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.