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Car-free in Southern California

I just heard a caller who’s a student in Los Angeles, wondering whether he should buy a car.

San Diego is almost, though not quite, as autocentric as L.A, and I lived there as a car-free grad student for six years, bicycling to campus and the grocery store and taking a bus to most other things. I never got hit by a car, although I didn’t have an eight-mile commute as your caller does; I did, however, get some funny looks walking around campus wearing a bicycle helmet and a rear view mirror.

My first day in San Diego, I didn’t have a bicycle yet, so I walked to the grocery store, which entailed crossing a bridge over Interstate 5. The bridge had sidewalks, but they had seen no actual pedestrians in so long that they were completely overgrown with waist-high bushes.

You guys don’t ride a bike! There is some research out there that if the biker acts like he knows what he’s doing then drivers drive closer. Two things that made auto drivers make a bigger swoop around a biker 1) if they were females (ponytail hanging down their backside) and 2) if they swerved & acted like they didn’t have good bike skills. Human nature is funny huh?

Three years experience commuting down Mass Ave from Arlington to Cambridge (MIT 1969). Four years in Northern Virginia/Washington DC. Live in San Diego now.

  1. Read Forrester book on “Effective Cycling”. Learn to ride like you belong there.

  2. Get good rear-view mirror.

  3. Buy rubber knife and duct-tape to left side of bike rear carrier, pointed toward the street (have found that drivers who are willing to flatten you in a heartbeat will move over half or full lane to avoid scratching their paint).

  4. Invest in a GOOD folding bike (like Bike Friday) so you can use public transportation when you must. This can also save it’s price in airline fees.


Hi, I thought your southern Cali bicyclist should consider the OTV ELF velomobile from Organic Transit made in Durham, NC, my hometown. It’s a solar power assisted bicycle vehicle that puts the rider at the level of a car, fits within bike lanes but can carry hundreds of pounds of cargo, and protects the rider from the elements to an extent. And it is cute!!! Check it out (video especially):

Why don’t you just get a motorcycle?

Fifty years ago, I had a college classmate who lived about 50 miles from Indianapolis, Indiana. He and his wife were bicycle enthusiasts. This friend was accepted for graduate work at University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. The couple did not own a car. The pedaled the 700 miles from Indiana to Kansas–they did about 100 miles a day. They also frequently made the return trip by bicycle. They had their road bikes, their around town bikes, and an old balloon tire bike fitted with big baskets for trips to the grocery store. In the winter, they used public transportation to return to Indiana. This classmate called me once at Christmas and a relative had given them a car. He said, “What am I supposed to do with this car? The insurance and upkeep will eat us out of house and home”. I don’t know what he did, but I do know that he and his wife would rather bicycle than drive. They were in great physical condition from all their bicycle riding.