They Couldn’t Car Less

As you know (maybe), for environmental (both local and global) and other reasons I’m not a fan of routine unnecessary car trips, and so I walk, bike, and use public transport a lot. My car is mostly only used on the weekend. This sort of declaration usually results in blank stares, subsequent treatment as a leper (or worse, in many LA circles, – poor!!), serious inquiries as to whether I was convicted of DUI, comments that this is impossible in LA, admissions from locals who’ve lived here for umpteen years that they’d no idea that there was a subway (that has changed slightly in the lastmelba_thorn_by_diane_meyer few years… now at least they know, but typically they’ve no idea where the stops are), and so on and so forth. I will admit to getting annoyed when I see announcements for events and locations that go to lots of trouble to give driving and parking instructions and never mention the subway stop or bus lines that might work for some as well. (Right: Artist Melba Thorn, photo by Diane Meyer for an exhibition on the issue, to be discussed below. Ironically, (at the time of writing) the exhibiting gallery also only gives driving and parking directions on their site. Isn’t that rich?)

Anyway…. you know all this from reading the blog. Check the archives for posts and discussions on a variety of aspects. Here’s part of the executive summary of my main point, and then information about a new exhibit follows after:

Yes, I know it won’t work for all trips, and for all people and locations. But have you really thought it through? Are you just conveniently assuming that it does not apply to you? Is having bought a Prius (good decision as that was) really the only effort worth making or is it just a convenient way for some of buying a shiny badge that says you care about the environment without really trying? Is there really never occasion when you can just leave the car, or try to combine several errands into fewer car trips…? Sure it might add some time to your commute to use public transport, but how bad is that really? The time you add you get back in being able to read, think, talk to people, live life less frantically and with less abuse to and from other drivers…

This lengthy preamble was to highlight another group who is of similar mind to me, but are a step beyond where I am. They have no car in Los Angeles at all. (I imagine screams of horror echoing all over the city as this is read…) Yes. People do that. It is possible, and quite comfortably possible too. There’s a new exhibition by Diane Meyer opening up at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, highlighting 100 Angelenos who are car-less in LA. “Without a Car in the World”. The opening reception is today at 6:00pm. Here is some of what Diane has up on the website there:

The people that I am photographing are attempting to lead normal lives in this Contemporary West where the automobile functions as the ultimate promise of freedom. I am hoping to ultimately photograph and interview 100 Carless Angelenos. Through the images and text from the interviews, the project will address how car culture has shaped psychological, spatial and geographic perceptions of the city. The subjects I am photographing have given up their cars for a variety of reasons ranging from ideological, financial or health-related situations, anxiety after traumatic car accidents, environmental activism, or a simple disinterest in car culture. By bringing together these various voices through the images and text, the project will ultimately address transportation alternatives. It will also provide a voice to a group of individuals often perceived to be disenfranchised in some way for not having an automobile.

My good friend Christine Louise Berry (yes, she of all those wonderful SmartGals events around the city that I’ve told you about before – e.g. here and here -) will be one of the featured Angelenos.

Oh, a side note: I’m usually mixed up with the “no-car” group since many people think my own (very mild) position on non-car options for transport is some form of fundamentalist/extremist campaign, to the point where if I show up to something in a car, people express shock or surprise or even emit an “AHA!” – as though they caught a vegetarian secretly chowing down on a juicy steak – or some other odd reaction. I don’t understand why people think I am anti-car. I am not anti-car and I do not hate cars. (I suspect the same is true of many of those featured in the exhibition.) I love cars. I love driving. You should see me (if you can catch me 🙂 ) on the roads and freeways on the weekends when I do decide to drive – freeways being wonderful inventions for fun classic LA driving and moving great distances quickly (especially later at night when they are clear). I simply find myself ill at the thought of doing what the generic Los Angeles resident does instinctively, as though they are attached to their cars by an umbilical cord – popping into it every time they run even the most trivial errand or move from one part of the city to another, walking even a few blocks or more being a last resort… I can’t do that in all good conscience when there is a pretty good public transport system that serves me reasonably well if I make the effort to connect to it (hence walking and/or bike as well). It just seems wrong to me.

Now will someone please mention to the 18th Street Arts Center the irony that they don’t have any public transport mention in their website, only parking directions? Come on folks, let’s have some joined-up thinking (as they used to say in the UK a while back).


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