Tag Archives: CarFree

End of the Car Age: We Can Always Hope


“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?






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

Costs of a Car-Free Life, cont.


20140622_110633_resized MMMMMMk, since I’ve recently seen various online laments about friends’ car misadventures and repair costs, thought I’d share my most recent (or actually, only) bill from bike maintenance that I’ve had in the last year.

I’ve been car free for a little over a year, and use my bike on almost a daily basis for commuting, for shopping, for local errands. Finally, it needed a tuneup and some new parts.

I didn’t have a kickstand, so I asked the good folks at Orange 20 Bikes to put on on. My brakes were worn down, so they needed new pads and tightening and a new cable, which is line-itemed here. Then, of course, was the lube and gear tune up, for which they charge $45 – and where they do a number of other checks such as air pressure, tire truing, tightening bolts, etc.

The thing about a bicycle is it’s not very complicated, so it’s not going to cost very much to maintain. So here are my current year maintenance costs: $70.62. I got the good guy discount for working on the same block (10%). This I can afford!

When I had a car that needed servicing, seems I could never get out of there without spending at least $300 every time. Guess I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

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


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

New Technology Makes Going CarFree Even Easier



It’s dawned on me that the days of going to a bus or train stop and just hoping that your ride comes along eventually are basically over — that is, with a little help from technology and smart phone apps.

Here in Los Angeles, the LA Metro system has its own app that tells you, in real time, when the next bus/train will arrive. So basically, this means you don’t have to leave your house/place of business/whatever if you don’t want to because you know exactly when the ride will arrive.

This is also helpful when making a connection – too common an occurrence here in L.A. The app can tell you in real time whether one option might be better than another based on real-time bus arrival times which you can access while on the first leg of your journey. This has the potential of shortening your time in transit.

And, to be honest, since going car-free almost a year ago I’ve had that moment here and there where I just thought, damn, it would be nice to get a ride. Well, now that’s easier too. There were always cabs – but you had to call them and wait and half the time they didn’t show up. With Uber or Lyft, the smartphone app does it all for you, including telling you how far away the car is, and since it’s going to be charged to your credit card on file, there’s no worry about having enough cash in your wallet should you decide on the ride on a whim.

These options make going car-free in our car-centric city that much easier, and makes it even less likely I’ll get another car soon. This time of year, even the bargain basement ARCO near my house currently has unleaded for over $4.20 per gallon. Ouch!

Speaking of Uber, I read they’re launching in Palm Springs. I couldn’t be happier! You know why? After living there for 10 years (part time) I met more of the rudest, assholest cabbies you could ever imagine. Who charge outrageous taxi rates in Palm Springs. So sorry if you’re now going to have to compete with ordinary Uber drivers. Maybe you’ll be a little nicer, even? Like they say, Karma is a bitch.

I’ve started commuting home one night a week on my bike (instead of taking it on the train). It’s about a 15 mile trip, from East Hollywood through Silver Lake/Los Feliz, then along the L.A. River bike trail and connecting in Burbank to the Chandler bike path to Valley Village. Not sure I’ll do it all year, but I’ve loved this trip in the evening spring light.

The Six Things I Like Best About Being CarFree — A Six Month Update

The Blogger, with chariot at night.

The Blogger, with chariot at night.

I’ve now been car free for six months – that’s right, car free in L.A., living without owning a car in Los Angeles. Here’s a status report, and my favorite things about this major lifestyle change.

  • Saving money! Absolutely, my favorite. My last car, the 2005 Scion Xa, cost just about $400 a month to own and operate over the period of time I owned it (almost exactly 8 years). So that’s $2,400.00 right there. I did have transportation expenses, though, so I must subtract those. Metro fares: $280. Car rental: $200. Bicycle expense (a new seat): $25. So let’s adjust: $2,400 – 505 = $1,895 I’ve saved so far. And, that doesn’t even account for the sale of my used vehicle, which was $6,000 (thank you, CarMax!). So I’m really ahead $7,895.00.
  • Keeping fit! I lost about 15 lbs. doing WeightWatchers earlier this year and have been able to keep that off since going CarFree with very little effort, which I attribute to all the walking and biking I do now. My default modes of transportation in preferred order are: foot, bicycle, train or bus, taxi, rental car or ZipCar or other car share service. I live in Southern California, so it’s quite rare that any particular day is not a good bike day.
  • Not Having to Find Parking! There was a time, when I first lived in L.A., probably the early eighties, when it was fairly easy to find street parking in almost any neighborhood and there were very few restrictions on parking. That world is gone! Parking had become very difficult and most often expensive (if you just succumbed to the valet or a garage) but now I’ve never had to pay to park my bike against a pole.
  • Never Having to Deal with Angry Drivers/Road Rage! There are a lot of angry drivers out there, sometimes they’re armed, sometimes they’re just fracking crazy and dangerous. I’ve yet to meet a raging urban walker or a raging bicyclist (though hey, it’s a crazy world, perhaps they exist. Yet they don’t have 2-ton weapons at their disposal).
  • Not Having to Remember Where I Parked My Car, or Worry About that (Insert Expensive Thing Here) I Left Inside It! There was always this nagging feeling that the apocalypse was there, just out of focus, that total disaster could happen at any moment and this Thing I depended on (the car) would be utterly destroyed or taken from me on a whim. To not have this object to worry about at all is a great freedom all its own.
  • Finally: Exposing the Myth that “You Need a Car to Live in L.A.!” No, you don’t. You don’t need to own a car to live in L.A. What the people who say that really mean is that THEY need a car to live in L.A., i.e., they’re not giving advice, they’re talking about themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of people living in the city who don’t own cars. If you step out of yours for a few moments, you might meet the real city.

A great resource for me has been Chris Balish’s book, “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.” It’s been my roadmap for much of this journey. Thank you, Chris!

Adventures in CarFree L.A.: going to the dentist

My Chariot, at its former home in Palm Springs.

My Chariot, at its former home in Palm Springs.

Another in my series of the occasional challenges of getting around town without a car.

This one being, the dentist — that I’ve gone to for over 20 years and is no longer near where I live. I moved (many, many times); he didn’t. So, I was presented with a couple of options: one of the philosophies around CarFree living is to live local, as in, to patronize and support your neighborhood businesses. I guess that means including dentists and doctors. So, I could’ve easily found several within walking distance of my home. They are legion, actually.

But there you have the rub: I didn’t want to change dentists. He’s a great dentist. He knows my mouth intimately (wait, that didn’t come out quite right . . .) But you know what I mean. There’s a fortune invested in those chompers.

So, I vowed to get to him, and I did. I live in Valley Village, west and south of North Hollywood, north of Studio City, and east of Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley. The dentist’s office is in West Hollywood near the Beverly Center. For those non-Angelenos reading this, it’s about a 10 mile trip if you’re a crow. There’s also an ancient mountain range between these two locations, sometimes known as the Hollywood Hills.

There is no easy, straight, one-line public transport option between these 2 points. So, I opted for the best alternative I could think of, which is to take my bike on the subway.

Pretty easy, actually, and the bike ride turned out to be my workout for the day. I live about one mile west of the North Hollywood Station of the Red Line. I ride there using the Chandler Bike Path.

I get on the Red Line subway there and get off at Hollywood Highland Station, just two stops, 8 minutes, never a delay. But it does take you over (well, under) that mountain range and deposits you directly into the heart of tourist Hollywood.

Tough getting back on the bike amid the Marilyns and the Zorros. But I prevail. Google Maps tells me the best bike route to my dentist (Melrose and La Cienega) is to take Orange Drive south to Willoughby, then Willoughby all the way west to La Cienega. From there it’s a quick couple of blocks down La Cienega to my destination.

Can I tell you how much I love that Google Maps gives you a car, public transport, bike and walk option for any direction? Even if they’re sometimes wrong, I actually think it works better than Metro’s own website “Trip Planner” function.

I know we’re supposed to hate the Google right now because it’s farming our brains for their own sleazy 1% profit but just for the minute I’m liking this.

So here’s my thoughts:

The good: Nice sunny day for a bike ride. Kind of nice that I don’t have to go to the gym for exercise, my transport is providing it. Being early afternoon on a Thursday, there’s not a lot of traffic and no crazy drivers. I get there with minutes to spare, thus the Google Maps direction timer was accurate.

The bad: Parts of Orange Drive, especially just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, are in terrible shape. Let’s be frank, the street sucks. It needs new asphalt. Why they made it a sharrow street is like torture for cyclists. Also, Willoughby is a sharrow street too (which means you’re supposed to share the lane with a car –  um, good luck). What we really need in Hollywood-West Hollywood is a dedicated east-west street with a full bike lane for riders.

Oh, and the cleaning and check-up went great. My teeth may last for another year!

Sold my Car: Car Free in Los Angeles


I finally did it.

Last week I sold my Scion to Carmax in Burbank and walked off their lot as a car-free man!

Buh-bye, little Scion

Buh-bye, little Scion (parked at Dad’s in MKE in 2009)

For those of you who’ve been following my increasing use of my bike, my feet and public transportation over that past few years, this probably won’t be coming as a huge surprise – but it’s still a rarity (to be car-free —  in Los Angeles, anyway) so I opted for this kind of mass explanation.

I gave up the car for many reasons:

  • Financial – my particular car cost me about $5K per year to own and operate, which is actually a low figure as far as autos go. These continue to be tough times and that will make a huge difference to my budget.
  • Environmental – I want to part of the solution, not a part of the problem, in any way that’s available to me – and this was one.
  • I don’t need it – I work from home; I’ve also figured out through enough trial and error and “dry runs” how to live the rest of my daily life quite easily without owning a car.
  • I don’t like to drive and I don’t like to park. Honestly, I’ve not enjoyed this process for years and years now. In L.A., it’s a nightmare! I’d rather leave it to the pros (like cabbies and train and bus drivers).

There are a few other reasons but these are probably the biggest. Having just spent the last month car-free, visiting relatives in New Orleans, it seemed like a good time.

Spontaneity will suffer, yes: we’ll have to make plans, anathema to some, I know. Also, note that I didn’t say that I’d never drive a car, I just won’t own one. There’s now a bunch of car-sharing options (like Zipcar) which makes much more economic sense to me than owning something which sits idle almost all the time.

True, I’ll have to forego those midnight, madcap trips to the beach to frolic in the sand and the waves – unless I want to spend the bucks for a cab out there – but the truth is those kind of nights ended long ago.

I intend to blog more about this as the process unfolds so make sure come back. Or, maybe you’ll just see me walking past you on the sidewalk as you sit behind the wheel, idling away in a traffic jam!

Here’s a great book which really helped me get to this place: Chris Balish’s How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.

10 reasons to salute L.A.s transportation future — liveable city, here we come

Meredith Portnoff and Jim Arnold (Jimbolaya) in front of City Hall at CicLAvia 2012.

Meredith Portnoff and Jim Arnold (Jimbolaya) in front of City Hall at CicLAvia 2012.

As I embark on my second car-free experiment – or maybe it’s car-light, seeing that I am driving to Santa Monica for some work-related meetings during it – it was heartening to see the Los Angeles Times put this slide show together on reasons to love L.A.’s promising transportation future.

I especially love the shout out for Union Station. Every time I’m walking down those halls I wish I had on my fedora and a nice broad shouldered double breasted suit – or some nice open-toed pumps, depending on the day. But I digress.

As for my car-free experiment, it’s a place in life I’ve been leaning to for quite a while. I actually have convinced myself that it’s perfectly reasonable to live the life I currently lead in Los Angeles without owning a car, and I’ve proved it on several previous car-free periods.

It’s cutting that cord finally (which would mean selling the car) which I haven’t quite been able to do.

And I admit, it’s all about peer pressure and societal assumptions – it has nothing to do with being able to get around or not. It’s a lifestyle choice. And of course, if it didn’t work out, I could always buy another one.

L.A. transport has certainly come a long way from the days when I first lived in the city, where the unreliable buses were part of the Southern California RTD (rapid transit district, or reason to drink, you take your pick). Since then, among other improvements, Metro has built subways and light rail, with more on the way, started their Metro Rapid bus routes, the Orange and Silver Line busways, etc. Although Angelenos will have a hard time believing it, our city has mass transit coverage right up there with New York and San Francisco.

Add to that walking, biking and the occasional cab, and it’s actually an option. I suppose it helps having grown up riding the bus, walking and biking. Those things I still do! Sometime in 2013, definitely.

Find the Walkscore where you live.


Yes, Virginia, it’s Easy and Cheap to take Public Transportation from the Valley to Long Beach


View Larger Map

Last Thursday, I had a lunch date with my friend and colleague Krys Grondorf, down at a place in Belmont Shore (Open Sesame) which is near where she lives. Time not being an issue, I decided to take the train options we have in Los Angeles to get to Long Beach, and document that trip for you here on the blog.

The trip involved two buses and two trains. It’s a distance of about 40 miles or so, according to calculations. I live in Valley Village, about a mile from the end of the Red Line Subway in North Hollywood. So I took the Orange Line (an express bus line that operates like a train, dedicated roadway with few stops) the one stop from Laurel Canyon to the North Hollywood Station.

From there, I took the Red Line Subway through Universal City, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Koreatown, etc. and got off at 7th Street/Metro Center, where I transferred to the Blue Line light rail.

The Blue Line runs mainly directly south after going east along Washington for a short distance just south of downtown L.A. It follows the previous right-of-way of the famous Pacific Electric Railway (red cars) which was dismantled after WW II – and then rebuilt in the 90s. I got off at the Long Beach Transit Mall, the end of the line, a couple of blocks from the ocean. I still had to take a bus, probably about 2 miles, to Belmont Shore. It was Passport Bus A or D, which I picked up around the corner from the Transit Mall.

I had a great lunch with Krys, walked around Belmont Shore for a bit, then took it all back to Valley Village.

Trip Time: about 2 hours each way

Cost: Each leg of the metro cost $1.50, debited from my TAP card. So that part of the trip cost $9.00, round trip. The bus in Long Beach was $1.25 each way, so the total cost of this trip was $11.50. According to the Trip Planner function on the Metro Website, the driving cost (round trip) would be $41.56 (which doesn’t include any parking fees that might be added). And actually, I think I could have used some kind of transfer for the Long Beach bus — but I didn’t know how to do that, so it would have been less than that $11.50.

So, it’s definitely doable. Would I do it every day? Hell, no. I did get a lot of reading done, and I did all my email and calls on the smart phone on the Blue Line. The nicest thing was the zero stress, and seeing parts of the city I don’t ever get a chance to see when driving. Oh, and there was a hooker on the Blue Line coming back, which was entertaining in its own way.

First, let me apologize about the crappy video below. I’m still learning how to use the smart phone video app, and the worst part about it is in bright daylight you can’t really see the image on the screen, so you’re pretty much shooting blind. Sorry about the last shot in Long Beach, I must’ve turned the camera off before I thought I did, and heaven knows why I turned the phone upside down. Ooops.

Carfree Week Wrapup


This is my car, a 2005 Scion Xa, parked in Shorewood on a visit

My one week long Carfree experiment is over today.

Honestly, it wasn’t all that much of an adventure, and there wasn’t any palpable angst involved. Meaning: it was really easy to not use a car for a week.

Why did I do it?

It’s a recommended activity in Chris Balish’s book “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car”, which I’ve been studying, wondering if I could really live in Los Angeles without one.

The answer is probably yes. I probably could, in fact with my current conditions for work (self-employed at home) and social engagements (so far I haven’t found any not within walk, bike, bus, train or taxi parameters) lend themselves well to not owning a car.

Will I go carless? I don’t know. I love the idea of saving $6,000 a year (that’s what the Edmunds website true cost to own tells me I’m spending on the car I actually own) and I love the idea of walking and riding my bike a lot, and I also love the idea of reducing my carbon footprint and actually walking the enviro walk, so to speak, trying to do something more than recycle my soda cans.

And can we talk parking? I have never enjoyed driving all that much, but parking is an activity I absolutely loathe.

But it’s interesting. It’s the social thing. I don’t want to become a social pariah (more than I already am!). When you mention the very idea to people, they become confused, it really doesn’t register in L.A. You get questions like, “oh, your car is in the shop?” “If you didn’t have a car, how would you get anywhere, how would you do anything, how would you get food?” Etc. It’s true, many white people have never been on public transportation and have no idea how to go about it. Also, walkers in L.A., except in a few neighborhoods, can be few and far between, so you do feel exposed and vulnerable.

I was telling a friend last night about my carfree week when he realized I had ridden my bike to the restaurant where we met. It was like it didn’t compute at all, like why would a sane person do such a thing?

Why indeed?