Raising Wilshire

A blog about parenting and car-lite living in Los Angeles

Mommy & Wilshire’s Excellent Transit Oriented Adventures

At just under three years old, Wilshire Matute is a seasoned transit rider. Thank goodness. We live extremely close to multiple bus routes with frequent service, serving destinations I would rather not travel to by car, like my doctor’s offices, UCLA, and Downtown Santa Monica (only one of the best pedestrian environments in America.)

I wanted to put up a fun post about some of the places we take transit to. We live within walking distance to daycare, so most of our transit rides happen on weekends. Here’s a sampling of destinations within the past month.

Downtown Santa Monica

Prince (L) and Wilshire (R) met up at the Santa Monica Pier on a Sunday morning earlier this month.

We often take the Big Blue Bus into Downtown Santa Monica to go shopping, eat out, or meet up with friends.

West Los Angeles Farmers Market

Located near the Felicia Mahood Senior Center, the West LA Farmers Market operates on Sunday mornings and is served by about 20 vendors. They have the best tamales and crepes. Wilshire also really likes the art table there, which always has a great supply of markers, crayons, paints, and glitter.

Wilshire makes art at the West LA Farmers Market

Trader Joe’s in West LA

Wilshire on a Big Blue Bus route 5 bus

The service on the route is not the greatest, but the wait is okay when you wait for the bus at the stop with a direct view of the Bundy Expo station, and 4 trains go by.

Note: I usually bring my City Mini stroller with me on these solo trips to the grocery store. I can’t risk Wilshire demanding to be carried while I am also hauling home a week’s worth of groceries. It is not easy to bring a stroller onto a city bus. But Big Blue Bus has made it somewhat easier because they do not require families to fold their strollers until after they have boarded the bus, and the drivers are usually gracious enough to kneel the bus or deploy the wheelchair ramp so I can push my stroller and groceries on board. I have done this often enough to always bring sturdy bags with zip tops, so I never risk items falling out.

Crafts classes at Michaels

I discovered in late November that Michaels’, the nationwide arts and crafts hobby store, offers drop-in arts and crafts projects for kids on Saturday mornings for the modest price of just $2 for children ages 3-6 and $5 for children 6 and over.

To Grandmother’s House We Go

In our most ambitious trip ever, we took three types of trains – light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail – from our home in Santa Monica to see my husband’s family. Wilshire stood the whole time.

Our family just before we boarded a Metrolink train to come home

For more pointers on taking transit with children, I suggest reading this piece by Carla Sauter, the Seattle Bus Chick.

The difference good transit geography makes for my car-lite family

My family waiting for a bus to go to a farmers market

Public transportation is an integral asset in the Matute Family Car-Lite Tool Kit. We live near several bus routes with frequent service, which also happen to serve major destinations in our area. Put another way, we ride buses a lot, and we can do this because out in our corner of Los Angeles, we’re blessed with good transit geography.

Broadly speaking, good transit geography is any geography in which good transit destinations are on a direct path between other good transit destinations. (Especially, destinations that are on the way).

Some good transit ‘destinations’ revolve around basic needs: affordable grocery stores, medical care, a bank, and a post office. In our situation, there’s a Trader Joe’s along the bus route between my husband’s job and our house. The route has very frequent service, so it’s actually not a big deal for him to pop in to grab some items on his way home.

In our world, good transit geography also includes living very close to bus stops. As noted by Child in the City, a European nonprofit which promotes and advocates for the rights and needs of children living in urban environments, transit service can be a make-or-break based on the location of the closest stop. They correctly point out: When you are pushing a stroller and carrying 3 bags, the extra block or crossing seems ten times further. TRUTH!

Another example of “good transit geography” is access to jobs. Ideally,  these would include jobs that you are personally qualified for and willing to take. Because you guys, the spatial mismatch between jobs and housing in major regions like LA is real. The barriers to closing the gap are innumerable.

GREAT transit geography hits the Housing/Transit/Education (HTE) nexus sweet spot: frequent transit service, affordable housing, and high quality early childhood centers and schools. This combination is exceedingly rare in most US cities, including Los Angeles.

“In many parts of the United States it is difficult for families, particularly low- or moderate- income families, to be able to afford a suitable home in a transit rich neighborhood with good schools. Neighborhoods with all three elements are exceedingly rare. As a result, people often have to sacrifice one of three elements to make their lives work – a home that is within their means, access to quality public transit or access to good schools. This calculation creates a push-pull on placemaking in American cities where we still do not sufficiently design or plan the city with the quality of life services, necessities, or amenities necessary for families to stay and thrive.” link, page 3

UC Berkeley Center for City + Schools’s “Connecting Housing + Transportation + Education to Expand Opportunity” report.

Santa Monica is wonderful and special in many ways. By living here, we zone to exceptional public schools. Wilshire will be able to take the bus to Samohi, a nationally ranked public high school served by 8 bus routes and the terminus for the Metro Expo line.

But a few words about how quickly things can turn on a dime, even for families the most determined to stay car-lite, and have made choices we hope would support that decision.

We are fortunate to live within walking distance or a short bus ride from high-quality daycare and preschool programs. But unlike with the local elementary school, there’s no guarantee that you will get in. That’s the situation we’re in with the preschool closest to our house. It’s great! But the entry point is the toddler room – and I passed on enrolling Wilshire due to cost and the difficulty of commuting there on public transportation or with a bike. So, we’ve applied to another preschool not quite on the radar of people we know from college. It’s not fancy. It’s not NAEYC-accredited. But it’s along the way to my husband’s job, and on the bus route with frequent service. (See the theme?) And we feel very good about this school. But what if neither of these programs pan out? Well, there is a plan C. It’s in our price range. But it’s not along the way. We’ll discuss how we’ll manage that in another blog post if it comes to it, because I am honestly not sure.

Ironic and interesting right? Santa Monica has some of the priciest market-rate housing around. A family looking to move here for the schools needs to clear at least $100,000 a year to afford the rent on a barebones 2-bedroom rental apartment. (The county household median is just $61,000.) Moving to Santa Monica is not for the faint of heart. We are incredibly lucky, and privileged, to be here in this place where we can also live very comfortably without driving a car. Very lucky indeed.

Check out my primer (“Wilshire and Mommy’s Excellent Transit Oriented Adventures”) for pointers on some of my favorite places to take Wilshire on public transportation.

Oh The Places You’ll (Need To) Go

This is a part of an on-going series on How We’re Making Car-Lite Work in Santa Monica

On our way back from the dry cleaner; I draped our nearly cleaned clothes over Wilshire’s stroller.

When I first reflected on how we have gotten by as a one-car family for so long, I originally thought I would be writing about Wilshire’s bike seat, or the wagon we bought off  Amazon to haul around boxes and groceries. Or, perhaps, I’d talk about how found high-quality childcare close by.

But I think it’s important to start with something very, very basic:

We live in close proximity to the goods and services which we cannot substitute through online shopping.

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Jazz on the Lawn is the perfect way for SaMo families to end weekends in August

THIS is the way to do the concert: Blanket, wagon, folding side table, wicker suitcase for all your outdoor picnicking needs. 

Every Sunday evening in August, the City of Santa Monica holds a free jazz concert in Gandara Park. It’s free, it’s chill, and it works exceptionally well for multi-generational families.

Lets’ start with the obvious: I am a major fan of Jazz on the Lawn, this concert series organized by the City of Santa Monica  each Sunday in the month of August. The concert series started 13 years ago at the behest of a councilmember who was looking to activate Stewart Street Park, a park that used to be a dump. I started going four years ago, when I moved within walking distance of Stewart Street Park (now Gandara Park). I now plan my August weekends around these, and schedule my out-of-neighborhood excursions so I will be home in time for the concert.

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East Coast Adventure 2018: Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Syracuse!

We made it the northern edge of one of the Finger Lakes

After spending two days in Toronto, we took a MegaBus across the border Buffalo, NY, and spent the weekend in Western and Central New York. Along the way, we crossed more things off our bucket list.

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East Coast Adventure 2018: Wrap Up

Through this trip, we were able to check off a lot of things on our bucket list. They included visiting Toronto and seeing my CTY friends in New York. Overall, we had a wonderful trip and are looking forward to traveling with our son again soon.

There were two other things I think that we did well.

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East Coast Adventure: Toronto! (Part 1)

We started our East Coast Adventure last month by flying on West Jet to Toronto, Canada, where we spent two nights with our friends Tremor and Julia. (Tremor was in my macroeconomics class at Pomona College). What impressed me most while we were traveling from the airport and into downtown Toronto, where our friends live, was the skyline.

Will’s first night in Toronto

High rises and crane trucks during the day. Click photo to enlarge.

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Why I took Will to the ER on a bike, and not by car

This is the second in a series about How We’re Making Car-Lite Work

Juan and I both had on our light up vests coincidentally.

Yesterday, I had to take Wilshire to the emergency room for stitches. The kid tripped and hit his eyebrow on a door at his daycare while racing to get to the potty. (We’d trained him the weekend before, so he was still a novice.) Wilshire’s battle scar was a superficial cut about a half-inch long right over his eyebrow that necessitated four stitches.

As many readers know, we only own one car. This means that we have all sorts of unwritten contingency plans on how we’d cope when we need to get somewhere quickly without a car. The situation gets thornier when there is a sick child, an unplanned doctor’s visit, and the parent who has to retrieve the child “green commuted” to work. It has been much easier to remain a one-car family in our area thanks to Lyft, Uber, bikeshare, and (most recently) dockless scooter-share. But as I’d covered in a prior blog post, those three options do not work when you have to transport another human or a lot of stuff.

In this particular situation, I wound up deciding to use my bicycle to transport my son to the ER. Here’s why:

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Bird Scooters allow me to get my child on time from daycare

This is part 1 of my multi-part series on how we’re making Car-Lite work in Santa Monica

On the go with Wilshire to work one morning

Shortly before we left for our East Coast Adventure, the Santa Monica City Council approved a shared mobility pilot that rejected staff’s recommendation for a hard cap of just 2,500 scooters. There are already 2,500 Bird scooters alone on the streets of Santa Monica. Instead, the City will be setting up a “dynamic cap” based on utilization rates. 

And with that, I took a great sigh of relief. Here’s why:

Over the past five months, I have been relying on Bird scooters to get from work to Wilshire’s daycare on time several times a week.

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6 Excellent Tips for a Great Plane and Road Trip With a Toddler

Hello again!

We’re back from our East Coast Adventure, where we traveled 1,200 miles in 12 days and visited six states plus Canada. Our adventure started in Toronto, Canada and ended in the DC area for a family reunion, with stops along the way in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse; the Berkshires; and Amish Country. I promise to blog about the trip itself. Before I forget, I wanted to share the lessons we learned about going on a long road tripp with young Wilshire, who is presently two and not yet potty-trained.

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