You need a car.
The bus is only for people without legs, eyes, control of their bowels, and two-thirds of their sanity.
The above sentiments are pretty much what was drilled into my head about traversing the great city of Los Angeles. Moving from New York City, I was used to public transportation and walking. I had lived on Staten Island for a year and had a car, but driving still seemed alien and terrifying: I had a stick shift, people beeped at me, I got cut off, cars sped by me angrily. I thought L.A. was going to be much worse and with less public transportation.
I’ve only been in L.A. for around two and a half months, but as my beautiful and talented girlfriend Carrie told me, Angelinos have a love of hyperbole. And why wouldn’t they? The film industry relies on hyperbole more than fossil fuels. Dirty Secret: Getting around Los Angeles isn’t that hard, even without a car. It’s all pretend! But if we don’t all play otherwise there’s nothing to really complain about here because the weather is so nice. And if we don’t complain we don’t know what to base superficial acquaintances and meaningless chit chat on. And if we don’t foster superficial acquaintances and meaningless chit chat, honesty will just be lying there, waiting to take a dip in the pool. Then show business, finance, and the establishment itself will start to crumble in a puddle of mixed metaphors. Read between the lines. Connect the dots. It’s a conspiracy.
Public transportation is extensive in L.A. and if you can walk more than a mile, you may even be able to stroll to some places.
The traffic ain’t even that bad (well it’s bad but it doesn’t seem as bad as NYC traffic which might have numbed me). And L.A. drivers in comparison to East Coast drivers? THEY USE TURN SIGNALS HERE! And they don’t beep if your stick shift stalls at a stop sign. They do beep if you don’t make a right turn on a red light. But when they pass you, it’s a low-key-I-don’t-feel-threatened-pass. So if your frame of reference is New York City, the roads here aren’t bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pain in the neck during rush hour but its not the dog and pony show people gave me every time I mentioned I was moving to L.A.
Driving a stick shift in Los Angeles: My ’88 VW Fox is a stick shift. People told me I’d be crazy. It’s not that bad. I don’t do it that often but in slow traffic, it’s a little bit of a chore, I just try to roll in neutral or put it in a low gear and go a little slower. Usually in thick traffic, whenever I get antsy to put it in third gear the traffic slows again anyway. Coming off an exit, its fun to put it neutral and save some gas. The one bad thing about my old timey car is that it doesn’t have AC, so we just roll the window down. The trick for me is to keep my foot off the clutch as much as possible because in stop and go. It’s easy to “stand on the clutch” which isn’t that great for the car.
Carrie and I have driven around in a Prius and I have noticed that cars seem to be a lot nicer to my old VW than the Prius for what that’s worth. Although it might have something to do with the Prius’s poor visibility.
But that being said, traffic stinks. Anywhere. And I was happy to discover the L.A. Metro Bus and Subway. I live in the Los Feliz/Hollywood area which means I’m close to the bus and the subway. Unlike New York City if you’re going to take public transportation, instead of taking the subway your entire trip, you’ll probably end up taking a combination of subways and buses across this hulking behemoth of a city.
The best system I’ve used for planning my public transportation adventures has been Google.com/maps. It also gives driving directions, which from I usually have to take the driving time and multiply it by two.
The Damn Bus
Yes, everyone here slams the bus. It’s slow. It’s full of the poor. Poor people smell bad. OK, let’s calm down. Yes, there are poor people on the bus. But what’s your wealth based on? The system? Inheritance? Debt? And yes, occasionally some people smell. But that network development exec your dreaming of meeting with smells just as bad with his buckets of aftershave and scented moisturizers. I’d rather smell the occasional whiff of the humanity’s struggles than pock marks of spiritual decay(tm).
See, hyperbole is everywhere in this town.
The bus isn’t so bad. And it’s pretty extensive. I’ve ridden the buses in New York City. Those buses are slow. The buses in L.A. stop a lot but the stops seem to me a little slower than the rhythm of traffic. If you’re going to be stopping at red lights, you might as well be sitting in an air conditioned bus, reading, listening to your ipads, or watching humanity’s adventure. The most interesting things I’ve seen in L.A. have happened on the bus (example 1, example 2–check out 4:20pm).
There’s also RAPID TRANSIT! buses which make express stops. These are real handy.
The main agency that runs the buses and the subway is L.A. Metro, and the fare is $1.50, but there are also local bus lines like the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. And I think there’s some crazy bus in Burbank (yay, we can all take the bus to yoga on the way to Target!), as well as the kooky Hollywood DASH bus (yes, it looks sketchy but its FIFTY CENTS! RIDE IT!). It’s important to note that unlike New York, you can not get free transfers from subway to bus and bus to bus. You have to pay a fare for each ride. However you can buy daily passes via your TAP card ($5 a day, $20 a week, and $80 a month*).
Yes, the bus is probably not as fast as your ’98 Nissan Sentra but you’re going to be stopped at stop lights anyway and its cheaper than parking.
*The Tap Card
The TAP card is L.A.’s equivalent of NYC’s Metrocard but it’s not the same. First it works by tapping instead of sliding. Creepy, right? But what’s most annoying about your TAP card is weekly and monthly passes start on particular days. In New York, you buy a weekly pass: it’s good from a week when you first use it. Hey, fo’geddaboutit. You buy a thirty day pass, you can use it right then and there. BOOM. That’s too much for the TAP card. Weekly passes start on Sundays. Monthly passes start on the beginning of the month. They don’t even start retroactively if you buy them after the pass period. So don’t repeat my mistake of moving to LA on a Tuesday, buying a weekly TAP card then having to buy another one to use until the week starts. You believe that crap?
UPDATE: How the times have changed! All TAP card passes activate on the first “tap.” No more waiting for the beginning of a week or month. Someone must have read my blog. Or perhaps I have figured a way to alter the very fabric of reality. OR PERHAPS THE TWO ARE CONNECTED?
The L.A. Subway exists! I have photos!
The Los Angeles Subway is not the New York City subway, but it ain’t bad. It runs pretty frequently, the stops seems around on average a mile apart, and they have info screens telling you when the next couple trains are scheduled to arrive. The stations are huge, as if they’re ruins from a race of subterranean giants. I like the subway. I wish it traveled further but unless I’m going down town or to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I have to take a combination of bus and train.
If you’re used to New York City subways, you’re used to trains with big signs on front of them that have bright colors and big numbers or letters letting you know what train you’re boarding. Not in Los Angeles. Yes, the trains are named after colors, but they do not have big dots on the front of them. The Purple and Red Lines share the same track and the only difference (besides the different destinations) are little dot matrix signs on the side. If its your first time, take note, they’re hard to find.
And if your travels take you up into the Valley, you might need to ride the Orange Line. But guess what? It’s not even a subway train! It’s like this long bus that runs on its own road parallel to traffic. It even has train like stations, as if someone started digging all the paths for train tracks and gave up. ”Let’s just make it a road and use some old buses glued together, OK guys? Schmanks.”
One cool thing about the Metro subway is if you’re going to LAX you can just take the subway to Union Station then grab a $7 Flyaway Shuttle to save yourself a huge hassle.
Check out this subway mural about scrappy Mexican rebels holding off the U.S. Army.
I see this in every subway station. Ladies and Gentlemen, the happiest man in Los Angeles:
Well, walking is hard in Los Angeles because the everything is spread out. But if do decide to hoof it, the only other people on the sidewalk will be pets and cyclists. A lot of L.A. cyclists seem to claim ownership of the sidewalk, because the streets are too scary for da widdle babies. I actually don’t blame them, a lot of the roads look too narrow for the SUV’s that rumble through. I don’t know if there’s some pro-cyclist law or if pedestrians are just uncommon but the arrogance of sidewalk cyclists is palpable. They get angry if you don’t offer to get out of their way, even though they’re on wheels and the sidewalks were built for you. They use they’re little bells. Ring-Ring, I don’t feel like taking my feet off the pedals, I’m late to a development meeting at Starbucks, Ring-Ring.
Cars, however seem pretty receptive to pedestrians. At cross walks cars always stop, which is change from New York City when cabs would slip by in front of me.
THE FUTURE & CONCLUSION
It takes time getting around Los Angeles, no matter what mode of transportation you take. But its not the pain the ass which I was warned. If you’re going downtown I don’t think you can lose with the subway. If you’re worried about parking, or want to go out for a drink, the bus can help you out (and spare us your alcohol tinged driving). In some stations you can even park your car at a “park and ride.” A car does come in handy for grocery store runs and getting beyond the bus’s reach, but if everyone here threw in a little public transportation in their commutes I think it could rival NYC’s system. Most of the cars I see have solo passengers. Come on, its lonely. And what does that say about the city that shapes the world’s entertainment if everyone spends large swaths of the day disconnected? If everyone started getting on some kind of bus or train, they (the overlords) would expand and improve service, we’d all save money, natural resources, and get to hang out with each other a little more. Come on, TAP that.