At the midpoint of each month, I will be writing a brief field report of my experience as a car-less LA resident. I landed here on November 2, 2016, so this post will constitute the first of those reports.
If you're considering an existence in LA without wheels, you'll want to read all of this.
I moved to LA with a rather average setup. My house is located in West Adams, right between Downtown and Koreatown. Both of these neighborhoods are highly accessible by the LA Metro and buses, but my community is just far enough from the Metro to necessitate either a bike, bus, or Lyft ride. This is the typical setup for most Angelenos living east of Hollywood. The subway isn't far, yet it's still a bit of a walk to reach the closest station.
Because I work as a freelancer, with most of my jobs being done remotely, I decided to pick a primary work venue to commute to: for the sake of making this experiment applicable to the majority of commuters who journey back and forth to one workplace. My chosen venue, Philz Coffee, is situated in Downtown on Hope Street. On most business days, I leave my house around 9 AM, head to Philz, work there for several hours, and head off by 3 PM - on foot - for the gym, Staples, Trader Joe's, and other errand-related destinations.
More complicated is spontaneously meeting up with friends. This is where I predicted not owning a car would be challenging. When a buddy calls you up and invites you to grab drinks at a Silver Lake dive bar, you often won't have time to plan an efficient route there via public transit. If your friend isn't driving to the bar and passing by your neighborhood, you will most likely have to summon a Lyft or Uber to ferry you there efficiently.
Now, speculation aside, here's what living in LA without a car has actually been like.
LA is a city rife with sensory temptations like Korean food, repertory film screenings, and group fitness classes. Over time, these temptations can do serious damage to one's checking account. I am by no means a wealthy person, but not owning a car and not being responsible for the costs of keeping it running has made it fiscally possible for me to enjoy more of what LA has to offer.
Here's what my November transit expenditures looked like:
1 monthly LA Metro and bus pass - $100
3 separate Lyft rides - $15 each (average)
1 Super Shuttle ride from LAX - $25
4 Single ride Metro fares - $1.75 each
Total transit expenditures for November = $177
This, my friends, is one hell of a deal. Owning a car in California is ludicrously expensive. Between the high gas prices and insurance rates, and the routine costs of yearly maintenance, the average Angeleno can expect to pay upwards of $4,000 to keep their car on the road for a year.
A healthy account balance isn't the only thing I've built up by being an LA pedestrian. Walking at least one mile each day has been great for my legs and overall fitness. I've had defined calf muscles since junior high school, but now, they're really noticeable. In addition, I've lost some weight, dropping from 218 pounds to 215.5 pounds in just over one month. I was in fine shape upon moving out here, but walking everywhere has made it easier to stay trim while enjoying caloric delicacies like Jiro-style ramen and local craft beers.
Perhaps the best perk of walking in LA is the tranquility of the act. There have been studies that suggest strolling and stress reduction go hand-in-hand. I'm no stranger to anxiety and I've found most of my walks here to be pleasant and restorative. LA's modern architecture and bustling business districts are a collective feast for the senses. The air temperature is well-balanced: cool enough for jeans and a light jacket, but not hot enough to leave you dripping with perspiration. Unlike New York, where the streets are teeming with pedestrians, you've got plenty of walking space in LA, which is inherently relaxing. This is a timely convenience. Lest we forget, the past few weeks have been fraught with alarming news. I can say, with confidence, that walking around LA has helped me control any distress caused by reading about those news events.
Here's a recent experience that illustrates the meditative benefits of the pedestrian lifestyle. The other night, I was on the Metro Purple Line, reading an Ann Patchett book and heading home. This is something I couldn't have done while driving home. The chapter I was on became so absorbing that I missed my stop and didn't realize the error until the train reached its Wilshire-Western Station, its final stop. This added 20 minutes to my commute, but so what? I arrived home in a deeply serene state, which is more than most drivers here can say.
Everyone in LA is routinely late. The traffic all but guarantees this, and the public transit here is vulnerable to such delays as well. Unfortunately, all of us still have obligations for which we cannot be late. Whether it's a business meeting or a doctor's appointment, a commitment in which punctuality is key requires advance transit planning.
For most people, this involves predicting traffic and planning a route that avoids the congestion. But when you don't have a car, you only have one option. Leave early. How early depends on the mode of transportation you choose. These are the buffer times that I've found to be safest.
Walking - 10 minutes extra
Lyft/Uber - 15 minutes extra
Metro - 20 minutes extra
Bus - 30 minutes extra
Having to leave yourself a wide margin for lateness qualifies as a snag because it's annoying: like having a fee tacked onto a bill. It can balloon your commuting time significantly, to the point where you're spending just as much time sitting in traffic as a driver. The key difference here is that the driver has more control over changing their route on the fly. Unless you're in a Lyft or an Uber, your options are comparably limited: stay the course, or get off at the next stop and try a different mode of transit.
On a more localized scale, the most significant snag I've run into concerns one of the bus lines that services my neighborhood. The 206 bus, which takes me to the Metro in less than 10 minutes, is often absurdly late. Sometimes, after dark, it doesn't even show up. This has prompted me to order Lyft rides on more than one occasion. The other bus lines - the 37 and the 207 - are more reliable, but less direct. If I'm in a hurry to get to the Metro, waiting for one of those buses to come is not the best option.
Altogether, my first month of pedestrian living here in LA has been a success. I've managed to commute, work, and lead a fulfilling social life without a vehicle. I've been able to remain in a financially comfortable position. For LA today, that's an accomplishment.
How this success will hold remains to be seen. In the coming months, I will be pursuing three goals: finding new editorial clients, optioning or selling a horror spec script, and dating. All of these activities will involve meeting other people throughout LA and there will be no space for tardiness. Some of these meetings could be set up hastily, with as little as a phone call and place to reach within an hour or two. They will also present the challenge of having to look like a smooth professional without owning a car. It is likely that both of these factors will increase my monthly transit expenditures.
I'll let you know how it all goes early next year, on January 15th. Until then, keep on walking.