Tag Archives: Car Free in LA

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

The Number One Factor that Allows for a Car-Free Life*

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*in the contemporary United States. I don’t know about other places; I suppose this is a worldwide “law.”

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of OCH's.

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of OCH’s.

I found this post on the Internet. I often look for stories or articles that validate my own car free choice, just so I can feel some camaraderie and not think I’m the only person in the world who has done this and also thinks it’s a doable idea. (I don’t have many friends in L.A. who are car free; some, but usually it’s not been a choice for them and they’re not particularly happy about it and hope to change this circumstance ASAP).

One of the things that Zachary Shahan talks about in his post is the pleasurability of his car free decision. That is key, isn’t it — if it’s not a good and pleasurable way to live, then why do it? I’ve had enough martyrdom in my life already, I don’t really want any more.

I admit that feeling the pleasure is sometimes hard, living in the midst of the most intense car culture on the planet. Also, the writer of this great post is obviously younger than me by decades, and there’s something to be said about youthful optimism in any situation. Isn’t there?

If you haven’t guessed the factor or read the article, I can tell you it’s location. The same old real estate cliche, location location location.

And I think that’s true. The very definition of doable transportation depends on where you are and where you need to go. For myself, I commute to a part time job using a bicycle and public transportation (I take my bike on a subway). For all other daily life activities and shopping, I can walk or ride a bike. For social activities, I usually take public transport or if that’s not really practical, a cab or an Uber or a Lyft, which are always practical in Los Angeles. I happen to live around the corner from a major stop along a major rapid busway. This really does help. It’s a good location.

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.