Journy's Essential Guide To Getting Around Los Angeles
Cars What weather discussion is for the Brits, traffic discussion is for Los Angelenos. It doesn't matter if everyone knows that Wilshire will be slow or if it's not even surprising that another driver cut you off with their lane change. Los Angeles' sprawl makes driving a necessity, which makes talking about traffic a constant topic of conversation. But that doesn't mean driving in Los Angeles is straightforward. From the unofficial left turn on yellow rule to street grids that shift as you mo
What weather discussion is for the Brits, traffic discussion is for Los Angelenos. It doesn't matter if everyone knows that Wilshire will be slow or if it's not even surprising that another driver cut you off with their lane change. Los Angeles' sprawl makes driving a necessity, which makes talking about traffic a constant topic of conversation.
But that doesn't mean driving in Los Angeles is straightforward. From the unofficial left turn on yellow rule to street grids that shift as you move from Culver City to Long Beach, there are plenty of tips that a first time driver in LA needs to know before they hit the street.
Pro tip: Really want to beat the car chaos, use Uber or Uberpool. The affordable and readily available cars has led even car-reliant LA-dwellers to give up their vehicles for the insurance savings.
Getting on the freeway, and then getting stuck in freeway traffic, might as well be a rite of passage in LA. These fast moving highways are essential for easing the flow of cars on surface streets and frequently the quickest way to get from one end of the city to another; however they aren't without their quirks.
When giving directions, Los Angelenos refer to freeways by name (take the 105 west). If you're listening to a traffic report on the radio, the announcers will refer to the freeways by their name. Lanes are referred to by numbers, starting from 1 as the fast lane on the left near the median and then increasing as it moves to the right. If you can get a GPS that tracks traffic conditions, it can help alleviate any confusion.
When driving on freeways, speed is of the essence. If you're driving at the speed limit, you should be in the lane next to the exit lane (because you should never drive there). In the fast lane, cars will most definitely be speeding. Go with the flow, even if that means you’re speeding, it will reduce the likelihood of getting a ticket. On most freeways passing is allowed on both the left and right, but if you're uncertain, pay attention to other drivers.
Pay attention to Carpool and HOV lanes during rush hour. The minimum amount of passengers ranges from two to three, depending on the road. You’re nearly guaranteed to experience traffic during the hours of 7am-10am and then again from 4pm-7pm (or even later). But just because you're driving during an off point doesn't mean it will be smooth going. Just plan extra time.
For shorter trips, or if traffic is particularly awful, taking surface streets can be your quickest option. Except for in Downtown, most surface streets in LA have two way traffic. The majority of the city is arranged on a grid. In the Los Angeles basin streets run on a simple North/South and East/West grid with the exception of San Vicente Boulevard, which bisects the city on a diagonal. This shifts as you head to Culver City and Santa Monica in the West, where the streets run Northwest/Southeast and Southwest/Northeast to lead you to the coast.
When driving on surface streets the regular rules apply: pay attention to pedestrians, look out for street lights (even if they are impossible to see) and avoid blocking the intersection at all costs. And remember: since LA is basically a collection of cities, street names and traffic laws can change with little to no warning (another reason a GPS is so handy!).
DON'T honk your horn except to alert drivers to imminent danger.
DO embrace the LA left-arm driver tan (and book an appointment at the dermotologist while you're at it).
DON'T expect for traffic to operate the same during rain. It will be chaos.
DO turn left on yellow or experience the wrath of every driver behind you (there's never enough time for all the drivers that want to make left turns to do so on green).
DON'T show how upset you are at the driver who just cut you off. An impassive face helps keep the peace.
DO leave ample time to get to your destination.
Although walking in Los Angeles gets a bad rap, that doesn't mean the city is devoid of pedestrians. There are plenty of neighborhoods hospitable to those who enjoy pounding the pavement. In fact, West Hollywood was voted Most Walkable City in California by Walk Score.
In West Hollywood you;ll be able to amble along side streets, window shop on the avenues and even swing by the neighborhood's famed Farmer's Market, which is open daily and has been in operation since 1934.
Unfortunately, not every area of the sprawling city is so walkable and some argue that it's a privilege to claim LA is a fantastic city for pedestrians. It might be the case that those who enjoy ambling around the city live in an area where it's safe, beautiful and well-connected.
The myth that there are no walkers has helped ingrain the reign of the car, which is more an ingrained habit than true practical solution. While it's certainly true that the city's large size makes a car the most practical way to hop from neighborhood to neighborhood, it's equally true that Los Angeles does have sidewalks and that each neighborhood can be traversed with relative ease on two feet.
Those who choose to experience Los Angeles on foot should a couple things to keep in mind to make sure their walks are pleasant ones. First off: comfortable shoes are a must. Distances in Los Angeles can be quite far, but sneakers will keep them from dragging. A bottle of water will also help since most streets have little shade to block out the scorching SoCal sun. While not every excursion will be beautiful, there are plenty of hidden nooks and crannies that you’d otherwise miss speeding by in your car. Los Angeles' eclectic architecture seems all the more natural when moving at three mph as opposed to 30.
Tourist boards have also been trying to change the perception of the city as hostile to pedestrians and there are plenty of walking tours you can go on if you’d rather have someone help guide you through the sprawl.
In addition to West Hollywood, Venice Beach and Santa Monica are fantastic places for strolls. For those who prefer to wander through nature, Griffith's Park offers plenty of trails, though good shoes are once again a must to help you scramble up the sometimes unpaved pathways. Crossing the Colorado State Bridge is also a pleasant excursion with the best views over Pasadena. For those who #WillWalkforFood, a DIY tour of Koreatown is a good weekend excursion.
As well-known as Los Angeles is for the film industry and fast moving freeways, it might be as equally infamous for its public transport. Or lack thereof.
This is a bit of a misconception. Yes, it can be a schlep across the city during rush hour and you subway stops tend to be further from your ultimate destination than is convenient. Before you write off LA's transport system, consider: Los Angeles' subway system is currently the third largest in the country by ridership, its light rail system is the second and its bus system is the second largest in the country in terms of both ridership and size of fleet. People do use public transport in Los Angeles.
It's also cheap. A single ride on the main bus or rail lines costs only $1.75 (you'll also need to buy a $1 reuseable TAP card to load your ticket on). Day passes cost $7. $25 will get you a weekly passe, which is valid from Sunday to Saturday. Monthly passes are valid for 30 days and cost $100. Single fares and day passes can be bought from vending machines at rail stations and on board buses (exact change only). Weekly and monthly passes are sold at over 650 locations around the city. You can find the location most convenient to you by checking online at Metro.
The main bus and rail system is operated by private transportation company Metro. Smaller systems operate throughout the city including municipal buses in Santa Monica, Culver City and Long Beach. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation operates DASH buses with 33 routes in local communities. At only 50¢ per ride, they're one of the most economical ways to traverse the city. Unfortunately, they run until only 6:30pm.
Most useful for visitors are the two main subway lines. They're quick, coded red and purple and connect downtown with outlying areas, including stops at most of the major sights. If you like urban art, take a tour of the well-decorated red line stations, which the Metro system operates year round. For reaching outlying residential areas, the light rail is your best bet. It has four lines and runs above ground, albeit it operates at a slower pace than the subway.
Buses can be hit or miss. There may be exaggerated wait times for particular lines and even the rapid buses make frequent stops. These red buses run less frequently than the local orange ones, but they have a special sensor that makes lights stay green as they approach an intersection, speeding up your ride. There are also blue commuter buses, which connect Downtown Los Angeles with cities on the outskirts and travel on the freeways.
When asking people for directions it's helpful to remember that LA's transport system is still in its infancy and even locals are figuring out the best way to use it. The system has its quirks, but fans insist that once you learn to use it, it's an excellent resource to have for navigating the metropolis. As senior vice president of sales at Los Angeles tourism told The New York Times: "It's an education process."
Exhilarating, subversive, terrifying. That's LA biking in a nutshell.
Biking in Los Angeles is not for the uninitiated. While it's always obvious that cars dominate the city, it becomes even more pronounced when you opt for two wheels as opposed to four. It's not only a case of poorly marked bike lanes that suddenly disappear, your mental map of the city needs to change as well. If slow cars piss off other drivers on the freeway, just imagine what a bike would do (LA leads the country in bike-related fatalities).
Since Los Angeles revealed their 20-year plan for decreasing the city's reliance on cars by 2035, figuring out how to get residents to bike has been at the top of the to-do list. Despite improvements to LA's public transportation network, the long distances between metro stops mean that biking will help make the metro habit stick. Right now, cycling accounts for less than 1% of all commutes.
Before LA gets a bike sharing system to call their own, residents need to figure out how to navigate the streets with confidence and ease. LA Bike Trains is one group helping people do exactly that. Founded by Nona Varnado, the organization operates the bike equivalent of carpooling to work. Bikers ride with an experienced group leader who points out everything from potholes and car doors to pieces of glass that threaten to derail the journey. Most routes follow metro lines, so bikers have alternate means of transportation should they not feel up to the task.
Although Los Angeles has over 350 miles of bike paths that extend from Burbank to Long Beach, they tend to peter out in Downtown. Many websites and community groups are devoted to cataloging the city's bike paths so potential cyclists learn how to navigate the city with a two wheel mentality as opposed to a four wheel one.
There are a few Los Angeles quirks that make getting your biking start a bit easier. So long as they don't interfere with pedestrians, bikers in LA are allowed to ride on the sidewalk. Unless under the age of 18, bikers aren’t required by law to wear helmet (though your mother was right and you always should). Depending also on your bike also means freeing yourself from the tyranny of valet, parking lots and traffic.
LA introduced a bike sharing scheme in 2016 with docking ports scattered throughout downtown. The scheme is run by the Metro and residents rent bikes by scanning their TAP metro card at a docking station. You can also pay per ride with your credit card. It costs $3.50 per half hour to rent a bike. You can also purchase an annual pass for $40, which cuts the base riding fare in half.
Be careful if you plan to bike outside of Downtown. Santa Monica, UCLA, Beverly Hills, Long Beach and West Hollywood all operate individual bike share schemes that aren't compatible with DTLA's; however, they are compatible with each others. Metro plans to open new rental stations in Pasadena and Port of LA this year, with Venice following soon after.
Stay tuned to find out more about biking in Los Angeles. Have a question about Los Angeles transport you'd like us to answer? Email [email protected]