Car-Less in LA

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When I first said I was moving to LA without a car, it drew some surprised reactions. Many posited that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Others insisted the public transit options were unsafe, unreliable and poorly planned out. More noted how dangerous biking is and that walking is made difficult by hills, distracted drivers and large intersections. I am writing this piece to show they’re all wrong; now car-less in LA for several months I will demonstrate it.

LA is more like a suburb than a city, culturally. The residents often oppose new developments, housing and most critically new transit options. The CEQA law, intended to be for environmental safety is often used by affluent residents to combat any new development in their towns (in case you were wondering why there’s no metro rail extending beyond Hollywood). Many Angelenos view public transit as an option for the poor, immigrants, young and driverless (like people with DUI). They view driving their own cars as both a status symbol and a form of freedom. Yet they’re making their own city inhospitable with traffic by not exploring other options.

What are those other options? Let’s start with the bus. I live in West Hollywood. Several busses cross through my area. I can take the bus to the beach; Downtown; to the Valley; to central LA and Mid City; to Hollywood and the East Side. Pretty much anywhere I want to go, there’s a bus line. Stops are numerous, making it easy to walk. My commute from Norma Triangle to Fairfax by bus is 30 minutes. Sure that’s 15 minutes longer than if I had my own car, but why would I want to add to traffic as a solo commuter? To go 1.9 miles in a car by myself is not only selfish, its environmentally toxic, and causes more traffic. If you live within a short distance to work, the bus is an excellent option.

So what are the cons to the bus? While the busses are clean, safe, well operated and accept cash (huge plus!), their safety tends to become worse at night. While I haven’t had any issues, friends have had run ins with crazy homeless. No different than what I experienced on the subway back home in NYC though. The other con is when you need to transfer or go a longer distance to work. Busses sit in the same traffic, albeit with the advantage of bus lanes and being able to switch the light green on many lines. So if you have a super long commute, a bus may not be ideal — maybe a carpool or finding work closer to home is better. Although I’ve gotten Downtown at rush hour in under one hour from the Westside. Combining bus to metro can reduce time considerably.

So what about the metro? In a word: limited. However it’s constantly improving both access and service! The Expo line now extends to Santa Monica. When used in addition to busses for areas where service is lacking, it makes the rest of the leg of your trip shorter. LA County is currently trying to adopt plans for a Purple Line which will run along the Westside (but is facing opposition). Right now the metro is great for folks who live near it or have their job close to it. More and more people can say this because of vital expansion. However access is sorely limited on most of the Westside. Additionally, they often run too few cars at peak hours of operation.

So what about getting around locally? I walk. West Hollywood is one of the most walkable areas of LA, and is why I chose it in addition to its safety and centrality. I also understand this area is very pricey for some, so other areas may not be as walking friendly (I.e vital services nearby). I walk to the grocery store, deli, 7/11, post office, library, bars, UPS store, shopping, hair salon, nail salon. Everything is nearby. For those who maybe need a car to go a bit further, Uber/Lyft is super cheap in LA because there is a surplus of them. I use Uber/Lyft to go to laundromat and it never costs me more than $3.50! Other areas are just as walkable contrary to popular belief. Hollywood, Silverlake, Echo Park, Santa Monica, Westwood, Studio City, NoHo, Beverly Hills, Downtown — to name a few — are all walkable. The only people who can say that their area is not walkable are those who live in canyons or deep into the hills off an access road (Bird Streets West Hollywood is obviously not as walkable as Norma Triangle West Hollywood). Even then, there’s always biking and taking advantage of more bike lanes and bike rental programs like the one in West Hollywood.

Finally, how did I like driving in LA? I wanted the option of driving so that I could compare it to my car-less routine. The result? I hated it. According to an AllState insurance study, LA drivers rank almost dead last for metropolitan area drivers. Nationwide, drivers average a collision every 10 years. In LA, it is half that time at five years! Drivers are terrible here; they’re on their phones, unsure of how to merge, timid where aggression is required, smoking pot, and just bad urban drivers. I learned to drive in NYC (including Manhattan). I have the best defensive driving skills of cities around the world and these people tested my patience daily because of how distracted and poor they are at navigating dense areas. I also don’t think having a car helped cut down on time. At least when taking public transit I can get other things done; browse social media, write, read, do paper work etc. I economize my time better taking public transit than sitting in traffic. Also, parking is either expensive or very limited, so the small time you save driving is often eaten up by trying to find parking.

I will not own a car in this city. A big reason for that is cost. I can afford to live in the Norma Triangle area of West Hollywood because I have no car. A car is expensive anywhere but especially so in LA. Here you have to pay not only your payment and high cost of insurance but higher gas prices, monthly parking spot, parking for extracurricular activities, smog checks and the highest annual registration fees in the country. Conservatively people spend around $400 a month just to own an entry level economy car in Los Angeles, excluding pricey registration fees and added parking spot to rent. My entire monthly transit cost including occasional Uber’s is $115. I have time to do work whereas that wouldn’t be possible as a driver. I often arrive to places faster than friends because I don’t have to search for parking. I’m in excellent shape because I walk everywhere. All those savings allow me to live in one of the nicest neighborhoods of the city.

Going car-less isn’t for everyone. Those with kids or a job that requires errands/runs mandate a car. If my wildest dreams came true and I were made that producer’s assistant, I’d have to get a car to do their chores etc. Even then, many chores can be accomplished without a car. Grocery stores deliver, so too do dry cleaning services. However hopping around to studios and picking up packages and materials requires a car. If your job doesn’t require a car, explore public transit. Spend your time commuting doing something like writing instead of staring at traffic. The savings you generate alone could allow you to move to a better area or closer to work. It’s good for the environment and your sanity. So the next time someone says “you can’t do LA without a car!” tell them they’re wrong and encourage them to be open minded about other options through experiences versus tired suburban mentality stereotypes.

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