Monday, July 09, 2007


Transit for the masses whether they use it or not

I took the L.A. Subway for the first time last week. Sure, I had heretofore held steady with the belief that the Metro line, despite having stops in my neighborhood, really only existed so that action heroes like Jack Bauer and the Keanu Reeves character in SPEED could fight bad guys there. But over the years, friends have taken it without incident, and Our Man in LA felt like he should give it a spin.

The decision, FYI, coincides with my decision to work at home less and move into the YMCA of the USA's Los Angeles offices, which are in Koreatown at New Hampshire and Wilshire.

K-Town's one of those LA neighborhoods that the tourists don't know much about, but it's a super-cool enclave, complete with some of LA's coolest architecture, decent bars and restaurants, and a cool nightlife. When Our Woman in LA drives home at night from the West Side, she swears by the couple of miles down the Wilshire corridor in K-Town. At night, the billboards light up, the mega-tron TVs alight on the sides of skyscrapers. People are out on the streets. You don't feel like you're in the United States anymore. It's a cool drive that reminds you that you're in a big city.

New Hampshire and Wilshire also happens to be three subway stops from our neighborhood, so there's another reason for the mass transit.

So what's the verdict? How did the LA Metro stack up?

Pretty well, actually. There are pros and cons, but I'd do it again. Consider some pros:

1) It really is fast. Sure, I was only on for three stops, but it literally took me under ten minutes to go from Vermont and Wilshire to Vermont and Sunset.

2) It's pretty cheap. $1.25 for a ticket's a good deal.

3) Public art. The two Vermont stations I spent the most time in were loaded with public art. Sculptures and murals by local artists. Moreover, the stations themselves are clean, architecturally sound, and user-friendly.

4) Trains really come every five minutes during peak times. And the cars are crowded and clean. Some of my friends have compared it favorably to the train system in Toronto. Never been to that one, but it held its own with New York, Boston, and Chicago.

There are cons, of course. LA's subway is the 9th most-used in the country (thought the light rail is third most-used, according to the fine folks at Wikipedia). As for the cons:

1) I'm not sure how they monitor ticket sales. This isn't a huge problem for me, but I bought a ticket that nobody took, and then I got on. No turnstiles, card checker machines, or porters on the train, as far as I can tell. Which makes it something of an honor system train. Not sure if that works.

2) Here's the big one: Even though it works perfect for Our Man in LA right now, the train doesn't go everywhere that it needs to. For the LA Metro system (which includes both subway and light rail) to really serve the city, it's got to go to at least half a dozen places it doesn't serve right now. Like where? How about Santa Monica, Westwood, Century City, Culver City, Venice, and - the biggest one of all - LAX. That's right. It doesn't go to the airport. Or really anywhere on the West Side. There is a line that goes from downtown to Redondo Beach, south of the airport - and you can take a bus from there. But that sort of eliminates the point.

Right now, the train's great if you live and work in downtown LA, K-Town, MacArthur Park, Hollywood, Los Feliz, the Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach or points in between. West of Western and you're pretty well out of luck.

I figure the city'll get there eventually. There are existing rail lines from before the days of the freeways, and they could be converted for light rail. Someday - hopefully sooner than later - there'll be rail lines that will take you to all the airports (LAX, Ontario, Long Beach, Burbank, etc), as well as Dodger games and the ocean. Till then I'll take it to and from work.

You know, on days when I don't sleep too late and have to drive.

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