Can Hollywood make Los Angeles the city of bikes, buses, and trains? Last month, two actors from ABC’s “Castle” — Seamus Dever (Detective Kevin Ryan) and Stana Katic (Detective Kate Beckett) — got out of their cars to promote car-lite living in Los Angeles with Sierra Club’s Alternative Transportation Project. So earlier this week, I talked to Seamus to ask what inspired him to NOT drive in L.A. — and what advice he has for Angelenos who’d like to do likewise.
Were you taking public transportation before you did this project with the Sierra Club?
Seamus Dever: Yes — For a long time I’ve sort of been in love with the subway system in this city of ours. There was one time when I did a play at the Mark Taper Forum, and I did not take my car for three months — mostly because it’s a pain in the butt to park down there anywhere near the center! But every day I had rehearsal starting at 9 am, and I learned the subway system and I learned how long it takes to walk to my local subway stop over at Hollywood and Western. And it’s all just about timing. So I bought a monthly MTA pass for three months and I took the subway to the theater every day. It was great.
I hadn’t experienced much about the bus aspect. In fact, this was like my first time ever being on a bus. But I rode my bike a lot.
When did you start riding the bike a lot?
A couple years ago I did a soap opera at a studio. I felt very fortunate to actually be — I worked on “General Hospital,” which is at Prospect Studios in Los Feliz. I figured out that since this studio is only a mile away, I was in the fortunate position where I could walk to work, or I could take the bike to work. So I borrowed a friend’s bike and started biking to work to “General Hospital” every morning.
And then I went and did a series in South Carolina, and while I was there I didn’t have any way to get around. And there were so many things to see in Charleston, South Carolina that I was like, I’ve got to see some of this town. So I bought a bike while I was there, and when I was done with that series, I brought it back home.
Ever since “Castle” began, I’ve intermittently taken my bike to work because I really live only like two and a half miles away from the studio. I think it’s about 15 minutes to bike to work, so I sort of prefer that. I biked here this morning, and I’ve sort of made a commitment when we started this that I’m going to bike to work at least once a week from here on out.
Once a week’s a great commitment — but what’s preventing you from the other days?
Well, we have some very, very long hours on “Castle.” Mondays are pretty dependable — I know that I’ll be done with work by at least 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock at night. And that’s with starting at 6:30 this morning. So I biked before the sun came up — I actually had to put on my lights today! And Tuesdays, if I have an easier day, where I’m not getting out by like 10 o’clock…. But by the end of the week, we’ve been wrapping around 3 in the morning. My wife prefers me not to bike at home at 3 in the morning — although I don’t mind. I’m kind of tired at that time, when it gets really late. I’m not really worried about people drinking and driving and hitting me on my bike. But at the request of my wife, I drive those days of the week.
Speaking of drunk drivers and bike safety — I did like how you were highlighting the positives in the videos you made for the Alternative Transportation Project, but I also noticed you also didn’t talk about any difficulties or dangers. Has your experience just been that positive? Or are there safety issues you’ve encountered?
You’re right. Bike safety, with our mayor getting into an accident — It’s wonderful he’s actually taken on bike safety as an important topic, because it’s ridiculous. We are a metropolis and we don’t have the ability to have bike lanes to make it safe for people. We are a culture that grew up around the automobile, so the automobile’s king.
We didn’t really have time to highlight the negative things. We wanted to be more inspirational. But it is tough. There are not as many bike lanes as there should be. A lot of times people don’t watch for you. I wear a helmet … I have lights. But I’ve almost been hit many times.
I got hit this summer, but luckily I stayed on my bike. I don’t even know how I did it, but the car actually hit the back of my back tire. And I stayed up! It was really weird. Over on Forest Lawn Drive, which had a dedicated bike lane! So even that doesn’t save you.
You have to be ultra alert. It’s not one of those things like you’re in your car and you can sort of zone out and make your way. You have to watch the road underneath you and you have to be probably twice as resourceful of a driver than the people driving cars when you’re on your bike.
One time it was really bad. Someone turned in front of me, and I actually went over my handlebars and landed in the street. So that was actually pretty bad. But — so it’s happened, and I hear this from a lot of bikers. One of our guys who’s our boom operator on the show told me about how he got hit and ended up on the hood of a car — and he still bikes to work every day. So it’s one of those things that I know a lot of people get scared about, but it really is an amazing way to see L.A.
And that sounds silly, but you have the power to be breathing the open air as you get to work, and not being scared of the cars but just being aware of the cars. Then you sort of understand that if you follow the rules and everybody else follows the rules as well, that’s going to make life a whole lot easier.
Some people don’t follow the rules — I can’t stand that drivers think that when they’re alone, that they don’t have to use their turn signals! Turn signals are for everyone else, not just drivers. I’m a big advocate of everybody communicating their intentions to bicyclists, not just other drivers of cars.
Do you think there’s still a social stigma attached to not driving? Have you experienced it in any way?
Yes — I think it may have something to do with our car culture. I mean, we live in a city where if you don’t wash your car once a week, people sort of look down at you, like there’s something wrong with you for not taking care of your car. I think there’s such a value placed on the automobile that it’s one of those things that’s taken for granted — that you have to have an automobile to be able to get around Los Angeles. The point of our project was not to say, give up your car completely — it’s just like, find another way. Just do it a couple times a week. Start small, and see what you can do from there.
I think the stigma still does exist. People look at me funny when they see me riding my bicycle…. I don’t know what it evolves from. I think it’s just people putting such a high value of importance — over-importance — on the automobile in this town, and using it as a status tool and sort of an extension of your personality.
I would love it if people would take the same care in building the subway system around Los Angeles…. When I did ride the subway pretty regularly for this play that I was in downtown, I saw people from all walks of life. It’s funny, because
I think those people who think that if you take public transportation, that means you’re poor — I think those people don’t take public transportation. They don’t see the different races, different social backgrounds that are all on this subway system together. And sometimes that makes for great theater on the particular bus or train that you’re on. But it does exist and I think it’s pretty amazing.
So you do own a car — What kind is it?
I own a Ford Mustang, 2001. I’ve had it for nine years. It’s utterly and completely paid off. It’s in great shape and I have yet to buy another car. I think I’m the only cast member of “Castle” — you know, we’re on our third season, and things are sort of successful now with our show and, knock on wood, we go for many years. But everyone went and bought a new car except for me! So I think I get funny looks sometimes when they see the same car that I’ve owned for forever.
What about your bike?
I own two bicycles. I own a mountain bike, and it’s what I rode today to work. It’s sort of what I prefer to ride because our streets are crappy. And you don’t really know that our streets are crappy unless you ride a bike, and then you’re like, these are in really bad shape! You ride on the right side of the road where all the crap ends up! It’s like where all the broken bottles and the litter and the trash and where most of the divots and potholes are.
My other bike that I bought about a year and a half ago is a Fuji road bike, and it’s nice and light. I usually take that when we are downtown … because I can go faster and I can sort of sustain things a little bit longer. It’s actually been interesting because since I’ve been doing this project, I say, even if we’re going downtown, I’m not going to be intimidated by that. It might take me 45 minutes to get to work, but if I get the same 45 minutes in my car, I’d rather take my mountain bike or road bike.
Actually learning a way to get downtown that isn’t crappy has been really interesting. Wilshire is a terrible street for riding bikes. Terrible! That’s why when you look on Google Maps it’s not listed as a bike line. But it’s a main thoroughfare, so you’d think…. So you have to get clever. You take 4th Street to Vermont, Vermont down to 7th Street, and then 7th over. So it’s been interesting.
Have you been able to convince any of your other Hollywood friends — like Nathan Fillion (Richard Castle on ABC’s “Castle”) — to give up their cars? [question from Fred Camino, blogger for Metro's The Source]
I’m working on it! (laughs). Particularly on our show, we work insane hours. Nathan lives in the Valley, and I think that’s part of the problem. But anyone who asks me, I give them the route of how to get there. A lot of people aren’t aware that you can do a combination of things. It doesn’t have to be just bus, or just subway, or just biking. I think that’s why people’s perceptions are, “Oh, it’s too difficult, I have to transfer five spots.” But all it requires is a little more planning.
I’ve offered to help people like Nathan to figure out how to get to work. But for him, it’s like, okay — You have to go down to this, you gotta take a bus to this, a bus to this, and then you have to walk to this…. I think that’s part of the problem of our mass transit — that it doesn’t get everywhere — yet. And I think myself and probably thousands of people out there have wished that it did.
I can’t wait for the day that I can get on the subway, maybe with a couple transfers, and make it all the way out to the ocean. I can’t wait for that day. I’m really excited about the Expo line and what that does too. I think if more people did that, they’d know the city a little bit better.
How far is your commute to work, and what hazards have you encountered? Have you had to bike at night? On busy thoroughfares? What was your longest wait for a bus? [question from reader Joni Young]
The longest wait for the bus would be 10 minutes. I fortunately have an iPhone, and there’s an app on there — Your Google Maps app actually tells you when the next bus is. It actually routes everything for you. So 10 minutes, I would say, for the wait. It’s so convenient now to do these things. It’s ridiculous how easy it is to have this information at your fingertips.
My regular commute to work here when we’re on the stages at Raleigh Studios is — I’m two and a half miles away, and like with most things in my life, I start playing a game, figuring out how fast I can get to work. I think the fastest was 12 minutes. I rode on my road bike, and I think it was late at night where there weren’t that many stop lights that turned red in front of me. But I also take it downtown, which is eight and a half miles, to some of our locations.
Do you have any advice for total newbies who drive everywhere right now?
Start small. Maybe take the bike once a week. And the other thing is, figure out a combination. Maybe you live 25 miles away from work, but you have a friend who lives a few miles away from work. So why not bike that 15 miles — or less, whatever it may be? Ride there, park your bike there and carpool together, and reverse the process for the way back home. Or figure out a bus route that’ll take you to someone’s place a little closer. Start small, and get creative about how you can get to work.
And plan ahead. I think it’s all just about planning ahead. I think the thing is we get really lazy and just hop in the car because it’s our daily routine, it’s what we always do. I think it’s just planning that requires you to be a little bit smarter with your resources.
For more of Seamus Dever’s thoughts on car-free travel in L.A., watch the videos at Sierra Club’s Alternative Transportation Project. Seamus says he’s interested in continuing and expanding the think-outside-the-car work he did with Sierra Club — especially working with bike groups in L.A. Got car-free travel suggestions or questions for Seamus? Tweet him @seamusdever.
Photos: Sierra Club's Alternative Transportation Project and ABC