I recently wrote about the Big Blue Bus’s updated stroller policy for the City of Santa Monica’s blog. The policy is actually very progressive. Not only do you not have to fold your child’s stroller once on board, you can ask the operator to deploy the bus’s wheelchair ramp for you.
Santa Monica is now only one of three operators in the County of Los Angeles (out of almost two dozen) that do not require you to fold the stroller once on board. The other two are Los Angeles Metro and the Glendale Beeline.
By the way, the Glendale Beeline (nine fixed routes) actually has a dedicated page on their website which spells out how to ride transit with a stroller and I had no trouble locating this from navigating their website, which is excellent.
We stayed very local during the month of March, as our transit-oriented trips were limited to Downtown Santa Monica. Downtown Santa Monica is a world-renowned destination but there is still plenty of reasons to visit even if you live nearby.
Santa Monica Main Library to celebrate Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’s birthday
Each year, the library partners with our local Kiwanis club to celebrate Read Across America. Read Across America also coincides with Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In Santa Monica’s version, we welcomed a kid-friendly comic/magician, a volunteer agreed to dress up as the Cat In the Hat for photos, and Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis read her favorite Dr. Seuss book as part of her Let’s Read With Gleam! series. Our family took the Big Blue Bus to the Main Library so that we could enjoy the festivities and I could take some photos to post to social media.
Coming back, we rode the bus with my friend from work Robyn and her son. I was reminded once again that one of the benefits of riding transit with children is the opportunity to travel together with other families without the hassles of dealing with cars and car seats.
Fire Station BBQ
On March 17, the Santa Monica Fire Department threw a big party, complete with an elaborate Santa Maria-style bbq, to celebrate 130 years of service to the community at its fire station in downtown Santa Monica. Juan, Wilshire and I took the Big Blue Bus to check out the festivities. The event was free, so we invited other families from daycare, including Wilshire’s bestie Arabella. SMFD was so gracious in its hospitality. Their staff was super supportive when I gathered them for some group shots (the photos later made it into the City’s Instagram feed and this blog post).
Santa Monica Pier & Pacific Park
Big Blue Bus comes through for the Matutes once again, this time for breakfast at Jinky’s Cafe on 2nd St. and some rides at Pacific Park with family friends! Wilshire loved riding the iconic ferris wheel. He also wanted to be held like a baby.
We’re getting a children’s museum in Santa Monica! And it’s super accessible by both train AND bus!
The Cayton Children’s Museum (formerly known as the Zimmer Museum Presented by Sharewell) had its last day at its old location in Mid-Wilshire in late February. It is on track to open in its new location on the third floor of Santa Monica Place on June 1.
You should consider taking public transportation to visit the Cayton. The Cayton touts its proximity to Expo Rail, but what about those of us who live nowhere near a light rail station? The bus, I’m telling you!
Within one block of the museum, there are twelve bus routes operated by 3 agencies, providing one-bus access to communities as far west as Malibu; north as West Hills in the San Fernando Valley; east as Commerce and East LA, and south as LAX and Inglewood.
Big Blue Bus: 20 bus routes serving the Westside
Route 1: Westwood to Santa Monica via Santa Monica Blvd.
Route 2: Westwood to Santa Monica via Wilshire Blvd.
Wilshire Matute is very enthusiastic about walking around his neighborhood. He will happily walk with us to the park, CVS, daycare, the cleaners, and the mailbox. He likes walking to the bus stop and the Expo Line station too. But make no mistake: Wilshire is not a wunderkind walking enthusiast. These destinations fall neatly within Wilshire Matute’s Toddler Walkshed.
Eric Feldman, a DC-based urban planner, was probably the first to write about toddler walksheds, which he defined loosely as the distance that a curious and perpetually-distracted toddler can navigate city streets on foot in 10-20 minutes, all the while insisting that her parent pushes an empty stroller – and safely.
In my mobility planning circles, we talk about “pedestrian sheds” as a metric to evaluate a neighborhood’s livability and walkability. In drawing these sheds, we ask: What kinds of quality destinations can you reach within a five-minute walk? And safely too?
The racially and socioeconomically diverse San Fernando Valley neighborhood I lived in as a teenager puts this to test. It has many noteworthy destinations within a quarter-mile, including a full-service bank and grocery store. However, accessing them necessitates walking along a stretch of street without sidewalks and then along a busy boulevard lacking street trees, which is simply brutal in the summer heat the Valley is well-known for.
Things are different in the part of Santa Monica I am so grateful to call home.
Wilshire’s Toddler Walkshed is probably on the lower-end, an amorphous shape that is roughly ⅓ of a mile from home and roughly 5 to 10 minutes in any given direction. As Wilshire gets older, I am optimistic that his walkshed will get a little wider. (It has to. There’s a Trader Joe’s opening 0.6 miles away – although who am I fooling, we’ll probably use a stroller to haul the groceries home.)
Here are some field notes from walking around the neighborhood with Wilshire:
Did you know that kids can join the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for free? Through its NextGen program, which is generously funded through private philanthropy, kids can get into the museum free until s/he turns 18. And, the membership includes one free general admission, presumably to allow an adult to accompany the child (this is worth $20)
We took the Metro 720 from the house to LACMA on a Saturday morning. The trip door-to-door, including a brisk trot to the bus stop, was about 35 minutes.
We spent about 90 minutes at the museum before finding lunch.. First, we went to the Boone Children’s Gallery, where Wilshire painted with Japanese water colors for about 40 minutes. Then, we checked out Metropolis, an intense, kinetic sculpture modeled after a high-rise city with lots of cars and TRAINS moving at speeds of up to 240 mph. Wilshire loved it.
Even with the NextGen membership, visiting LACMA can get expensive really quickly if you have to pay for adult admission, parking ($12/car) or for lunch. Save money by bringing in your own food, including your own milk. (A milk box is $4.) We took the bus, which worked out to $3.50 round trip for me.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036 www.lacma.org
Mayor Gleam Davis, herself a mom, wants to share her passion for literacy and education with the Santa Monica community. So, for the duration of her term as mayor, Mayor Gleam is going to read with us. Let’s Read will rotate on a monthly basis around all five branches throughout the City throughout her term in 2019, and will involve both adults and children.
Seuss-a-Bration Santa Monica Public Library – Main Library 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Saturday, March 2, from 10am – 12pm Served by Big Blue Bus 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, R7, 9, 18
P.S. Want to know how I keep up with cool happenings in Santa Monica? I’m subscribed to SaMoNews, the City of Santa Monica’s biweekly newsletter. It’s chock-full of cool, free events happening around Santa Monica.
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
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.
Trader Joe’s in West LA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 majorfan 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.