Life Without Wheels: Chronicle of a Car-Free Lifestyle

My Blue Huffy


As we get closer to "winter" in Southern California, I will undoubtedly be giving my bicycle a rest and jumping on the #16, #316, or #720 buses to get to and from work (don't even ask all the buses I take to get other places!).  The point of this blog is to give readers an idea of how I get along without a car. I don't want to say it's all negative, because it's not; however, Diane Burke from Albany wrote a letter to the editor of the Times Union. She makes a great case for why public transit is important and why cutting bus stops and limiting bus service can place a real hardship on many different population segments. Thanks, Diane, for such a well-worded, concise, and thoughtful letter!
I don't know how I'm going to do this, but it's just a few minutes past midnight, and I have to be up in 5 hours so I can hop on the bike again. That's another crummy thing about commuting: if you tend to enjoy hitting (no pounding into oblivion) the snooze button, you are SOAL, which I will be tomorrow. =(
Also known as Day 4...  Bicycling is unlike driving in many ways, obviously. One of the less obvious, perhaps, is that you can't take a lot of stuff around with you. You have to cram everything into one self-sufficient little backpack and maybe an extra bag.  Today was a yoga day, so I had my backpack and my yoga mat bag.  As you can see, that's a lot of stuff to carry around. The backpack goes in my rear side saddle bike basket; the blue bag gets slung over my back. I look like a homeless person carrying everything I own, when actually, I'm carrying very little.

To start the morning, I thought I'd link you all to an interesting article by Stan Sesser in the WSJ about taking the metro to cultural destinations in Los Angeles. I feel a little scooped, since I've been doing this for more than a year, and like the writer, I'm a professional not a "failure", as he cites is the preconception of anyone who takes the bus in LA. Anyways, it's an interesting and short little read.  Check back later this afternoon for an exciting post about how I didn't get run over today!  Update: for those of you in the Berkeley area (or in DC) these ladies have written some interesting points on taking the bus in those cities.  Here's the story of me not getting run over or the story of me almost getting run over or the story of the man and woman in the volvo who almost committed manslaughter. Call it what you want.  I'm on my bike, of course, traveling West on 4th Street, having just crossed La Brea. 4th Street generally ends about three blocks after La Brea, due to the large apartment complex of Park La Brea. The road becomes very narrow there because many people park on the street (in both directions) and there really is just enough room for one  car to go safely. If two cars are oncoming to each other, one usually slows and let's the other safely pass. There is enough room, but it's tight.  So as a cyclist, when you are on a narrow road, one of the things you don't do is hug the curb. Any second, a driver can open their car door, and you're toast! Also, you're more visible if you ride in the center of the lane. Also, there is a stop sign at every block of this stretch of 4th. One of the things you're also taught as a cyclist is that in tight traffic areas, or places with lots of stop signs, it's safer to be seen--so ride in the middle of the lane, not on the side.  So I'm riding in the middle of the lane, and this guy and his gal in a black volvo (wish I had the license plate so I could call 'em out for this crap), are behind me, and they decide they want to pass me. Now here's the deal, I'm fine with cars passing me. I mean, I'm on a bike! Of course, you're going to go faster. But when there's a stop sign every 20 feet, what is the point of you passing me until you can do so safely? So first he tries to pass me by pulling up alongside me at the stop sign, so he's basically parked on the wrong side of the road. Since I stopped there before him, I continue to pull out across the intersection, and a few seconds later, so does he. Then he decides he's REALLY going to pass me, or not. He starts to pass me, but instead of pulling in front of me fully, he starts to bank right, basically forcing me over until I almost run into the cars parked on the street.  At this point, I'm fearing for my life because he's about to run me over, all so he can pass me. So I yell out at him, "What the F*** are you doing? Either pass me or don't, but don't run me off the road!"  Follow the jump for more...

Well, well, well...Tarfest "Marathon"...

So I push myself out the door, crank up the tunes, and head West on 4th towards La Brea. (I'm going to skip over the part where I almost ran over a pedestrian because he didn't look both ways before crossing the street and stepped out RIGHT in front of me, while I was going at least 15 mph. NOTE TO PEDESTRIANS EVERYWHERE: When you were little, your mother or father or someone taught you to stop and look both ways before crossing the street FOR A REASON! Okay, enough said.)

So heading West on 4th, waiting for the traffic light at La Brea to change and let me turn left and head down to cross Wilshire, but OF COURSE, there's a marathon that has Wilshire closed off at La Brea. Freaking A!

Rather than bike down to see if I could cross (which, if I couldn't would make me late to class) I turned around, rode back to Highland, and cut South to 8th Street and across to La Brea. Does anyone know a blog or twitter account out there that lists all the possible route issues for bicyclists in particular?

Well, tonight I need to do laundry, so I'll update you on what it's like pushing a massive cart of clothes to a laundromat. Maybe there will be pics too!

Update: I'm in for the night, everyone. I'll tell you about laundry tomorrow...

One of the most irritating things about the metro system or biking in LA is how early I have to get up to do anything. I know 8am doesn't seem early, but it's Sunday, and sleeping in a little would be heavenly. But alas, ballet class starts at 10am, and I like to get there a half hour early, and it's a 30 minute bike ride. Yuck. It's only a 5-minute car ride. =(

This inaugural entry is titled Day 376; however, it's actually been longer that this experiment has been underway. Below is a short history:

In the Summer of 2008, during what I call my "photography season" (because I have a weekend gig during spring/summer doing portraiture of little children in their dance recital costumes), I decided that, due to the ailing nature of my 2000 Hyandai Elantra, I would attempt to make it to all my shoots without driving, as well as to work, the dance studio, etc. I would only drive once a week, for errands and such.

I did end up driving to a couple of shoots, but I also "metro'd" to Orange County from Koreatown, LA, and did a lot of carpooling. I also began, at that time, riding my bicycle to work (at LACMA) which is  a fair 5 mile straight-shot from my apartment. No biggie, right? Well, in August/September the experiment began to wear on me, and I began driving into work more and more. On September 4, 2008, I was on my way to work at approximately 10am. As I turned into the underground parking garage at the museum, a speeding motorcyclist broadsided my vehicle (going so fast that his motorcycle flipped over the top of my car and landed several yards away). I'm not going to go into the details of the accident, i.e., whose fault it was, etc. (I do believe he was at fault--especially since he ran into me--but I could never prove it in court, unfortunately.) Anyhow, after a two-week-insurance-paid vacation in a rental car, I became one of the many officially transportation-less in Los Angeles, CA.

Well, the experiment became reality. For more than a year now, I have suffered the pains and triumphed in the joys of frequenting the Los Angeles County Metro system and of being a bicyclist trying not to get run over in LA.

This blog has many goals: first, to give others out there who think they can't abandon their cars occasionally and walk, ride, or take the bus in LA the empowerment to believe they can. Secondly, perhaps my thoughts and daily observations of the trials of the LA transportation system will help (in some way, maybe???) make it better. Third, I know there are other people out there like me: professionals in LA who have chosen to live life sans wheels. I'd like to hear from them and see if we can't make a dent in the "car culture" of Los Angeles. I have to apologize and say that for me this is not about "being green" or environmentally conscious in any way. I became a proponent of public transit merely by chance and circumstance, although I welcome all those motivated by such trends to comment and join in the discourse.

That being said, I'll now proceed to tell you today's transportation story.