Going Car-free in Los Angeles

GOING CAR-FREE IN LOS ANGELES

And Enhancing Experiences Through Technology

BY MIKI REYNOLDS

 
 

This month marks 15 months of being car-free in Los Angeles. This is an appalling concept to most people, I know. I’ve lived in LA for 18 years since I moved here to attend UCLA. For 16 years, I’ve been one of the millions of car owners in LA until March of 2016 when I gave up my car. And I have never been happier or healthier in mind, body and wallet.

 

WHY DID I GIVE UP MY CAR?

I’ve lived all over the Westside of LA (Westwood, Brentwood, West LA, Playa del Rey), but 5 years ago I moved across the 405 freeway (gasp, another appalling concept to most Westside dwellers) to Downtown LA. In my 18 years here, it’s the first neighborhood that has felt like home. There’s been a recent resurgence in culture, entertainment, dining and industry in DTLA that I have loved being a part of. It’s walkable and provides every convenience you can think of (except for a Trader Joe’s, unfortunately). I still needed a car to get to my job at a software development company until that company shut down three years ago, and I found myself with an incredible opportunity to work in/around where I actually lived. My car sat idle most days of the week. And the costs of a lease, insurance, parking and gas made it an absurd expense with little return. As soon as my lease was up, I happily returned the keys to the car and decided to go car free. It’s been the most liberating experience of my life, thanks in large part to something most people try to disconnect from in order to feel free: technology.

 
 

"IT’S BEEN THE MOST LIBERATING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE, THANKS IN LARGE PART TO SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE TRY TO DISCONNECT FROM IN ORDER TO FEEL FREE: TECHNOLOGY."

 

HOW DOES TECHNOLOGY ENABLE ME TO BE MOBILE IN LA?

When I tell people that I gave up my car by choice (yes, I can drive, but no I choose not to), the incredulous looks I get are always the same.  “But how do you get around?” Easy. LA has a fairly remarkable public transit system that the city is investing billions to expand. You can travel across the city, transferring from line to line (for free) for only $1.75 each way. The Metro train system opened a line from DTLA to Santa Monica last year that changed my life. General Assembly (the company I was working for at the time and just recently left) had two locations that I needed to split my time between. With the help of the Transit app, I can easily figure out from current location to destination what the various public transportation options are (train, bus, even ride sharing services like Lyft/Uber), how long it will take, where the closest stop/station is, and when the next departure is. For places a little out of the way, Uber Pool and Lyft's equivalent "Lyft Line" are still incredibly economical options here in LA. For occasions where I want to go out of town, take a road trip or just run a bunch of miscellaneous errands over the course of a weekend, Skurt (an on-demand car rental service that drops off and picks up at your destination) is my go-to, and still economical, option. I spend a fraction of the cost on these methods of transportation from what I use to. I can hop on the train from DTLA and be in Hollywood, Santa Monica or even the Valley in less than an hour.

 

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY ENHANCED MY CAR-FREE LIFE?

I have a tendency to be a somewhat distracted driver, as unfortunately most people I know are. With calls, texts, music, GPS and social apps all in the palm of your hand, this tends to be the default activity when sitting in daily traffic. But now, without having to worry about driving or sitting in stop & go traffic, I can *safely* tap into the digital world at my convenience and leisure. When I was taking the train from DTLA to Santa Monica 3 times per week, I would use that 50 minutes to queue up a new podcast episode (current favorites include: How I Built ThisStartup PodcastStories of the Influencer EconomyThe Indie Hackers PodcastOther: Mixed Race in America and ::shameless plug:: this one I was featured on) check in on the digital world (Instagram and Twitter are my news sources and water cooler chat) and skim through my inbox so that didn’t have to be the first thing I did when I sat down at my computer. Most of my work related tasks can be done via email or Slack, a group communication tool that every team I’ve worked with in the past few years uses.

 
 

"BUT NOW, WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT DRIVING OR SITTING IN STOP & GO TRAFFIC, I CAN SAFELY TAP INTO THE DIGITAL WORLD AT MY CONVENIENCE AND LEISURE."

 

BUT WHAT ABOUT GROCERIES? AND HEAVY THINGS?

DTLA has two major grocery stores and we have these things called legs that allow us to be mobile. But seriously, not having a car has forced me to be more mindful about what I buy and when I buy it, given I can only physically carry so much. If you’re a member of Amazon Prime, they have a free same day delivery service called Amazon Prime Now where you can not only order from a selection of Amazon items but also from a few grocery stores! In fact, here in LA they offer same day delivery from Sprouts, which is my favorite and often describe it as the love child of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s - free delivery and typically within a 2 hour window. There are also services like Postmates and Instacart that offer similar on-demand delivery services in immediate timeframes. Los Angeles is also fortunate to be home of Joymode, a startup that delivers/pick-ups rental experiences like camping gear, outdoor movie screening kits, BBQ equipment and more! Imagine not having to buy things you’ll only use a few times and you can have them delivered directly to you! Thank you, technology!

 

WHAT HAS SURPRISED ME ABOUT BEING CAR-LESS IN LA?

The cost savings has been an incredible benefit. Given how little I was using my car for two of the three years I was leasing it, it felt like an absolute waste of money. The money I’ve saved has actually afforded me the opportunity to recently quit my job at General Assembly and focus on some exciting entrepreneurial endeavors (one of which is Grid110,  a non-profit startup I co-founded two years ago that supports the growth of early stage tech startups and entrepreneurs in DTLA). It’s a terrifying feeling, but one that I’m so excited and ready to take on.

 

I also feel more connected with my city. As drivers, we’re confined to the space of our vehicle and usually only focusing on the road ahead, other cars and potential obstacles. But commuting by foot, public transportation or ride-sharing services has allowed me to connect more with the world around me. I look up and around to take in what’s going on. I’m constantly taking pictures using my iPhone of the unique and mundane things that catch my eye and editing with the VSCO app on the fly.  I have random conversations and encounters with fellow passengers (the ones with Lyft drivers are always my favorite). I get a shift of perspective to one that is not my own. And even if my face is typically buried in my phone, I still take the time to be aware of my surroundings. All of this has allowed me to fall more in love with the city of LA because of the way I’m able to travel through it.

 
 

"IMAGINE NOT HAVING TO BUY THINGS YOU’LL ONLY USE A FEW TIMES AND YOU CAN HAVE THEM DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOU! THANK YOU, TECHNOLOGY!"

 

Giving up your car may not be an option for everyone; I’ve been fortunate in my personal situation. But what I’ve learned is that while technology is often thought as a distraction or disruption, it’s actually the best enabler for efficiency and productivity. Services like Lyft/Uber, Amazon Prime Now and Joymode exist to give us all a bit of time back in our lives where we can focus on truly experiencing it. Communication apps and our phones allow us to do work from wherever we are without skipping a beat. If you too want to make better use of your commute time while driving, queue up a podcast or learn a new language through an app like Duolingo. Our phones and the countless of apps available for them have allowed us to become the ultimate multitaskers and better connected humans.