I lived in Los Angeles for 18 months without a car. Here's what I learned.
On October 15, 2014 I was driving my pretty spectacular 2006 Nissan Sentra- recently paid off, with less than 100,000 miles on it- on Fletcher Drive over the LA River when I accidentally smashed into the back of a stationary box truck going about 8 miles an hour. Devastation.
The insurance company told me it was totaled. They cut me a check for 8 grand and I decided, on October 20, 2014 that I would cash the check and go "6 months" without a car, to "save some money."
Well, it's now March 17, 2016. I made it 18 months (!!)
I bought a car today, but here's what I learned during the 18 months I lived in Los Angeles without a car:
1. Los Angeles has a very effective public transportation system (If you aren't scared of the bus). Here's a map of the LA Metro, including bus routes:
Look at that. Look how far you can go on a bus or a train. People say you can't get around LA without a car. They're lying. You can. In the past year and a half I've taken trips that span the entire city. Once I took a trip from the furthest reaches of Altadena to Westwood all without using a car.
2. Los Angeles is a huge city. When I say huge, I mean, the hugest most gigantic enormous slab of unending pavement ever. I don't think you can ever fully appreciate the size of this city until you find yourself without a car. When we drive, we lose perspective on how far away everything actually is. For example: Santa Monica is 25 miles from Silver Lake. In a car, on a Sunday morning (without traffic) that's a 35 minute drive. In any other city on Earth (NYC, London, Chicago, etc.), going 25 miles (aka 10 miles further than the distance from LaGuardia to Wall St. Downtown Manhattan) would take welllllll over an hour on a train. People in LA are never going to ditch their cars until they realize that it is perfectly acceptable to take an hour to travel from Downtown LA to the beach. Perspective.
3. Lyft (and Uber) is. a. godsend. Now that I've spent two paragraphs lauding the efficiency of LA's public transportation, I'm here to say that LA is still a very very difficult place to navigate without a car. You're sitting at a Starbucks on Lake Blvd in Pasadena tutoring a high school student and you need to meet a friend in Hollywood for dinner by 6pm. Tutoring finishes at 5. Good luck finding a way to get there that doesn't involve teleportation or....using Lyft (or Uber; I prefer Lyft because the drivers are nicer and the company isn't as douchey). I honestly don't know if I could have made it 18 months without ridesharing services.
4. People are really neat. When you drive everywhere you never get to fully appreciate how neat people really are. You just never interact with them. All kinds of people. White people, black people, latino people, old people, young people, gay people, trans people. Poor people, rich people, annoying people, funny people. The things people do when they're face to face with other people are often really sweet. Heart-warming. People can be really horrible, too, sure. But most of the time, people are really neat. They're not just "interesting", they're neat.
Unfortunately, most of us miss out on how neat people really are because we're always driving by them at 40, 50, 60 mph in our own personal box with our own personal music and our own personal thoughts. Maybe the world wouldn't be so f*cked up if we all got out of our aluminum boxes and met some people....... (eh. probably not. but people are still super neat!)
5. Driving makes people angry. Driving is kindof like the internet. You're in your own little box. Everyone else is whizzing by you and you don't really know them. You can't even see their face (usually). So, you can do whatever you want, because they'll never know you either. You know those comments sections on political articles? They're always filled with angry people. That's kinda like driving. Someone cuts you off: HONKKKKKKK. Someone's going too slow, or forgets to go for 4 seconds when the light turns green: GIVE THEM THE FINGER, "MOVE IT YOU A$$HOLE!".
6. Los Angeles is a really interesting city. You don't get to see much of it when you're flying through it at 60 mph, but really. It's interesting. The infrastructure. The history. The people. It's quite beautiful, too. You'll never see that speeding down Santa Monica Blvd at 35 mph.
7. Not just poor people take the train. In fact, some really hot guys take the train ;)
8. You learn to get creative. Getting anywhere takes planning. Lots of planning. People who drive are late because they don't plan for the trip. When you don't have a car, you really need to get creative. It becomes almost a game, and you really learn to maximize the usefulness of apps like NextBus and Google Maps (transit option). And I can't even count how many times I've sprinted from the Gold Line platform to the Red Line platform to catch the earlier train and save 10 minutes.
9. One mile is not a far distance to walk. Google Maps says the bar is 1 mile away. To an Angeleno that might as well be Missouri. But I promise - the 15 minutes it takes to walk that mile will be 15 minutes well spent. So go ahead. Walk it. You might even get some exercise...
And, you might even encounter some neat people along the way.