Jul 23, 13

Stana Katic Talks Car-Free Travel, Technology & L.A.’s Transportation Potential

LAist had a chance to meet actress Stana Katic, co-star of ABC-TV’s Castle and the upcoming film CBGB, at last month’s CicLAvia, the Iconic Wilshire Boulevard edition. Katic wrapped up that event’s opening ceremonies by talking about her own similar initiative, the Alternative Travel Project (ATP), which asks people to go car-free for a day. In walking—make that riding—the talk, Katic led a gaggle of schoolchildren from Museum Row to Downtown Los Angeles to enjoy one of L.A.’s busiest city streets sans cars.

We wanted to find out more about the project founded in 2011 by the Canadian-born Katic, who grew up both outside of Toronto and in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago (two major cities with great public transit systems) and her take on transportation issues in L.A. Our phone interview began with five questions but quickly grew from there. Katic came across as a passionate advocate for alternative transportation, new technologies and the positive social benefits of just getting out there and exploring our own communities without a car—yes, even here in car-centric L.A.

LAist: When you were riding down Wilshire during CicLAvia with that posse of kids, is there something you noticed by riding down Wilshire on bike that you’d probably have missed by driving in a car?

Stana Katic: We had the opportunity to stop for a cookie break [before Koreatown], and I wouldn’t have known about that cookie shop if it weren’t for the way we were traveling. Just kind of traveling with a bunch of kids, too, it kind of made it a perfect time to kind of stop and enjoy a local bakery that had just opened and hopefully encouraged their shop along with other smaller shops to give the big city a small town kind of feel.

Your Alternative Travel Project encourages people to escape the “bubble of their cars” for a day? Seven days a month?

I think the basic message is to go car-free for just one day. And the point is—make a different choice. Now when I go about doing it, and it’s more on a public level, I give it up for seven days in a month and encourage other people to go car-free as well. It’s very exciting to hear some of the stories and learn about new experiences people have. For instance, and I’ve brought this up in the past, there’s a school that went car-free on Fridays in Romania, and because of this, a lot of people that worked at the school and parents that were participating in the program were meeting each other. They were meeting each other on buses, on sidewalks and so on, and the end result was that there were two couples that formed…one of them even had their first kiss on the bus…and they got married! So there are so many wonderful stories across the globe that I get because people decide to invest in their travel experience in a different way.

There seems to have been an attitude change in L.A. lately with a growing bike movement and push for public transportation, etc. Do you get that sense, and if so, any thoughts on why the shift?

Definitively. What I’ve witnessed is there’s more an awareness of the transit systems—the subway systems especially. People are looking forward to being able to travel from Downtown to the ocean and back again, and having to be able to get to the airport without having to deal with traffic.

And I think we’re getting a lot of creative thinking about space and not looking at it as regimented. So we have these activities in this city—Midnight Ridazz, for instance, or Wolfpack Hustle, where people aren’t looking at these roads as exclusively automobile traffic zones, but they’re also looking at it as an opportunity to have a social experience and to travel by bicycle or to walk. It’s creating a really wonderful kind of reverberating energy throughout the city. These are social opportunities—and also a chance to get some ya-yas out, right? I think that’s really appealing to a lot of the youth that are coming in droves annually to this city.

When we invest in pedestrian travel and in safe bicycle travel, what we’re doing is investing in the vein work of a city. I think the metaphor is kind of obvious, but we’re creating a real solid heartbeat. You’re investing in the citizenship of your city, you’re investing in the smaller businesses of your city, and that creates tremendous experience for anyone that’s part of it—not just the people who are living here, but also people who are coming through. Los Angeles is the movie mecca for the planet, and people come here just to see that world. A lot of people are coming from parts of the world that have amazing transit systems, so to cater to that world as well as cater to the local citizenry, I think that’s going to help Los Angeles flower into an even better version of itself.

Can you talk a little about L.A.’s global influence?

I remember watching this semi-documentary about a mayor who was part of a big shift in Bogota, Colombia. He talked about the fact that cities are thousands of years old and that car travel is…not. Cities were built around a different kind of travel, and so if we are going to have a city, then we have to be mindful of creating access to all parts of that city. It has to be easily traveled. Suburban travel inside of this city doesn’t necessarily work, and we see that on a regular basis here in Los Angeles where we have these terrible traffic experiences.

I think people just want to enjoy their life in this city. If you’re walking around your city and if you know your local vendors, the city is automatically safer. I’m gonna care about the local falafel shop owner. I will know him. I’m going be invested in his safety because of that personal relationship. Those are things that happen when a person steps outside of the bubble of our cars.

And if in Los Angeles, one of the media capitals of the planet, we can do a shift in the positive, then that’s going to translate. It’ll translate in the stories that we tell because the local stories are being told by writers who live, most of the time, in Los Angeles. They are inspired by the moments that they oftentimes live themselves. And if we can start shifting things a little bit locally, then perhaps that’ll enter into the media that we output, and then that perhaps will also affect other parts of the planet that look to Los Angeles in so many ways…as a sort of example of what a great lifestyle could be. It’d be a really nice kind of message, I think, to export.

We hear you’re interested in new tech/sustainable energy options. Has anything caught your eye recently that you’ve incorporated into your daily life?

Alternative transit. I want to be very clear on what it is that we’re focused on for Alternative Travel Project. It is pedestrian travel. It is traveling via bicycle. It is using public transit systems like the bus or the subway. And it’s also new technologies. There are tremendous amounts of new technologies that are coming out that create interesting sources of travel that might not necessitate a benzene-propelled kind of vehicle.

I’ve been introduced to this company called Arcimoto; it’s a small company based out of Oregon that’s developing kind of a fusion between a dune buggy and a motorcycle. I’m in line to get one of their pilot fleet and hopefully will be able to use that for city travel.

Aside from that, I’m constantly looking for new sorts of tech out there. I visited the Canadian Embassy here in Los Angeles, and there was a Portuguese immigrant to Canada [who developed] a car that was built entirely out of solar panels and ran on solar energy. He drove it up to the Northern parts of Canada and the U.S. and all the way down to California and L.A. It looked really interesting, almost like how a spaceship would look. I do remember seeing it, being very impressed and saying that these are technological advances that are worth investing in. We have to create opportunity for these people to create new technology. We have to support those scientists who are building better ways for us to live and enjoy our surroundings, so that’s why that’s a part of the Alternative Travel Project. It is going to help make a better future for all of us, which is exciting.

Do you have a favorite walk or ride in L.A.?

I go for walks all the time. I would walk regularly to work [at Raleigh Studios, near Paramount Studios]. It took me about an hour to get to work and an hour to get home. That walk was really exciting because I got to see an older part of Los Angeles, and sometimes I would meet people along the way that lived in some of the older buildings. These people loved telling me stories about their homes. If the exercise didn’t make me feel great, then these experiences along the way would make it great. And by the time I would get to work I was in a great mind space for a long day of filmmaking.

I don’t want it to seem like we’re using Los Angeles as a platform, because we’re not. I’m just saying that Los Angeles is the media capital and has an effect around the globe. The Alternative Travel Project exists whether it’s in Los Angeles or in Dubai. I don’t think the Alternative Travel Project should exist for time immemorial, but the idea is that it accomplishes a goal and it’s done and that would be great. I would love to see this city fulfill its potential in the world of local travel, and I think that would have a positive effect internationally.

Since Castle is a popular show with a passionate fan base, and you mentioned using L.A.’s media influence around the world, what are the chances of incorporating some ATP themes/issues into the show to get the word out?

I would love for there to be a storyline. That would be great—but that’s an Andrew Marlowe [creator and showrunner] kind of call.