Why We Don't Drive In Los Angeles: LAist Readers React
As a city of scale and congestion, getting around Los Angeles isn't easy for anyone. More so than any other city in the country, Angelenos waste hours of their life sitting behind the steering wheel of a personal car in the slow and unmoving traffic of personal vehicles.
At the same time, millions of people SoCal go car-free every day. According to data from the American Community Survey, just about 1/5th of the households in Los Angeles city go every day without a car.
Of the 1.3 million households in L.A. city, 280,000 of them are entirely car-free. Using U.S. Census data that says the average household size in the city is precisely 3.02 persons, back-of-the-napkin math suggests around 800,000 people are car-free. This figure doesn't include other cities like Santa Monica, Culver City, Huntington Park, or any of the other 84 cities in L.A. County. While that figure is a rough estimate, the point stands that despite L.A.'s reputation as an autopia, an enormous number of people live and work here without the help of a personal vehicle.
When we asked Angelenos earlier this year why they have such a hard time with public transportation, the answer boiled down to, basically, convenience. For lots of people who live in Southern California, it's simply much more convenient and to drive (even in traffic) than to negotiate public transportation.
In the interest of journalistic fairness, we figured we should ask to hear from our readers who who regularly and consistently use a mode of transportation other than a personal vehicle to get around. We received an overwhelming response. The 500 individual responses we received portray a lively Los Angeles where the 405, the 10 and the 101 freeways may as well not exist.
So, why don't people drive in Los Angeles? We've included several responses below for you to read, but themes like the expense of maintaining a personal vehicle, the physical and mental anxiety caused by driving and the reality that driving, depending on where you live, isn't always faster than other styles of transportation consistently showed up in our responses.
It's also important to note that just because someone is 'car-free', it doesn't necessarily mean that they rely exclusively on public transportation. Buses and trains are certainly one form of transit distinct from personal cars, but so are bicycles, vanpools, ride-hailing services (like Uber and taxis) and your own two feet.
This November, Metro will ask voters for a 1/2 cent sales tax increase in order to speed up the construction of more than two-dozen major transit projects. The end goal is to give all Angelenos more options to help them get from A-to-B without a personal vehicle. While sure, somebody who lives in, say, Granada Hills and commutes to Santa Monica has little choice but to own a car and slog along on the 405 each day right now, that commute could turn into a quick jaunt on two rail lines if Metro is able to build what the the agency has proposed.
Traffic in L.A. isn't going to get better, and these responses offer insight into how Angelenos avoid it right now, and likely how even more will escape it in the future.
Parking in my neighborhood is a nightmare, as is the traffic, stress and expenses of driving. Going car-free started as a two week experiment to explore transit options, but then I realized it was far more livable than I thought. I went to Italy for 3 weeks on the money I saved. I feel very free. My expenses and stresses have gone way down, I get more exercise, I feel more like I live in a vibrant city and less stuck in a bubble. I just pretend I'm on vacation and exploring when I'm out, and that makes it fun and helps me see sides of the city I never would otherwise.
The downside is that I have to plan ahead for special events, or errands that are far away or that include transporting physical baggage. Metro and Uber are usually great but once in a while a bus will take forever or pass you, or your phone will die when you need an Uber. Sometimes life just doesn't go your way, whether you have a car or not. The hassles aren't worse than when you circle for hours to look for parking or are stuck in traffic or have a flat tire or whatever. It's just different.
And, yes, sometimes you interact with people who are homeless or suffering. While some people would do anything to avoid experiencing interactions with strangers, honestly I think it's one of the benefits. I often see people help each other on the street and show kindness and patience, and it's inspiring. It has reminded me how to be street smart and gentle instead of sheltered. It reminds me of my humanity and how lucky I am to have the life I do. When you step out of your bubble, you see the best and worst of humanity... that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
The whole entire city is connected by transit and becoming more so each month. You really can get anywhere. But, ultimately, going car-free is about taking your life and time back. Even if it takes more time to get somewhere, you will be saving hours of your personal time by taking your hands off of the steering wheel, and being able to dedicate them to other activities. My commute by car, between downtown L.A. and Irvine, was a waste of 3 hours of my life. I Once I tried using public transit and saw how well it worked, I sold my car to save money. I save at least $200 per month and gain 3 hours a day back into my life. I use it to work, read, catch up on personal emails or sleep. What can be hard are the the rare times I need to get somewhere quickly or move on short notice.
Living without a car forces you to connect with your environment, and it can lead to wonderful conversations and meaningful connections. The bus system isn't that bad at all. You just have to be patient; download a podcast and bring a book. It helps, if you're physically able, to be open to walking as well. The weather here is so wonderful that it's almost a crime to be outside. A mile isn't at all that far to walk, and really only takes about 15 minutes. I promise you'll be fine if you get a little sweaty. As for errands, I usually have a friend take me to do laundry once a month. There's a Ralphs about a 10 minute walk from where I live, and sometimes i go to the Trader Joe's in WeHo after work and bus or Uber home.
I hate driving. It causes me stress, especially here with the constant traffic and chaos on the roads. So that's reason one. I also hate dealing with parking, and all the annoyance that having a car in a dense urban area brings. It's also partly ideological. Planning for cars destroys many of the best parts of living in a city, such as walkability and attractive street life. I don't want to be part of the problem, especially when I don't need to be. I also find that the near-constant traffic in many parts of the city means that driving and parking at popular places can sometimes be only slightly faster than taking transit. Once you're off the bus or train, you're there. You don't need to circle the block a million times or deal with a valet. For those who want to go car free, the most important thing to do is to live in a walkable neighborhood where your daily needs close by, and you can get to work/school easily on transit. Ideally, live near a rail station so you can get across the city quickly without worrying about traffic. I planned my move to LA based largely on where I'd be going to school and minimizing that commute, which turned out to be a great decision. Take advantage of delivery services if possible. And be sure to get a few apps that'll give you real-time info on bus/train arrivals. Transit App and Citymapper are good. These complement Google Maps nicely and help you minimize wait times at stations.
I'm unable to drive due to a medical condition, so I've really always been car free. Without a car, you really get to know all the different neighborhoods in L.A. Where people in their cars are all alone, you're always around people and not feeling isolated on transit. Instead of being stressed and driving, you're able to relax and do things like read while out and about. The downside is that it takes a lot longer to get from one place to the next, you always have to rely on a schedule, and it's not easy to go to remote places like Big Bear.
Glory, Highland Park
I moved to Los Angeles nearly three years ago. I realized that once became comfortable using public transportation that I only used my car to move for street parking. Driving in Los Angeles is stressful. Between traffic, having to find parking, and having to figure out what to do with my car if I have to leave it someplace overnight, I figured I'd be better off not dealing with it anymore. Being car-free allows me to either get more work done or relax when I'm getting from point A to B, whereas driving doesn't give me either option.
Also, my car was just costing me money. Paying for registration and insurance on a car that was getting minimal usage didn't make sense for me personally. And even though I use uber/lyft more than I used to, I still end up saving myself money in the long run.
Going car-free is not for everyone, but it is easier than we are conditioned to believe. Depending on your daily routines, it will likely take more time to get around without a car, but you will save money. It just requires some patience and a willingness to adjust habits. There are tradeoffs for owning a car (more expensive, more responsibility) as there are for not owning a car (more time, more planning). The best: saving money and getting daily exercise.
The worst: some parts of the city are not designed for people who aren't driving and as such, when I have to go to those areas, they are hard to reach and unpleasant to experience without a car.
I save a lot of money (no car payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, tickets, parking, etc.). I get more exercise, and I don't have to deal with (or cause) traffic. I notice a lot more of the city. Sometimes this isn't necessarily a pleasant thing, but I would still characterize it as "good" because I value the fact that I actually experience the city I live in on a human level. I have to confront problems like homelessness face to face, which I appreciate because they are real problems, and ignoring them from your car doesn't help solve them. At the same time, from my seat on the bus or from my bicycle saddle I've also seen some of the most heartening examples of people being good to one-another and discovered hidden gems in Los Angeles that the motorists just whiz by. In short, not having a car allows you to be a member of a community. When you go from private house to private car to private office and never engage with strangers in a public space, you lose a little bit of your humanity.
Of course, not having a car is being made to understand, through the words or actions of motorists, usually, that you are a second-class citizen whose safety is less important than their convenience. I've had bad experiences as a pedestrian in Los Angeles (who hasn't?) like almost being run over by cars that were turning corners, running red lights, or blowing through crosswalks.
Basically, the worst thing about not having a car in Los Angeles is the people that have cars
I have been car free for my entire life. A car is out of my budget, and I love bike commuting. I save a lot of money simply by not having a car. Though, sometimes, weird stuff happens. A hysterical cop who didn't like that I made a left turn once screamed at me. The turn wasn't illegal, I didn't slow traffic or cause any drivers any issues, but the cop screamed at me like he was about to kill me. He told me I can only ride on the sidewalk and only make crossings at crosswalks, which is completely false. A lot of police have no idea how the traffic laws apply to cyclists.
I commute all over the city without a car. I go regularly to Northridge, Venice, Lennox, and Manhattan Beach using almost only Metro transit. I always have time since I'm not driving. Driving is such dead time. But, as for being car free, it's a lifestyle in and of its self. I carry a heavy backpack with me everywhere filled with ANYTHING I may need at all times. Being out and about you realize just how stranded you can be. Your bus is ten minutes away but the nearest drug store is a 7 minute walk. The next bus won't come for another hour. The choice to stop to use a bathroom can add an hour to your commute. You learn to plan WAY ahead. Every choice you make has a very immediate consequence.
I like the excuse to be more active, and it saves me money for other priorities. driving and parking is stressful. I also think it's important to set an example for what's possible and be a part of the market that supports car-free/car-light advancements like car-share, Uber/Lyft, parking-free housing developments, transit ridership, etc. The best part are the savings and never having to worry about parking, drunk driving, etc. However, there is inconvenience when making out-of-town trips. But the amount I save each month is enough to rent a car every other weekend if I wanted to.
The most important thing you can do is live and work near transit. At least one is almost essential. Too many people say "I could never live without my car because I don't live near transit," but fail to recognize that where they choose to live is a choice. If they're really serious about giving it a try, they need to think about how transportation relates to their other life choices. It's not something you can choose to do in isolation. I'd also note that if you live in a 2+ car household, it's much, much easier to go car-lite by getting rid of one car and sharing the remaining one between your other housemate(s).
It always helps to have patience with public transportation. Even cities like New York which are known for reliable public transit often break down. You can get stranded. Use an app that tracks when the bus or train will come. 95% of the time, it's accurate (I use SmartRide). Don't be afraid of people who look different from you or have had a different experience than you. We're all people.
Bridget, West Covina
I like not worrying about traffic and seeing things on the bus and train that you don't otherwise see. You are more familiar with areas from walking and taking the bus. The drawback is just not having a car. You can't do things on your own without assistance. You have to wait forever for a bus sometimes. People are creepy on the bus. It takes you longer to get to anywhere and it eliminates a lot of choices for things to do or how to do them. And you have to rely on other people to help you out. I need help when I have to go take my dog somewhere or get groceries.
I'd rather have others deal with the headache that is driving around in traffic here in Los Angeles. I can chill and read instead of pull my hair out as I deal with driving in traffic. Being at the mercy of the not so always accurate bus schedule and occasional bus strike (which can last weeks or a month plus) is the down side. Try riding around either on public transportation or on a bicycle, for a week—or maybe a little longer—and see if it is for you. Some people may enjoy the freedom of going car free while others would probably hate it. It's not for everyone of course.
I don't have a car mostly to save on car payments. The best part is the huge decrease in stress from not having to deal with traffic. It's is so much less stressful than sitting in traffic, even if it takes a bit longer.
Tara, Downtown L.A.
There are no costs associated with not having a car. No note, repairs, gas, insurance, maintenance or parking. Not having to be the driver in traffic is also such a stress reliever. People in L.A. are generally pretty lazy. It takes a little bit of effort, thought and time to get where you need to go without a car outside of the daily commute, but it's more then possible to do (with my current work/ living situation). You get to see and experience a lot more. My job provides a stipend for those who don't drive to work but even without it I save about $400 a month. Even though I am able to afford a car, it just makes sense not to have one.
My life a is happier one, believe it or not.