You can’t live in Los Angeles without a car. I mean, that’s what a lot of people say. It’s not true, but many L.A. residents believe it. Of course these are the same people who constantly gripe about gridlocked traffic, aggressive drivers, and scarcity of parking. Parked vehicles are routinely towed from streets where the multitude of cautionary parking signs practically requires a law degree to successfully navigate. Some LA residents act surprised when I tell them a clean subway runs under downtown LA that stretches north through the Hollywood Hills to Burbank, and reaches south all the way down to Long Beach. Above ground, buses operate frequently on every major street. In fact, out of any major U.S. city, the relatively flat terrain and temperate weather here couldn’t be more ideal for bike riding.
Some of the advantages to ditching the car, even for one day a week, aside from the obvious beneficial environmental and economic factors: you will interact with life in the city in a more intimate way than you ever could in the insulated bubble of a leased Beemer. Old ladies in Koreatown will smile at you toothlessly and simulate flexing their muscles as you lift your bike onto the bus rack. You’ll cruise down fragrant Hollywood tree-lined streets on cool nights. Your right bike handle gets caught in a bush but as you fall two strangers catch you and laugh. The people-watching on the subway is stellar, and the skyscrapers tower overhead on the long escalator ride up from the underground into the sunlight downtown. If you’re pissed off you can pedal fast and hard, blaring music into one ear. Walking with friends to get cupcakes in Larchmont makes you feel like a kid again. And when you ride a bike you arrive at every destination feeling slightly invigorated. Okay, maybe a little sweaty.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not all cupcakes and meet-cutes, especially if you’re a woman. You’ll meet men who make helpful offers like, “Girl, I’ll teach you how to ride that bike.” I literally had two different men, one young, one old, say this to me within an hour of each other. I don’t know what it means exactly, but I’ve got my suspicions. My bicycle seat was stolen after I left the bike locked to a street sign for 20 minutes to run an errand. A few weeks ago, I grabbed the last vacant seat on the bus only to discover that my seatmate was sniffing an unidentified substance out of his hand. And like driving, bike riding on city streets is not without its dangers. Our mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, on his first bike ride out in years, was recently hit by a cab and dislocated his elbow. Thankfully, he wore a helmet that morning. This unfortunate accident thrust bicycle safety concerns into the spotlight, and concrete steps have been taken by local government to more aggressively expand LA’s bike lanes over the next decade.
Ultimately, walking, biking, and commuting by public transport reduces pollution, increases physical health, saves money, and leaves you open to fully experience the people and locations that embody a city. There’s a certain life-enhancing vulnerability in talking to strangers and launching off of cracks in sidewalks. This is not to say that I won’t ever own another car. The siren call of heated leather seats is not lost on me. For now though, life is good and interesting without them.