I know there are buses. I saw one in Speed.
November 19, 2005 2:13 PM   Subscribe

How easy is it to get around in Los Angeles?

Some friends of mine are trying to talk me into moving to L.A.. From what I've heard, if you don't have a car, you're SOL. Is this so? How's the public transportation system there?
posted by brundlefly to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The stores on Craigslist Los Angeles might be worth a read... of course to be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by anthill at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2005

The public transportation in LA is awful. I cannot overstate how bad it is. The train system is expanding, but provides essentially no coverage west of Hollywood; the buses are crowded and slow. I know exactly one person who commutes to work via public transportation, and her commute involves a train, two buses, and having to coordinate with her boyfriend to pick up/drop off at the train station. It takes her about 2 hours each way to go approximately 15 miles. (Not that her commute would be a particularly fun drive, either, but it would probably be closer to an hour each way -- even about 45 mins. in decent traffic.) I also know one person who only gets by on his bike, but he's a self-employed graphic designer and he tends to keep very irregular hours, so biking around suits him.

I live within walking distance from work, and I still would never live without a car here -- all of my friends and family (and most of the places I hang out) are only accessible by driving. This city is extraordinarily spread out, and there is no single, centralized area the way there is in virutally every other major city in America -- for example, the vast majority of Angelenos do not work downtown (or even pass through it on a regular basis). Unless you really think you'd be spending most of your time in one area (for example, you plan on living and working in someplace like Santa Monica, and most of your friends are there too), depending on public transportation seems to me would be very limiting -- you'd wind up either spending hours on a buses each day or depending on other people who have cars.
posted by scody at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2005

I lived in Los Angeles for many years with a car. I cannot imagine living there without one. Everything is quite spread out and the public transportation system leaves much to be desired.

However, I had several friends who did not own cars and relied on public transportation to get around. They were fine with it. But I'd ask them how long it would take to get to work, for example, and they'd answer, "Oh, two hours," whereas it would have taken me forty five minutes or something.

Also, there are walkable areas in Los Angeles. I can imagine that if you can put in the time and effort, you can find an area in which you can work, live, shop etc. without having to commute too far. If you're lucky, you could find a nice little, fairly affordable area where you could walk most places (Silverlake perhaps, but others may have more suggestions).

But, overall, I'd say the cliché is true: nobody walks in L.A.

I'd encourage you to move to Los Angeles, though. It's a lovely, bizarre wonderland.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2005

I lived in LA for 7 years without a car and survived traveling by bus, train, and bicycle. It can be done, but be aware that your travel time will be at least double that of a person with a car. Also, if your friends have cars, going out with them and not being a perpetual freeloader of rides home is almost impossible.

Living in LA without a car can be done, but it will be like tar on your shoes. You'll find the cost to benefit ratio of leaving the house will keep you from exploring LA as much as you'd like (and LA is vast, sparse, and requires exploring). My 8th year there, I bought a car and it improved my life 400%.

You'll be better off with an $800 junky Festiva than with nothing at all.
posted by 4easypayments at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2005

You'll be better off with an $800 junky Festiva than with nothing at all.
posted by 4easypayments

$200 each, huh?

As a non-driver (now 36 and never had a license) who lived in the LA area, let me echo scody. I see you now live in Berkeley, where I lived quite happily without a car for several years. All other things being equal, I recommend you stay!

I once took public transportation home from LAX. In addition to taking 3 hrs rather than 3/4 hour, it goes through some of the skeeviest parts of LA.
posted by Aknaton at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2005

I've moved to Southern California twice without a car. The first time I lived in various suburbs of the LA metro area, the second time was in Ventura County. Both times I found it was workable.

Of course, I also already knew a number of people in the area and could get rides and occasionally borrow a car. This made it considerably better than simply using my bicycle or public tranportation. But my sense was not that life in general any more difficult in LA without a car than, say, Utah without a car.... rather, that it's not as easy to take advantage of the benefits that metro (and wilderness) southern california have to offer without a car.

In general, I found that if I liked the neighborhood I lived in and wasn't living too far from where I worked and had friends, a bicycle supplemented with public transport and occasional borrowed rides was enough. Whittier, for example, was a pretty bikeable and interesting town (though you had to build up some muscle for those hills), as was Long Beach, and collecting a few regular haunts and exploring on foot and bike was fun.

South Gate, on the other hand, wasn't so interesting, and I ended up spending a lot of time and energy in transit. Also, Ventura was interesting and great, and the public transportation was even OK during daylight hours, but I was so far away from my social circle (and the transport started to suck at night) that I wouldn't do it again.

So, my advice: figure out where you're going to be working and recreating and socializing. If you can find a likeable place/neighborhood within 15-20 minutes biking distance of these places, go for it. If not, think twice about not having a car.
posted by weston at 4:11 PM on November 19, 2005

i have lived the last three years in los angeles without a car.

i work from home, so i don't have a commute to worry about. that's probably the biggest factor for determining whether you can get by without a car or not. with some planning to coordinate where you live and work, relying on public transportation would not necessarily be awful.

you'll certainly have a different los angeles experience than people with a car. whether that is better or worse is up to you.

but it is not new york, or boston, or dc, or london, or paris, or like other cities with more extensive transportation systems (and much denser populations).
posted by jimw at 4:37 PM on November 19, 2005

My experience living in LA was a long time ago, but I don't think the public transportation has improved much since then. It takes forever to get anywhere by buses, and the ride isn't especially pleasant. At least back then, you had to go through downtown no matter where you were going; I gather the smog problem isn't nearly as bad (I can still taste the yellowish air I tried not to breathe while waiting for the next bus), but it's not going to be a fun experience. I'd say stay where you are and let your friends drive you around when you visit them.
posted by languagehat at 4:51 PM on November 19, 2005

I grew up in LA, and got around all the time as a teenager without a car, and lived on my own for a good year without a car. It was tough living on my own without a car, mostly just for groceries and laundry- but that was entirely my fault, because I was young and waited until the last minute to do anything like that.

When I lived in Santa Monica without a car it wasn't bad at all. I didn't leave the west side much unless a friend was driving me somewhere, but I could get to work in 20-30 minutes and could go anywhere I wanted in town easily. There are places you can live where you can minimize public transportation pain. Pretty much anywhere in LA proper is right out. The MTA is really sorry. But if you live in a town that has its own bus line, like Santa Monica or Culver City, it's not that bad at all.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:55 PM on November 19, 2005

The train system is expanding, but provides essentially no coverage west of Hollywood;

Actually, I think the train system has expanded since you last checked scody, because now the train does go about as far west as it can go... the orange metro line now goes all the way out to Woodland Hills.
posted by RoseovSharon at 5:51 PM on November 19, 2005

Actually, I think the train system has expanded [west] since you last checked

Wake me up when it gets near UCLA -- say, within 1 hour by bus.
posted by Aknaton at 6:51 PM on November 19, 2005

The Orange Metro line (sorry, flash) is a bus, not a train, but it does go where RoseovSharon said. As far as this side of the hill, the trains still don't go west of Hollywood.
posted by lovetragedy at 7:19 PM on November 19, 2005

The last time I lived in LA without a car MTA went on strike, and due to me living in Culver City and my job being in the Valley, I LOST IT!! As much as I hate to say it, I would never go to LA without a car again. It's called Smell-A for a reason right?
Oh oh oh..If you are going to use Metro, NEVER trust their website trip planner. It will do you wrong.
posted by phytage at 7:23 AM on November 20, 2005

I agree with everybody--you can get by without a car in LA, but you need to build in a LOT of extra time to get around. One additional thought:

Pretty much everything in LA runs on the assumption that you will have a car. This is a big pain if you don't have a car, for reasons explained above, but it also means that, if you do have a car, you will find driving to be much less of a hassle in LA than it is in other cities. You can always find parking; streets are generally very clearly labeled; you can buy a well-designed map book called "The Thomas Guide" in pretty much any bookstore to help you find your way; people are generally experienced and sane drivers. Pollution can be a serious issue in many parts of the city, but if you can live near the beach, the air quality is very good.

I mention this because often people who hate the idea of owning a car have been turned off by a bad experience in a city like Boston or NYC, where driving is a really stressful experience. If your objection to owning a car is environmental, of course, that's a reasonable objection wherever you live. But if it's "I hate circling the block for an hour looking for parking" or some such, you might find LA less stressful than you imagine.

The one major traffic-related stress that LA has never figured out how to eliminate is traffic jams; when I lived there 3 years ago, I spent a fair amount of time sitting with my foot on the brake, and I gather it's only gotten worse since then.
posted by yankeefog at 8:43 AM on November 20, 2005

I know several people who live without cars in LA, and who commute to work on the Metro. The Metro is pretty good for commuting along its admittedly small corridors. Most of central Hollywood has a station close by, and places like Studio City, Los Feliz, downtown, etc, are all easily accessible, though sometimes with an extra bus.
posted by wackybrit at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2005

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