Los Angeles Living, Without a Car

Chris Balish is the author of the forthcoming book How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life. He talks with Renee Montagne about how to live without a car, even in Los Angeles.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to other kinds of buying. The shutdown of a major Alaska pipeline, along with the recent fighting in the Middle East, has left oil markets shaky and drivers wondering how much more they'll pay at the pump.

A recent Pew research study found that 55 percent of American car owners have recently curtailed their driving because of high fuel costs. Journalist Chris Balish gave up his car several years ago. Now he's written, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.

Chris Balish walked into our studies here at NPR West and told us how he got here.

Mr. CHRIS BALISH (Journalist and Author, How To Live Well Without Owning A Car): I took the L.A. Metro number 33 bus, and I took my bicycle on the bus. And I rode the bus to Van Ness Boulevard and Hughes, got off, and I rode my bike here, less than a mile.

MONTAGNE: Now, living in Los Angeles, one doesn't think you could even barely use, effectively, mass transit, although very many people do. So even in a place like this, it wasn't so hard.

Mr. BALISH: When I moved to St. Louis, everybody told me you have to have a car in St. Louis. I lived there for three years without a car. When I moved to L.A., people said you really have to have a car in L.A. You can't survive in L.A. without a car, and I found that's not true either.

L.A. is full of wonderful, compact, walkable communities that are great places to live car-free. As a car-free person, you pick the right place to live or you find ways kind of around that. And I find the L.A. Metro System wonderful.

MONTAGNE: Okay, so this is all well and good, but that's a pretty big deal to say, I'm selling my car tomorrow.

Mr. BALISH: Right. For me, it was an accident. I was a very car-addicted person. I drove everywhere. I had a big Toyota Sequoia SUV that I loved. But I was really feeling the pinch at the pump. So I decided to sell the car. I got online, went to the route map of my local transit system, found out I could easily get to work. Once I got that problem solved, all of the other pieces easily fell into place. If you can get to work without a car, you can live without a car, in most cases.

MONTAGNE: So how does a person get started?

Mr. BALISH: Just open your eyes. Look for things like bike paths, bus stops, sidewalks, transit stops, light rail lines, park-and-ride lots, car sharing hubs. Then, you want to talk to your neighbors. Find out anybody in your neighborhood that actually commutes car-free. You also want to ask your co-workers. Chances are somebody you work with commutes car-free.

MONTAGNE: I have to say, one of the, you know, the big tip in the book is do a lot of stuff online...

Mr. BALISH: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...or have things delivered, which...

Mr. BALISH: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...which you would say is actually quite easy to do. So you don't ever have to go to the bank. You don't have to go to the dry cleaners. All right, that's a tip, except, what - you never go anywhere?

Mr. BALISH: No, no. If you really enjoy going to the dry cleaners and going into the drug store, you know, you can still do that. There's a whole section in the book about socializing and dating. Remember that almost all major venues are served by public transit. Or rent a car that night, or use car sharing.

MONTAGNE: And car sharing is?

Mr. BALISH: You join the club for about $45 a year. The cars are parked around your community in designated spots. You reserve it online and you can use it for two hours to two weeks.

MONTAGNE: There is one very interesting statistic in this book, and it has to do with how much people walk, on average.

Mr. BALISH: Less than 300 yards per day. That's not very much. But I have to admit, when I was car-dependent, this was about four years ago, I even drove from my house to the end of the driveway to get the mail and back.

MONTAGNE: Wait, wait, wait, to the end of the driveway?

Mr. BALISH: Sure!

MONTAGNE: I'm hoping you lived some sort of, you know, half street, or something.

Mr. BALISH: Maybe 150 feet. But that's the type of culture that we live in. And when you live car-free, you spend less time sitting in traffic, you deal with less stress and aggravation, you get to know your neighbors because you're not zipping through the neighborhood at 45 miles an hour surrounded by glass and steel, and you have fewer things to remember and less to worry about.

MONTAGNE: Chris Balish, he's the author of How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Books Featured In This Story

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car
How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

Save Money, Breathe Easier, Get More Mileage Out of Life

by Chris Balish

Paperback, 216 pages | purchase

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  • Save Money, Breathe Easier, Get More Mileage Out of Life
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