Monday, May 27, 2013

Public Transportation

I frequently hear that "you can't live in LA without a car". Maybe that was the case 20 years ago, but not so today. It is a myth that really needs to be debunked.

Los Angeles has a good light rail system. It is currently undergoing expansion to extend to Santa Monica and there are more expansions planned for the near future. It doesn't connect every area of the city, but you can move reasonably efficiently between major hubs for less than $5 a day. Depending on traffic, it can be faster than driving.

Above ground light rail (Culver City Station)
LA subway (Universal City Station)

I haven't used the bus system extensively. In fact, we've primarily used the Culver City bus since it connects several areas near our apartment. It is pretty typical for a bus system in that it is slow since it can stop at nearly every intersection. However, they run frequently enough to make them viable. We often use the bus to go to dinner on Friday night just so we don't have to drive or find parking.

A few tips if you are new to area (or just now weaning yourself off of a car):

  • Get a TAP card. These store money or passes and work on all light rail, LA buses, Culver City buses, and a handful of other adjacent city buses.
  • You can take your bike on the train and most buses have the bike racks in front. Select rail stations (usually the park and ride ones) have bike lockers that can be rented for $48 a year. Having recently had my bike stolen from a station bike rack, I'd recommend springing for one or taking your bike with you in the train and locking it up near your office. 
  • Get the Los AngelBus app (free!) if you will be taking the bus (sadly only covers LA city buses, though). It tracks buses using GPS so you know where your bus is. It also shows stops with route and bus numbers and gives you a time estimate of when the next several buses will arrive.
  • I've traveled alone on LA public transport and never felt unsafe. That being said, use street sense and keep your possessions in hand, don't bring out expensive electronic gadgets, and don't travel alone late at night. Most snatch and grabs seem to take place on station platforms, so leave your cell phone/iPad put away until you get on the train (most people use them once seated on the train).

Public transportation in Los Angeles gets a thumbs up from me! If you are coming here as a tourist you can definitely benefit from a more relaxing experience by going car free. Light rail links you from the airport or Union Station to Pasadena (Rose Bowl), Universal City (Universal Studios Hollywood), Hollywood theaters, downtown, MacArthur park, Expo Park (California Science Center w/ space shuttle, Natural History museum, USC), Long Beach (Queen Mary, aquarium, beach, Grand Prix), Culver City (Sony Studios), and many more wonderful and off the beaten path places!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Where NOT to go in LA: Tourist Edition

I generally don't like to focus on the negative, but in this case it is worth it. If you ever come to LA, you should skip the Hollywood walk of fame area and the Venice Beach boardwalk. I know these are iconic LA locations, but trust me it is not worth it!

Let's start with the walk of fame. That area of Hollywood is trashy, smelly, and full of homeless people and weirdos. I am not sure why local officials haven't figured out that you need to keep your tourist areas nice. NYC got that right when they cleaned up the streets of Manhattan. I am extremely sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. Most of them have mental illness or debilitating addictions. Allowing them to live in our public space is not the solution. I think I'd be ok with it if it wasn't for the filth and trash they create. So skip Hollywood and do the Hollywood sign hike instead. It's just as iconic and a far better experience.

The Venice Beach boardwalk is like Hollywood on the beach, but add marijuana and alcohol to the mix. It is also smelly, dirty, and full of highly questionable people. You definitely don't want to bring kids here (unless you want it to serve as a warning as to why they should stay in school and not do drugs). The shops are full of cheap junk, the food is junk, and the people are sadly not that attractive. There are also "medical" marijuana shops which is essentially a way to buy weed legally by paying a premium for a "consultation". I've been fairly indifferent to the marijuana legalization movement, but it goes without saying that a high concentration of those shops is about as desirable as a high concentration of cheap beer joints. So skip the Venice boardwalk and go to Santa Monica Blvd between Formosa and Wilshire. There are artsy shops, a variety of restaurants, fascinating people watching, and it is clean and not smelly. It is a perfectly acceptable place to bring kids to show them diversity and creativity in a positive light. There is also the Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice, but it is an awful lot like South Congress in Austin.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Balcony Garden: Early May

I gave up trying to start basil from seed and just bought a plant. So far, it looks about the same as when I bought it minus a few leaves that went in my sandwich.

The spinach and kale were removed (starting to get a bit warm for them some days) and replaced with yellow squash (left) and peppers (right). I have no idea how squash will do in a pot since it gets so big. I have space for it to spread on the balcony, so we'll see! I will definitely grow greens again next winter because they were very successful.

The strawberry plant has been the biggest success so far. I have picked countless strawberries (we always just eat them as soon as they are picked). They are sweet and slightly tart and very juicy. I never could grow them in Texas.

The rosemary is indestructible as always. The tomato on the other hand is not quite so great (see how yellowed it is). I think it is low on nitrogen. I amended the soil yesterday with coffee grounds and compost. It did produce some delicious little tomatoes. They are cherry tomatoes, but look and taste like little beefsteak tomatoes. I hope the plant makes it as they are quite good. I may have to spring for some fertilizer. I also learned I planted the tomato a bit early for out here, which might also account for its stunted growth.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

City Living and the Environment: Part 2

Proximity to work, play, and errands is one of the biggest components of making city living "greener". However, other factors certainly make a big difference:
  • Proximity to utilities: Laying water pipes, sewer pipes, and cable uses resources. Electricity attenuates over large distances. Cities on a grid system are the most efficient means of distributing utilities and dealing with wastes. Obviously, if you are "off the grid" in the country, you are a special case!
  • Smaller footprint: Most urban homes are smaller by necessity. It is too expensive to build a sprawling house. Plus, most American urban core homes were constructed before the 1970's and therefore smaller (kids used to not all get their own rooms! ). Smaller homes are more efficient to heat and cool. Apartments and condos which are a staple of urban dwelling really take the prize for energy efficiency (all those units insulate each other). 
  • Smaller lawns or no lawn at all: Urban core homes have very little in the way of a lawn. Sure, their impervious cover percentage is crazy high, but they aren't expending water, gas, and fertilizer on a sprawling yard. Many apartments in dense urban areas like LA have no turf grass at all and instead just have a few green courtyards with trees, shrubs, and flowers.
  • Nowhere to store a second car: If you have more than one car, one of them ends up parked on the street typically (or you pay to lease a parking spot). This creates a pretty good incentive to consolidate to a single vehicle which leads to more carpooling or public transportation.
  • Access to public transit: I am really getting into public transit now that I live somewhere with an entire system of bus and light rail (and soon to be high speed rail as I and many others are feverishly working on it)!

City living isn't for everyone, but the "concrete jungle" certainly lessens your environmental impact and the amount of money spent on utilities and peripherals. I think living in the City feels less connected to nature than suburban living, so it is easy to forget how good it is in the bigger picture. It is also easy to forget how awesome it can be with a little creative city planning. Humans are far better collectively, and there is no reason the combined mental and creative forces of a city can't make the urban core the best place to be.