Tag Archives: car free

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.

Car-Free for One Year (and counting . . .)

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I sold my car on June 7, 2013. I can hardly believe it’s been a year. Some of what I’ve learned:

this. . . has changed into. . .

this. . . has changed into. . .

  • That I could really do this, that I could really live (and for a year!) in Los Angeles, California, without owning a car, and survive and thrive.
  • how stressful driving is; I didn’t really realize this before I got rid of the car, and it became clear to me because I felt so much calmer not having to worry about the car, about traffic or parking or road ragers or whatever it was.
  • That strangers speak to each other in public space, this is all lost when people are closed up in their cars– and we’re poorer for it.
. . . this

. . . this

The pros:

  • biggest one is saving money! My car cost approximately $400 a month to own and operate, and I had a relatively cheap one – a Scion XA 2005.
  • I stayed very lean and healthy with all the walking and biking I’ve done, and will continue to do.
  • I read on buses and trains – so I’ve gotten a lot more reading done. I have a Nook and the Kindle app – so I’ve joined the Dark Side, though I still love book-books.

There are cons, so what are they:

  • From where I live (Valley Village) it takes forever to get to the beach on public transport. I’m really looking forward to the finishing of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, though even that will take time. It’s a long way regardless. Not that I go there every day or even every month, but I want it to be easy, when it’s not. Even if you have a car.
  • There are crazy, insane people, and lots of them, on public transportation and there’s just no way around that. It’s messy. You learn to spot them and stay clear.
  • Los Angeles is so big, while there are always public transport options for almost anywhere you want to go, it could take you forever because of all the transfers you have to make. For instance, next week I have to go to Santa Monica for a business meeting. It will take 3 buses and nearly two hours to get there from where I live. I’ll make it a day trip and work/hang out there all day, coming back at night. Again, this isn’t a trip I make very often at all. This kind of trip might make more sense to Zipcar or Uber (notice how I’m using those words as verbs??)

Finally, I have to remember to acknowledge the middle class privilege part of the car-free equation: I’ve CHOSEN to do this, not need to financially: rediscovering the conveniences and problems of public transport is something poor people have no choice but to acquaint themselves with daily. Then again, it’s not “slumming” for a year, this is a permanent change (at least as long as I live where I do), for financial, health, environmental and just plain “keeping my sanity” reasons. Still, let’s not forget that half the people I see on the trains and buses would likely die and go to heaven to sit behind the wheel of their own nice car in gridlocked freeway traffic (with the AC on, of course).

Must go now – have to pack the saddlebag and get off to work.

Going car free? Check out Chris Balish’s How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

Car-Free in L.A.? The list of where to live.

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Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village

Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village

I was happy this piece in Metro’s The Source highlighted NoHo (specifically the NoHo Arts District) as one of the places in L.A. where it is most conducive living Car-Free or Car-Lite.

I live in Valley Village, which I guess I’d call NoHo-adjacent, and by this proximity, can also boast to be a good option for the Car-Free.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the (now two years, how time does fly) time I’ve lived here at how convenient the neighborhood is to my specific lifestyle – as the referenced Walkscore website puts it, “most daily errands do not require a car.” What they don’t tell you is what the criteria are for walkability distance, i.e., I know from personal experience that what I think is a reasonable walk another person might think of as a death march.

But truly, the usual places one needs: grocery, drugstore, movie theaters, restaurants, library, coffeehouse, yoga studio, park, gym, elementary, junior and senior high schools, public transit stops, farmers market, gay and other bars, etc. are all within easy walking or easy walking and biking distance.

The other neighborhoods The Source deems perfect for Car-Free living include Culver City, Koreatown, DTLA and Pasadena. I would also have included Los Feliz, my former neighborhood, which still has a huge place in my heart – and is very conveniently located to all amenities and is also a hub for Metro lines, bus and rail. And, it’s got Griffith Park. Hard to beat that.

C’mon, Share, Kids, You Know You Want To.

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photo thanks cleanairgardening

photo thanks cleanairgardening

Or even if you don’t, you can’t afford to not share anymore.

I wanted to share this NYT piece about sharing – even though it’s a couple of months old, I agree that the new sharing paradigm is important, and wanted to acknowledge Tina Rosenberg’s opinionator.

Access, rather than ownership, is what drives the future of commerce, according to this theory.

**ANOTHER UPDATE: Los Angeles Times ran a story today on Airbnb issues in Silver Lake. 

When I was a little kid, I never really understood why everyone on the block had to have their own lawnmower – mowing was such an odious task (I grew up before the explosion of the service economy, so dads and kids – and the occasional mom, to be sure – took care of the yard work). I hated cutting the grass. We tried to avoid it as long as possible. The truth was, though, the longer the grass got the harder it was to mow with those manual push mowers (see above), which is what we had. But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that the mower was used maybe once a week, once every two weeks if there wasn’t much rain. So the “block” we lived on probably could have shared one or two mowers if someone had figured out how to organize it. (I’m sure there were smarter localities that probably did. BTW, the photo isn’t of anyone I know.)

I previously posted on car-sharing your own car; in the end I opted to sell it instead and become car-free.

Rosenberg divides the new sharing economy into what are called full mesh schemes (like Zipcar) and own-to-mesh (like Airbnb, etc). Full mesh means a company owns something and rents it out (as in cars, for Zipcar) and own-to-mesh is a gazillion little owners renting out what they have, like Airbnb, or like the personal car sharing companies I talked about in my previous post.

I never understood why people didn’t share WiFi in small apartment buildings or areas that could be wired appropriately – like they already do in office buildings or hotels. Obviously, the telcos have much dinero to lose and that’s why they’ve “encouraged” everyone to lock up their WiFi. (For those of you who’ve been on it a long time, you know this was not always the case and most people didn’t password-protect their service when it was first rolled out.)

I’ve even heard of people who make their monthly rent by renting out a few nights on Airbnb and staying elsewhere – even, at times, in their cars (if they have them) – which seems a little extreme to me, but hard times can call for desperate measures. Maybe Airbnb is the 21st Century equivalent of the “rent party?”

But how does this all work in a system where the economy is dependent on consumerism and continued consumer spending, largely made possible by debt? Well, the answer is kind of simple. It doesn’t work for that kind of economy.

Perhaps we’re on the threshold of something new, both for the way we live our lives and for the health of our yearning to be sustainable, finite planet. (But expect a lot of wailing and gnashing along the way. It won’t be pretty.)

 

Adventures in CarFree L.A.: My One Month Without Wheels

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I'm not in this line.

I’m not in this line.

Well, it’s been a month! I sold my car on June 7. It’s been 30 days without a car, and so far the world has not come crashing in on me.

Mostly, I knew what I would encounter. Since I work at home, there was no commute for that on a daily basis.

I’d already experimented with grocery shopping using my bike, now outfitted with panniers. So I knew that worked – if anything, the only thing I’d say about this month with no car at my beck and call, is that there were fewer to no impulse “treats” bought — like if I really really wanted that Haagen-Dazs or chilly refreshing root beer, I’d have to walk over or get on the bike. So there was less of that. My waistline is grateful.

I did experiment with going to the beach using public transport. I took the Red Line subway to the Wilshire Boulevard Rapid Bus #720, picking it up at Vermont. It deposits you right at Palisades Park, Ocean Avenue and Wilshire in Santa Monica, so you get right to the beach (a short walk down the steps and over the pedestrian bridge spanning Pacific Coast Freeway Highway). The good: it gets you right there, for a total cost of $3 (that’s with 1 transfer, I bought a day pass for $5 which made more sense), I was able to read on the bus (Kindle on Android) and I got a seat both ways, which surprised me since it was a heat-wave Sunday, there was very little waiting time — that bus runs every few minutes, and the subway runs about every 10 minutes. No paying for parking at the beach or searching endlessly for a free space somewhere. The not-so-good: it takes forever to get there and get back, between 1.5 hours and 2 hours each way! 

So, if you’re spending a couple of hours on the sand, is it worth it to make what is basically a 4 hour round trip (it’s around 20 miles, give or take a few, across the urban congestion of L.A. and West L.A.)? I think that for me personally, next time I’ll plan to spend the day there doing things in addition to my sunworshipping on the sand. That way, it seems more reasonable for the distance and also, travel times would be both later and earlier, thus hopefully a bit shorter.

Then again, one of the tenets to car-free living in a gigantic place like Los Angeles is that you basically “live” in your neighborhood. The beach is not in my neighborhood, so I have to accept that. What I will say is that it’s pretty much a nightmare getting there from the valley with a car as well — unless you leave at 4 a.m.

I had one minor accident/mishap, totally my fault, and not on the street. It was in the lobby of my apartment building, where I foolishly decided to back up while still astride my bike. I got my foot caught in the pedals and fell backwards on top of the thing. I’m OK, and so it the bicycle, but it was a little bloody.

I’ll spare you a photo of that.