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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Today after work I took the Red Line one stop past where I usually get off to Universal City. I needed to go to the Hard Rock Cafe at CityWalk to buy a t-shirt for a friend. I rarely go to CityWalk, partly because it's such a pain to get there, and once there, they charge you $8.00 to park. But going by train seems easier, since they provide a shuttle a block from the station up to the complex (it's up a big hill), and cheaper, since the shuttle is free. Though, once I was there, surrounded by all the loud music, gaudy neon signs, and sunburned tourists, I realized that probably would not visit much more often. I just bought the shirt and headed back down the hill, this time walking two blocks west to Ventura Blvd to catch the #156 bus home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

My journey on transit today was a little more than usual, because after work I had a meeting at the office of the East LA Community Corporation in Boyle Heights. Fortunately, I just had to take the #18 bus down 6th Street, and then walk about 4 blocks or so up to ELACC's office. The way back, not knowing when the next #18 would pass, I walked a little further down to Soto and Whittier, so I could catch the Wilshire Rapid Bus back to downtown (of course, the #18 passed as I was walking to the rapid bus stop -- Murphy's law, right?). Once back in downtown, I hopped on the Red Line as usual to get home to Hollywood. All in all, a successful day riding transit.

One observation I've had since beginning my experiment is that one of the best economic development strategies any city could do for neighborhood businesses would be to take everyone's cars away. Okay, I understand that cities can't just go and take people's cars away, nor should they. But I say this because I have never frequented local businesses so much as in the last two weeks. I always liked having stores and restaurants nearby my apartment, and I did patronize them on occasion, feeling that I was doing my part to support neighborhood businesses. But with no car, I now patronize those businesses before I would consider traveling somewhere by bus or train. Case in point -- I usually go to Sammy’s Camera on Fairfax to buy photographic supplies, and I had intended to take my manual SLR camera in for repair there as well. But, it turns out that I have a perfectly good camera store 2 blocks from my apartment that I had completely ignored for the 2+ years I've lived in the neighborhood. It would make sense to use the local shop since it's more convenient (car or no car), but I guess I never had a reason to consider not traveling 3+ miles to drop off some film or buy a new neck strap.

Monday, July 28, 2003

This weekend was a big event for transit aficionados in Los Angeles. The MTA Gold Line officially opened to the public. Stretching almost 14 miles long, the Gold Line connects Downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena, and linking a string of historic neighborhoods in between. I had the good fortune to actually have a real occasion to use the Gold Line, since I was traveling to a co-worker's house for a weekend barbeque. To my surprise, when I arrived at Union Station I encountered a huge amount of people waiting to catch a ride on the new light rail line. I ended up waiting almost 15 minutes just to get on the train. It was like Disneyland. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that 70,000 people rode the new line on its first day of operation. Twice the number the line was designed to handle. Thought it seemed most people in the crowd were just out for a weekend joyride and will not be regular riders, it still seems like a good sign for the future of transit in L.A.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

No transit today. I rode my bike to work. Usually I spend Thursdays (and Mondays) working at Urban Insight, a web development firm whose office is a little less than two miles from my apartment. It's nice because the way there is downhill, so I don't get too sweaty or anything when I get into work in the morning. The ride home is uphill, which makes it a little tougher, but it's good exercise.

I've also since taken the habit of stopping at the local Trader Joe's on the way home, to buy a bag of groceries. One of the things about not having a car is that trips to the supermarket, or any store really, are much smaller affairs. There's none of the "I'm doing my shopping for the next two weeks" kind of shopping. Trips to Costco are definitely out (not that I shopped there much anyway). The disadvantage is that you spend a little more time shopping for food. The plus is that you tend to buy fresh food to eat for the next two days or so. This is something I always thought I'd like to do, but never really did until now, when it's more of a logistical necessity.

Speaking of my car, I took it to the auto mechanic today to get it all fixed up and ready for my road trip, and its subsequent sale. While dropping the car off, the mechanic made it a point to assure me he'd have it back to me in less than a day, so I wouldn't be without my car too long. When I told him there was no rush, because I don't use it really, he gave me a puzzled smile. He probably doesn't get that much from his customers.

Hello out there. Thanks for reading the inaugural post to my new blog, which I've called "An American on Transit." I have set up this blog as journal of my experience of living without a car and using public transit in Los Angeles, CA -- a place often dubbed the car capital of the world. In the coming months, I hope to record my daily adventures riding transit, as well as my thoughts, opinions and observations on the state of public transit in Los Angeles and the United States on the whole.

Now a little background. In July 2003, I found myself a couple months out of college after graduating with a B.S. in Urban Planning and Development from the University of Southern California. Working part-time at a new non-profit organization that promotes "Smart Growth" development, which among other things promotes transit use, and being a person of some principle, I started thinking that I should practice what I was helping to preach. At the same time, I was lacking the full-time job and salary that everyone believes will land in their lap after college, and the cost of owning and using my car (loan payments, car insurance, gas, parking, maintenance, etc.) was taking a serious toll on my budget. I've had a car for almost all of my time in Los Angeles while in school, but saddled with student loans and credit-card debt that had accumulated during my four years in college, I began to seriously entertaining getting rid of my car, patronizing transit, and saving over $500 a month in the process.

On July 3rd, 2003, I decided to commence a test run period where I left my car at home, and got around by walking, biking or using public transit. As of the time of this post, 19 days later, I've continued to ignore my car with reasonable success. Though I'm still adjusting to my new situation, I’ve become confident that I can exist without a car and still maintain a practical level of mobility. I have since made the decision to sell my car in August (upon return from a road trip to Spokane, WA -- a farewell voyage of sorts), and begin a new car-free lifestyle. Wish me luck!


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