It’s no big surprise that car culture dominates daily life in Los Angeles, while San Francisco, where a cable car serves as one of the city’s most familiar symbols, is much more navigable by public transportation. Think of the numbers, whether in a census or on a map. San Francisco, at seven-by-seven miles, is a considerably smaller geographical area, especially when the likes of Culver City, Santa Monica. and Burbank are included in Los Angeles’s massive sprawl.
As far as foot traffic goes, many of us stroll along San Francisco’s boulevards, streets, and avenues and climb its storied hills with regularity. I’ve hiked from the Ferry Building to the Beach Chalet in an afternoon with only a little difficulty — although I took the 39 Geary back downtown after a pint of stout sapped my will to plod. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles new-wave band Missing Persons had a 1982 hit with the refrain, “Nobody walks in Los Angeles” And that’s not too far afield from the truth, even if the center of Hollywood is a fairly compact space that features a pretty renowned Walk of Fame, and quite a few neighborhoods like Echo Park and Venice are pedestrian friendly if you live near a commercial zone.
Those cozier enclaves aside, Angelenos have places to be, often many miles away from where they are at any given moment, and that means reliance on a vehicle. I experienced the madness of getting from A to C (with a connection at B) in Los Angeles without a car of my own a short while back when my Maxima was getting overhauled by a mechanic in Van Nuys. Sure, there was the Uber/Lyft option, but I’m a San Franciscan who has depended on buses and BART for years. I figured the weather was pleasant, and I should give the Los Angeles bus and Metro system a shot. It was a trial to say the least.
Every time you complain because Muni seems to be running a little late and then three buses show up in a cluster at your stop, think about the Los Angeles experience: the half-mile distance between bus shelters on certain lines; the prohibitive distance between a number of connections; the 45-minutes breaks between arrivals on various lines, even during the height of a sun-fried workday; and the general lack of transfers issued from one line to another. If you’re going on a seven-mile trip in Los Angeles (a tiny jaunt in the grand landscape of things), expect to set aside a couple of hours for your journey. There are some lengthy blocks to traverse. No wonder the car is king down south.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION AND OVERWROUGHT
Auto mania notwithstanding, another underground subway route just opened in Los Angeles, the latest in a decades-long project that spans the metropolitan region. This one goes from Union Station, downtown, out to Santa Monica. It would be nice to move beyond our preconceptions about public transportation there. It looks like a plan is in action to offer an alternative to the crowded freeways. On the other hand, there’s been a massive wail in Los Angeles about the paucity of parking at some of the Metro stations along the new route. The essence of the complaint is something akin to, “How can we use public transportation if we can’t drive our cars to the station?” With my recent escapades in bipedal wear-and-tear, I almost feel their pain. Almost.
Back by the bay, anyone trying to navigate the Stockton corridor knows that Muni is in the middle of what we’ve been warned will be years of construction on its underground Metro extension to reach from the Caltrans station to North Beach. The resulting clutter and tumult between the Broadway tunnel and Market Street have obstructed businesses and annoyed consumers and tourists, and the detours taken by the 30 Stockton and the 45 Union to avoid the immense dig haven’t pleased commuters. It comes with the territory when that territory has decided to embrace the environmental advantages of public transportation — no matter how much chaos it brings to said environment in the short term.
If it bothers you, do what I do. Walk around it. Because it’s San Francisco in 2016, you may encounter a phalanx of tech bros gathered in front of a hip, pricey new watering hole, or a few aggressive panhandlers defending a sidewalk tent city, or a gaggle of shell-shocked visitors to our fair town. But think of the exercise you’ll be getting.