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.
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.
- 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.
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.