I sold my Honda Civic well over 100 days ago – the oft-cited magic number for how long it takes to break a bad habit. I’m now something almost inconceivable in the automobile mecca of Los Angeles (LA is literally the car capital of the world): a car-free Angeleno by choice; a unicorn in this asphalt jungle. Yet I’m so happy with my decision, I think you should consider it too.
There’s no denying that while the Southland population continues to climb, we’re already in the midst of a housing shortage and our auto infrastructure is thoroughly clogged. How can increasing numbers of people live and work in a city with less and less room to go around? One relatively simple solution is change our inherent idea that every adult must have a car.
Growing up in rural Minnesota, having wheels always seemed like a necessity. Obviously our basic needs went: Air. Water. Shelter. Car. (Car before intangibles like love and acceptance, no question. We’re a practical people.)
I didn’t even rid myself of a car in Chicago over a decade ago, despite racking up hundreds of dollars in parking tickets and living down the street from an “L” station that could take you nearly anywhere in the metro.
The first time I seriously considered going sans car was while taking Paris by foot on holiday a year ago. I felt free as a bird, untethered by worries of traffic and parking. Could I do this at home? I mused, noshing on a macaron. The idea seemed far-fetched in such a car-centric city, but I was titillated by the prospect.
Back in Hollywood, I merged into traffic as usual without a second thought. That is, until mid-June when I came across Angus Hervey’s Future Crunch article “Carmageddon is Coming” touting that cars as we know them are going the way of the dodo bird (read: extinct). Fear-mongering yes, but in light of current technology, perhaps also true.
Around the same time a comedian friend got into his third accident in a row, causing his auto insurance to spike. As a result, he chose to cancel his policy and forgo replacing his totaled car. Yes, he was relegated to the Metro, Uber, Lyft, and his own two feet, but he spoke fondly of the extra “thinking time” that came with this change. I was immediately envious. As a writer, my work also thrives on this sort of meditative stimulation. (Surely we can’t be the only ones in this industry town.)
In my process of mulling it over, I texted another friend who’d been without a car for three years after moving from NYC. “What’s your advice?” I asked, “Is this viable?” She recommended trying it for a month, then doing a cost comparison.
So I found a safe, out-of-the-way spot to park my car for the test run. The street parking situation had gotten so bad in my Thai Town neighborhood, it was liberating to not have to remember where I’d left my car or pay attention to the restrictions for this particular street on this particular day at this particular time. And no road rage?! I quickly realized that going carless was the right move for me… It only took five days.
Luckily my vehicle still had a little Kelley Blue Book value left in it and I was able to sell it right away – thanks to a recent $700 repair. Needless to say, I was thrilled to wash my hands of the cost of car maintenance, but the financial benefits didn’t stop there. So far, each month I’ve spent less than HALF my would-be insurance premium on getting around town (not to mention the gas, parking tickets, and other potential expenses I could incur).
There are intrinsic benefits, as well. I’m a huge fan of the Metro system and love commingling with the myriad of people in this city I wouldn’t normally encounter in my metal and glass car-bubble. I get more of the “thinking time” that had lured me to this pedestrian lifestyle in the first place. My pedometer boasts an average increase of 2,000-3,000 steps per day, a boon for my health and fitness. I’m much less of a road hazard when I look down at my phone to send or receive a text (except for those pesky crosswalks, please keep an eye out!). Plus, there’s the added feel good factor of doing my small part to ease traffic congestion and reduce its environmental strain.
I’ve missed having a vehicle just twice in five and half months of mostly sweltering summer weather and only because I was having my picture taken. Aside from those outlier occasions, I’ve been delighted with my decision. Free of my mechanical ball and chain, yet more keyed into my community. What’s not to love?
That’s not to say I’ll always be without a car – maybe something like a new job opportunity (I’m secreting it) will make my carless status more difficult to maintain – but I can say unequivocally I’m in no rush to go back.
If this proselytizing has you curious about converting to car-free, I want to urge you: it’s easier than you think, especially in this era of Uber and Lyft accessibility. If you work from home, live in a walkable neighborhood, live/work along the Metro rail line, are healthy and able enough to walk, and/or have another auto owner in your household for emergencies (I live with my boyfriend), you’re an ideal candidate.
Most of the advocacy I’ve seen treats carlessness like a novelty, but I’m living proof that it’s doable day-to-day. Try it for a month. The only thing you’ve got to lose is a two-ton headache.