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Going car free in L.A. has its ups and downs





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Ask anyone currently stuck in their cars on Interstate 5 -- or 10 or 15: Southern California traffic is getting worse. And with L.A.'s population projected to increase significantly over the next decade, that's a trend that's likely to continue.

Unless more Angelenos voluntarily opt out of using their cars.

How easy is it to forego getting behind the wheel in a city as sprawling as L.A.? And how does the cost and convenience of a personal vehicle compare with other ways of getting around? That's what I wanted to find out when I spent the month of October without using my daily driver. Instead, I took Metro and ride hails and Zipcars. I walked. And I bicycled.

What I learned from taking Metro is that its system of trains and buses could get me everywhere I needed to go really easily. Google Maps and the Go LA app made it simple to figure out how to navigate a system I had never used more than occasionally.

On the plus side, it was inexpensive and convenient to where I live. It was satisfying to know I wasn't contributing to traffic. And I was getting more exercise walking to, from and between trains and buses.

Unfortunately, it also took me about three times as long to get anywhere as it did when I traveled by car. It took more advanced planning than I was accustomed to.  And there were still occasions when I needed a personal vehicle.

Ubers and Lyfts were an enormous help when I needed to shuttle my kid (who's temporarily on crutches) to and from school, but using those services daily to travel just eight miles, the costs outweighed  driving him myself.

The expense of frequent ride hailing led me to try car-sharing for the one aspect of my life that really demands a personal vehicle: being a parent of a child whose school is not within walking distance. Renting a car by the hour through a service like Zipcar was more affordable than being driven in a ride hail. It still required putting a car on the road, however.

What I learned from going car free is that the only time I really do need my car is to shuttle my kid and to get groceries. The rest of the time I'm driving is optional. It's just as easy to get to my work at KPCC by train as it is to drive. It's just as easy to get my dog to the park by walking. And most of my other errands I can also accomplish on foot or via bicycle.

I just wasn't because it was so easy to use my own car.

Going car free forced me to really think about my options for getting places and to select the best tool for the job. Between Metro, occasional ride hails and car shares, a bicycle and my own two feet, there were a lot more tools at my disposal than I was considering when my car was parked just a few steps away in my driveway and the keys were within easy reach.

Having given up my car for a month, I've learned that a personal car isn't always the best choice. It's just the easiest. For a lot of us, it's an unconscious habit.