When you ask people what they love about LA, there are plenty of answers. When you ask what they don’t like about LA…it’s always the driving experience. Traffic, parking and regulations are a few elements that make getting around a pain.
I was lucky enough to move here with a pal who’s from the area and had experience on the roads. He gave me some great pointers. With a few simple tips about navigating the city, driving isn’t as awful as it sounds.
1. The Right Car
The first thing you should know is that choosing the right car is a must. I drove a standard Beetle back in Texas. I knew it wasn’t the right car for LA. If you have to make it from Hollywood to Studio City, you’ll be driving over the hills.
There can be bumper-to-bumper traffic and with a stick shift, your car falls backward before you can drive it forward. The last thing you want is to hit the car behind you on Mulholland drive. Driving a standard in traffic is also taxing. You always have to keep your hand on the stick, constantly changing gears.
Bottom line: drive an automatic or a hybrid. With the amount of gas needed to get around, vehicles like the Prius, Smart Car and Tesla are on the rise. Size is also important and the smaller the car, the better. Many people drive Mini Coopers because they’re zippy and can squeeze in the tiniest parking spot.
2. Parking: Read the Signs
Which brings us to the most obnoxious part of driving in LA: parking. Many neighborhoods have regulated parking hours and street cleaning. It can be a hassle. First thing’s first, read the signs. Make sure you see how long you’re allowed to park in each space.
It may be anywhere from 2 hours, to all day, with no overnight parking. Also, make sure you park on the correct side of the street. There are two hours allotted for street cleaning on various days, especially in the West Hollywood area. Permit parking is also an issue. Many streets don’t allow you to park after 6pm or 8pm without a permit for that specific neighborhood. Read the signs, and you’ll be fine.
You should also take metered parking seriously. Twice, I’ve been running to my car just as the Parking Patrol officer is writing me a ticket. They don’t care if you arrived 30 seconds after your meter expired, they will still write you a ticket. If you have an audition or a meeting, always allow yourself plenty of time to make it back to your car. Also, keep quarters handy. Many meters take credit cards, but a few in Santa Monica and the downtown area only accept coins. Have some with you in your glove compartment or cup holder just in case.
3. Make a Left on Red
The other important tip on driving in LA is understanding the left turn. I had no idea why three cars were running red lights when turning from the right lane, left. I thought they would surely be hit by traffic or ticketed. But no, given the lack of left turn arrows, you almost always have to turn on yellow or red. Most of the time, three cars will make the turn before on-coming traffic commences. Be confident, and make that left turn fast! Otherwise, you’ll be hanging in that right hand lane forever.
4. Don’t Use Your Cellphone While Driving
Cell phones in the car can be dangerous. LA cops are strict about detecting cell phone usage. If you have your phone to your ear or texting, you could easily be pulled over and given a $159 ticket for your first offense.
Don’t text and drive, and if you have to make a call, use headphones or stream your phone through your car stereo system. Given the traffic in LA, many people text while bored sitting on the highway. I’ve had plenty of friends who end up rear-ending cars because they’re looking down at their phone. It’s just not a good idea.
The best way to learn how to drive in LA is to just do it. You’ll find ways to stay sane in 2-hour traffic, and side streets that make your trip smoother. Using a GPS may help you as well. As long as you’re alert, read the signs, stay on time and respect your other road neighbors, you can conquer driving in LA.