We often imagine the great town square and dream of people laughing, discussing politics, trading, meeting strangers, sharing stories. Many bemoan the loss of these spaces [...]


Origins and Histories of Traffic Islands

The origin of the traffic island is nebulous. Was it ancient Rome or Stonehenge or were those precursors? Did it first appear in France or England and when did the traffic circle become a roundabout? The traffic island is, arguably, a reflection of the movement of people in the built environment. The Romans, who implemented [...]


Top Reasons to Visit an Island

There are a variety of reasons to visit an island including to experience the unique sense of intimacy or to take a nap. You can also appreciate the variety of scenery or enjoy the local foods found on islands.


Commonly Asked Questions about Visiting an Island

How do I legally visit an island?  Islands in the United States that are pedestrian accessible (i.e. have a crosswalk or don’t require jaywalking) can be lawfully visited as long as you don’t interfere with substantial government interest such as traffic safety.  Additionally, nothing permanent can be placed, including plants (in California there is a [...]


United States Island Law

The laws around the use of traffic islands, and public space in general, vary around the world.  In the United States, while it is an open question of the law, a traffic island with pedestrian access is most likely considered a Traditional Public Forum and protected by the First Amendment. This accords these spaces with [...]


Most Likely (an open question of the law)

In the United States, traffic islands with pedestrian access are most likely protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights for peaceable assembly and free speech.  What does “most likely” mean for Island Law? The law in the U.S. is created by a complicated interplay among the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution [...]


The First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Island Picnic with Two Lawyers

Last week I meet with a couple of lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson on an island just on the other side of the 110 freeway in downtown.   Zac, one of the lawyers, and I have been working together for several months.  We were joined by Derek, a bankruptcy lawyer in his firm.  Derek and I [...]