I’m Coming Out (As a Non-Driver)

Join me, and we can run this city! Or at least wear matching buttons

Biking Comments

My fellow non-drivers, my fellow bikers and bus users, my walkers and my Metro lovers—those of you, from Santa Monica to Boyle Heights, who do not drive and do not want to drive, please, lend me your ears.

It is our time! Los Angeles is a non-driving city. We have known this for years, some of us for decades. We know the right streets to bike on. We know the most important buses. We know that more subway lines are coming soon. We are very in touch with what is happening in our streets, because we rely on them in a way that drivers do not. We are Los Angeles non-drivers and we must flash our TAP cards with pride.

For some—myself included—this can be difficult. Our movement may seem trendy, stubborn, or sanctimonious to the uninformed, but this is a very real cause, an altruistic effort to build community and make the city better for everyone. Although the mindset is slowly changing (the trains are getting fuller, the bike lanes can turn into a mini Tour de France), there is still a stigma attached to not driving in Los Angeles. The reactions are mostly subtle but also skeptical and sometimes shocked: You are simultaneously a superhero who defies all odds and a person of questionable repute (“He takes the bus…”). At best, this is unimaginative (at worst: classist), but sometimes, it’s easier to just say you took UberX than explain the complicated bus route that got you from Echo Park to the ocean (the Local 4 to downtown, and then the Rapid 704).

From working in certain industries in Los Angeles—particularly fashion and entertainment—I know to smile and nod when someone hands me a parking pass. I wonder to myself if I can hang it on the rearview mirror of the 217 bus I take to work. “I don’t need a parking pass,” I should say. “I take the bus.”

To be an L.A. non-driver, you have to adopt the mindset and embrace the identity. Step out of those Metro doors and be proud that you don’t have to think about traffic and are getting some exercise from all that walking. You have more time to read now. You don’t need to pay for gas every week. You don’t need to deal with car insurance. You can swap stories of transportation mishaps and colorful riders with likeminded warriors.

Being vocal about being a non-driver is important because, the louder we are, the more likely it is that people will learn that a non-driving culture actually exists here. I mean, there’s a rumor out there that we don’t even have a Metro system!? People move to L.A. assuming they have to drive, that everyone in their household needs their own car. “Who rides the bus?” they wonder. You do. Let friends and acquaintances picture that.

Is this ever a hassle? Of course. The city is big and slowness is part of the deal. No one ever knows exactly how long it’s going to take to get from one place to another. There could be traffic, an accident, a few drops of rain, and bam, total gridlock. My main means of transportation is biking, which avoids most of these problems, but if I’m too lazy and I take the bus, at least I get to enjoy the view without worrying whether the Prius up ahead is going to cut me off by making a quick left.

Yeah, you do need to build in extra time, and you do need to sacrifice a little sanity. I am constantly arriving to meetings sweaty and somewhat malodorous because I had to bike 10 miles. But you know what? I burned off some calories. Other times, I just have to suck it up and realize, “Hey, I am going to be late” or “Hey, I will just have to skip this” or “Hey”—the ultimate hey—“I have to ask for a ride or actually take Uber.” But that’s OK. That still counts as interacting with my community. 

Maybe we non-drivers need a unifying mark that announces our identity, or buttons to wear, or something so that people know you don’t have to drive to be an Angeleno.This may be a call to arms only to myself, but I hope I’m not alone: Brand yourself as a Los Angeles non-driver and don’t stop until a friend says, “Hey, I started taking the bus because of you, and it’s great.”

Kyle Fitzpatrick is a writer, an infrequent performer, and a lover of dogs, art, shorts, champagne, and L.A. You can find his musings Fridays on CityThink. For more, check out his locally focused art, design, and culture website, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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  • George

    Dude, you are fighting a losing battle here.

    Like it or not, L.A. is a city built around the automobile. It’s entire spread-out design is based on the simple notion that people don’t walk here – they drive. It’s why we have those giant parking lots separating the storefronts from the sidewalks. And it’s why 98% of those sidewalks are empty of pedestrians.

    More than any other American city, L.A. is a car city – and it always will be.

    If you want to spend your life walking, you have two basic choices.

    One is to move to a city that is designed for that sort of thing. Such as New York.

    The other option is to move to one of the few walking neighborhoods in the L.A. area, such as Sierra Madre, Westwood Village, Hancock Park or Belmont Shore: areas with old-fashioned, small town downtowns meant for walking.

    Sure, the people there drive too, and they’ll probably think you’re crazy, but at least you’ll be able to get to most of your basic needs on foot, if that’s your thing.

    Or, for that matter, try downtown L.A. It’s slowly shaping up into an actual walking neighborhood with more & more residential lofts opening up. If you can overlook the small army of homeless wandering around downtown like zombies, and the fact that the place turns into a ghost town on weekends, it should be right up your alley.

    But if you’re expecting Greater Los Angeles to suddenly (or slowly) turn into a non-driving town, you’re doomed to be disappointed. You and I will both be dead and buried long before that happens.

  • http://bypathsandbeyond.com MiSyelle

    Thanks for coming out, as a non-driver, Mr.Fitzpatrick! One of the reasons I am hesitant to go to the US is its ‘car culture’. I am glad to know people can possibly tour around LA in alternative ways. I am a non-driver myself. And the inconveniences of being one are far less than the benefits. I hope people will open their eyes and see that non-driving does more good to oneself, the community and mother earth.

  • Kairi

    I don’t even have a driver’s licence! I’m now braving the bicycle world too :).