Category Archives: Green Saturdays

Posts about car-free life, sustainability, environmental issues, frugality, general tree-hugging stuff

So This Happened: Car Free to Car Lite, and Why

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About three and 1/2 years ago (June 7, 2013), I sold my car and decided (after much thought and research) to live a life that was car free. I lost some weight and saw a different side of my city. I saved a lot of money. My stress level became palpably lower. I proved that despite all the cliches (which are class-based cliches, by the way), one does not need a car to survive in L.A.

Yes, I found that it’s possible to get anywhere in the L.A. area by bus, train, bike, walking, Uber, Lyft, taxi, Amtrak and the kindness of strangers. But here’s the thing: possible does not always mean convenient.

So this happened:

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Blogger in front of the red Chevy Spark.

I moved to L.A. originally in 1981, and this is the lifestyle we led: Say I lived in Pasadena, which was true for awhile. A friend a few miles away would suggest how nice it would be to go to Hollywood for a few drinks and then later on go down to the beach for a while, play in the dark waves, etc, or go bar-hopping out in Santa Monica. Or have a bite to eat there. We’d often do things like this — which actually involve a 40 or 50 mile round trip in a car. It was common then and it was nothing, really. Gas cheap. We were young and energetic. Traffic was not in any way as bad as it is now, especially at night. This is part of that Southern California Car Culture you hear about, ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon (which I suppose somebody did, not that this kind of activity was EVER anything you would call convenient).

Anyway, my point is, some of this lives on. At least in our minds, at least we’d like to think this is our coastal “lifestyle,” though age and especially traffic has made this all but impossible. I do think there is a bona fide Millennial movement to embrace an L.A. car free existence. But here’s the thing: I’m not a Millennial. Not even close. And I guess although it’s great to be a pioneer or a trailblazer in some way, it’s kind of lonely if you’re the only one.

I was the only one (in my age and class cohorts) who habitually rode the bus or the train and it was honestly getting a bit old and lonely.

Another thing is isolation. While my facility navigating L.A. without a car grew tremendously the longer I did it, my desire to be out and about actually diminished. While I could take an Uber to a hotspot at 10 at night from my home location in the Valley, say to somewhere “over the hill” in Silver Lake or West Hollywood, my desire to do that plummeted. My desire to do that on the bus plummeted even further. And this was not just hotspots, but things like events and other gatherings where the distance and inconvenience just made it too difficult. I didn’t want to be a hermit.

There’s something different about having your own transportation that’s about more than getting to point B from point A, and it has to do with comfort and safety and the ability to be totally spontaneous. I realized that I was willing to pay again for this occasional luxury.

So — I’m not abandoning public transport or my bike or my beloved walks, especially those in the quiet of the near dawn. I really liked contributing to a less polluted city in a really small way and will continue. But I will occasionally use the new car, for things like:

  • Socializing at night, i.e., seeing friends, dating and other activities
  • Road trips – Palm Springs and local places like that, especially where trains don’t go.
  • Camping! I still want to find a partner in crime for this.
  • The occasional event or possibly a job opportunity, like an interview, like tutoring, like background acting on a location (think Santa Clarita, where I used to have frequent gigs). Although for commuting to work, I’ll still use public transport.
  • Going to the Gym – sometimes that’s just easier to drive and I would work out more, quite frankly ,if it was easier to get there.
  • Shopping, sometimes. Sometimes you just want to do that Target run and get your own 30 roll packs of TP rather than have Amazon deliver them.

So there you have it. I’m grateful to have the luxury of the occasional car at my disposal again. I realize how lucky I am to have it. And I know, should it turn out that I really don’t use the car for much, I can always turn around and sell it. Again!

Car Free in L.A. for Three Years – and counting

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Three years ago on June 7, 2013, I drove into CarMax in Burbank, California, and sold them my car. They gave me a check for $6000.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

I walked back to my apartment via Magnolia Boulevard. It took more than an hour. During the early summer walk, I had numerous moments of “oh my god, what have you done?” but I did not fall into the earth, wailing or otherwise.

I’d planned to go car free, and had been thinking about it, reading about it for years. There were lots of reasons, from wanting to be more environmentally conscious to wanting to save money to frustration with driving and especially with parking.

I made lots of dry runs with LA’s Metro system, did lots of bike riding on streets with bike lanes (and others without them, but rarely) and started figuring out places I could walk to in my neighborhood of Valley Village.

Still, it was very strange to arrive back at my apartment and leave my parking space empty. That voice in my head would say, well, you’re crazy, you’ve finally done it buddy, what are you thinking, Jim? You can’t live in L.A. without a car, everybody says so!

But then I have lived in L.A. without a car, and for three years now.

Benefits:

  • more money for me (I save about $5K a year on car costs)
  • easier for me to keep weight stabilized, as I get so much aerobic exercise
  • stress level is lower, and blood pressure readings are more in the normal range
  • I see the city on a more human, sidewalk level. I notice people and buildings and plants and . . . that I would have missed before, speeding by.
  • I don’t get road rage.
  • I don’t have to deal with road ragers.
  • I don’t fret over the price of gas or car insurance or car repairs or any of that.
  • I can still be spontaneous — hello car sharing services, Uber and Lyft. That’s one of the missing pieces to this puzzle, and it’s been filled in.
  • I love just showing up at a venue and walking through the front door, shaking my head when someone asks if I need to be validated.
The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That's my bike, but the guy is someone else.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That’s my bike, but the guy is someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are really no cons to being car free, but I have learned some things about myself and the whole idea of “car free” from a white, middle class perspective.

Some of these things are:

  • Public transport is really a class thing in L.A., still. Regardless of the new Expo line, which everyone wants to ride, because it goes to Santa Monica and the beach, most people ride the Metro because they can’t afford cars. A decision like the one I made to be “car free” was born of privilege (similar to Voluntary Simplicity or New Frugality movements) — because I can afford a car if I want one, if I wanted to return myself to that misery. I imagine that most of the people who have no choice but to take the trains or buses would consider me a silly old fool. I hope that perception will change and we’re making headway, but we’re not there yet.
  • Speaking of that Expo line or the Wilshire 720 Rapid or any of the other public transport ways to get to the Pacific Ocean from the San Fernando Valley: There’s no quick way to get to the beach, other than a car, and even that’s relative. At like, 4 am. On a Tuesday. It would probably take about half an hour at that date/time. But at any other time, rail makes the journey a lot more palatable, i.e. there are no potholes on the rails. And you can read, you can access WiFi or a cell tower (Expo is above ground). You shouldn’t read while driving.
  • When you have a car, you go to lots of places just because you have a car to get there, whether it makes any sense to go there or not. It SEEMS purposeful, but I think that might be an illusion. Because I’ve found that with just a little bit of resistance (the resistance being not having an easy transport option at the ready 24/7) you make lots of different choices.
  • Driving also serves to mask boredom and loneliness. You’re part of this stream of humanity, all GOING somewhere, or at least seeming to, if really not. Listening to the radio is part of it, too, feeling connected to the music or the DJ or the newscaster makes it all a little less lonely.

Just as I started this post I saw that yet another bicyclist had been killed in the LA area, this one in Compton, today, June 6, 2016. RIP.

Be careful out there.

How the blogger lights up his ride

How the blogger lights up his ride

Life on the Gridline

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rail_mapCar Free Update: After two years and three months of living car free in Los Angeles, I’ve noticed a few things about my habits.

One of these is, I tend to live along gridlines. By that, I mean that the places that I frequent in my life — that are not walkable from where I live — are mostly along arterials, either bus or train public transportation routes (see our rapidly expanding metro train diagram to the left) or safe streets with bike lanes.

I guess it’s common sense; why people always say that wherever they put a light rail stop is a huge boon to a neighborhood. It’s convenience, right?

I first really noticed this, because I hadn’t been consciously thinking about it, when I was riding with someone who had a car and we went on streets I used to drive on all the time, and was presented with completed, new buildings that I didn’t even know were under construction. That’s how long it’s been. (This was La Brea Avenue in Hollywood.) I wouldn’t ride my bike on that street; it’s too busy, there’s no bike lane, it’s a recipe for death. Also, there’s no “must” destination there, at least not in my current life. So, in other words, no reason to go.

So life is streamlined. I always go back to one of the first articles I read on Streetsblog which planted the seed that if you go car free in a city the geographic size of Los Angeles, you’re going to basically live in your neighborhood. For me currently this is Valley Village/Studio City/North Hollywood. Going to the far reaches of West Los Angeles or the beach is for special occasions or for that Uber/Lyft ride. I pretty much live a life centered in my neighborhood but bounded by the larger grid of Burbank Boulevard on the north, DTLA on the east, Beverly Boulevard on the south, and Robertson Boulevard on the west.

Funny, these boundaries are mostly where they’ve always been for me, for thirty plus years, I’ve lived a life pretty much bounded by Silver Lake on the east and West Hollywood in the west. I guess public transport has really opened up Downtown LA for me, because previously it was just such a traffic and parking nightmare I’d do anything to avoid it. Those days, quite nicely, are gone.

End of the Car Age: We Can Always Hope

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“Cities around the world are coming to the same conclusion: they’d be better off with far fewer cars. So what’s behind this seismic shift in our urban lifestyles?” Stephen Moss investigates

Source: End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile | Cities | The Guardian

Why? Because cars hugely degrade the civilized environment. So read this Guardian story.

I’ve thought a lot about this – and the paradox of freedom – which is how cars have always been marketed. Tell me, looking at this photo of L.A. freeways, this is freedom?

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Well, if so, save me from that method of being free. Some gems from the story:

“In many cities, the era of the suburban commuter, along with the era of the car, is drawing to a close.” – we can only hope this could become the ideal in places like Los Angeles, as well. (Which in my mind is always perfect for biking.)

On the future of the smart phone vis a vis car ownership: “Consumers will, so the theory goes, use their smartphones to check ultra-detailed travel news, locate car-club cars or bikes, check for parking spaces,call up Uber drivers, and arrange shared rides. Who needs a personally owned car?”  — I’ve found this is true in my now 2 years plus of car-freedom in Los Angeles.

Truth is, I’m not very optimistic that the vision shown in this article will become a reality here in California, at least in Southern California, at any time in the remote future — but I have hope for the Millennial generation, who appear to be much more interested in changing the car culture than the Baby Boomers and older are.

The Guardian story is a long one, but worth it.

Trump and Bernie are resonating for the same reason, IMO

Ranked: The Most Bike-Friendly States in the US

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House of Pies' East Side Cousin

House of Pies’ East Side Cousin

Top-ranked Washington scored a 66.2. Guess which state placed last?

Source: Ranked: The Most Bike-Friendly States in the US | WIRED

 

 

 

Interesting article and chart. Looks like we’re #8 (California) and getting better, we were #9 last year. Nice to see the west coast and the western states represented really well here. Certainly I notice this bicycle infrastructure development on a local basis — L.A. is doing some great things, from more lanes to public transport options that include bikes, to the plethora of events now – CicLAvias, Critical Mass, etc.

I also see more and more people taking their bikes on the subway and on the bus racks. Love to see this taking place – we have almost the perfect environment for biking as a way of life.

Car Free, Two Years and Counting . . .

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I sold my car to CarMax in Burbank on June 7, 2013.

This is a picture of my bike, a few months ago, at a stop for donuts. It’s called Don_t Time. (cause the only thing missing is U) The person in the photo is just someone else stopping for donuts, it’s not me. I took the picture.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank.

Ironically, yesterday I had to make a trip for which the clearly most appropriate way to get there (to West Hollywood from my house in Valley Village) was by car. So I called Uber, and the driver that picked me up had the exact make and model car that I sold two years ago (a Scion Xa).

So, an update, how’s it going, you ask?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I make plans in my head to buy another car. I’ll tell myself, yes, you should just grow up and buy a car, by the end of the year. I mean, you can’t ride your bike forever, what are you, 60? Yes, I’m 60. But then again I don’t ride everywhere. I do ride around the neighborhood, but I also walk a great deal, take a good amount of buses and trains.

And sometimes, like yesterday, a car is the best option and I’ll call an Uber or a cab. Still, even a pretty liberal use of services like those is so much cheaper and better for the environment than actually owning a motor vehicle is.

So I tell myself, along with the plan to buy another car, to do a month of car-sharing before I’d ever actually pull that plug on the car-free experiment. If I’m truly not happy using, say, Uber for those destinations that are just too late or too difficult then, sure, go ahead and buy that car and have all that misery refunded (sorry, 12-step, I’m borrowing some of your language).

What I suspect will happen is that I’ll still be car free when 2016 rolls around. Because I love saving all that money. Cause I really do like to walk. Because the lower amount of stress in my life (from not owning a car) is something I feel deep in my bones.

It is eminently doable, for those of you on the fence. Try it, what have you got to lose? You can always get a car again.

In the meantime, it will be me still ordering those 40-roll packs of TP from Amazon and using my Uber app when I just have to get to Santa Monica in a hurry for tacos or something.

Gotta go – riding the bike over to my neighborhood movie theater. They have a special free bike parking section out in front.

 

 

The Real Reason U.S. Gas Is So Cheap — We Don’t Pay the True Costs of Driving

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I'm not in this line.

I’m not in this line.

Thought this was interesting — especially because I don’t think Americans generally realize how much the automobile – not just the gas but everything associated with them – is heavily subsidized by government, which means taxpayers, which means all of us.

Or it’s at least not top of mind. We are so used to the relatively low cost of gas, we just freak when it gets near $5 a gallon, not realizing that even that price, which seems outrageous, is really outrageously cheap!

I urge you to read it for the perspective, because we often don’t think about the externalities of things which in our economy are not often paid for. Or they’re paid for by someone else. And/or we all suffer for it.

As the linked article points out, the federal gas taxes we do pay are not enough to offset highway construction and repair, as originally intended, so everybody pays for roads whether they drive or not. I don’t really have a problem with this, even though I don’t drive; it’s like I don’t have a problem with my taxes going to public schools either, even though I don’t have children in them. (Don’t want to live in an uneducated society, no thanks, thankyouverymuch). And, to be fair, I ride the bike on those roads and also walk on them, so I do use them.

I’ve often thought that real folks who make out here, the real bandits, are the auto companies themselves — as they really do require paved roads for their products, which are fairly useless without them. How much do General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Daimler Chrysler and all the rest pay for road construction?

What’s that noise? Crickets?

 

Walking in LA

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Walking in DTLA, Main Street

Walking in DTLA, Main Street

I loved this story in The New York Times detailing what it’s like to be a walker in our town. Some of the itineraries are pretty sweet as well. (The writer, Stephanie Rosenbloom, included places even I’ve never been to in my 30+ years of wandering around Los Angeles.)

Also it kind of gave me a shot of validation — being car-free and a very often cyclist and/or pedestrian is still much outside the norm — I get the strange looks, the raised eyebrows or the subtle shake of the head, still.

But I persist. I often think, well, you can’t ride your bike forever, you can’t walk around forever —  but then I think that it’s likely if I could not longer walk places I might very well no longer be able to drive to them, either. So for now, it’s that one-day-a-time kind of thing. Today’s a good day to bike. Tomorrow sounds like a great day to walk in the sun.

Anyway, Angelenos and non-Angelenos check it out, find some good walking spots. All our lives will be quieter for it.

Deadly Rides: Bicycle Hit & Runs, Rider Deaths Rise in L.A.

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How the blogger lights up his ride

How the blogger lights up his ride

Sobering read in the L.A. Times. As more and more bicyclists take to the roads in Southern California, accidents will only increase. Hit and run drivers are cowards, for sure, and also criminals. Though the story points out, they are often hard to track because not much evidence exists of their crime.

While I loathe these drivers and the death and destruction they cause, I do have to say that there are things cyclists can do to minimize the possibility of an accident, whether hit and run or not.

These include:

  • Obeying road rules – including stop signs and lights. While inconvenient, the worst thing you can do to a motorist (IMHO) is surprise him or her. Your behavior must be predictable, like that of the other car drivers. That’s the only thing that makes our roads not a total free-for-all.
  • Not obeying the law when to do so would put your life in danger – let’s be honest, there’s too many cars in L.A. and not all roads are safe for cyclists. There are streets I will not ride down as they are basically unsafe at any speed for a cyclist – for instance, Sunset Boulevard during rush hours where the parking lane is used for traffic and other streets like this. In those cases, if I must go down that street, I ride on the sidewalk, slowly, being very wary of pedestrians and driveways.
  • Lights and reflectors – you see in the photo how I operate at night. That might be a little extreme, but I know I’m seen by drivers. I always get a wide berth at night, and I’m sure that’s because of the lights. Otherwise, drivers really don’t see you.
  • Don’t be in such a hurry, and never take chances, ’cause between a bike and car, the winner is always going to be the car. No, I’m no longer a daredevil — at all, and maybe that’s something that comes with age. If so, I’m grateful. I’m not going to get into a confrontation with a car, because I know the outcome won’t be good for me, even if I’m in the right. This may go against instinct, but it’s useful as a survival tactic.

I hope that as more cyclists take to the roads and people drive less, we’ll really find ways to safely coexist — like separated lanes for bikes and cars, what a concept! That I’d love to see. In the meantime, let’s be safer cyclists and prosecute those criminal drivers on our streets.

Uber, revisited. . .

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imgres Well, I saw this story in The New York Times and I could not stop myself from commenting once I stopped vomiting!

Am I the only who finds it really tedious that reporters such as this one think that Angelenos’ dream is to ape New York City in all respects?

Now I understand the the Times is a New York paper and would have that bias, i.e., reporting on things New Yorkers would be interested in. But. Seriously.

Until Uber turned out to be a douchebag company that exploits its workers and scoffs and sensible safety regulations for its drivers and their cars —  I thought it was a game changer myself. And the idea still is, whether it’s Uber or Lyft or some other company that finally makes this sharing a winner for both the buyer and seller. Even the guy profiled in the linked story says Uber has become a “soulless psycho monster.”

Maybe it would have made more sense to title the piece “How Car Sharing is Changing Los Angeles Nightlife,” but that would’ve been less sexy.

But New Yorkers, please, look at a fucking map. Look at distances. And learn some history. Los Angeles has a huge public transportation infrastructure: a subway, light rail and enormous bus system. The current construction of multiple light rail lines at once is the largest public works project currently underway in the United States. At least one place in the country is thinking about infrastructure. Though from this article, you wouldn’t know that the guy who takes Uber from Hollywood to DTLA could also easily have taken the subway for a fraction of the cost. He could have taken a bus. Or a cab. So it’s not like these options did not exist before.

I do applaud those who get out of their cars and actually commit to a car free life in Los Angeles; it takes some doing.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Los Angeles take the Metro every day in all its permutations for every possible need; they don’t own cars. What is truly astounding is that this article seems to have discovered something when it hasn’t. It truly must be a “white girl (or guy) problem” to figure out how to drink in both Koreatown and West Hollywood on the same night without getting a DUI or calling a pesky taxi company.

Newsflash to the Times: I’ve been going out to multiple locations at night for over 30 years in Los Angeles. Often with car, often without. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not a new thing. It wasn’t new when I was in my 20s, and it’s certainly not new now.

Also – this story fails for its conflating the opening of the Ace hotel as a reason DTLA is becoming a “destination.” Just swallow the obvious Ace PR hype without question here, dear writer! DTLA has had a cultural renaissance for at least over 10 years, going on 15. The opening of the subway lines in the 90s had a lot to do with it. DTLA does continue to get more hip with each passing year; it does get more interesting as well. However, the Ace has nothing to do with it.

“Untethered from their vehicles, Angelenos are suddenly free to drink, party and walk places.” — umm, like that wasn’t done before?

Before “Uber was a thing” — there was a “thing” called taxicabs. I know, it’s hard to believe.

And for the Uber driver who says LA is almost like NY – seriously? LA, thank the goddess, is not full of Duane Reades and Citibanks on every block. There’s no snow. There are palm trees. A gazillion other differences, the key point being L.A. does not aspire to be New York.

It’s like what we used to say about the New Yorkers when they complained they couldn’t get a decent bagel or slice of pizza at 3 a.m. — if it’s that important to ya, move right on back. We don’t really care.

Those are the easy cliches – but what I would say to the newcomer who’s trying to get the best of his New York life and seamlessly transfer it to L.A. – hopefully, you’ll find that a Southern California lifestyle isn’t really about getting to and from restaurants and bars/clubs. It’s about the outdoors – from the beaches to the mountains and everything in between. That’s a big part of what being an Angeleno is. I hope he figures that part out.

OK, rant over.