Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thoughts from my Brain about the Train

Last week, I rode on the Expo line, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit system's (Metro) newest line, running from the 7th Street station in downtown L.A., to Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade.  
I am not what you would call a regular user of public transportation.  I don't use it to get to work.  I live in Pasadena and work in Woodland Hills, in the San Fernando Valley.  When I first started driving to Woodland Hills I checked to see what it would take to get to work via public transit.  The train lines weren’t running yet, and it would have taken about four hours and a dizzying number of transfers to get from where I live to the office.  
Metro is better today.  The same trip today is about two hours.  The simplest route would be to take the 501, or “NoHo Express Bus” from Del Mar station to North Hollywood station, and the 901, or “Orange Express,” from there to DeSoto station, the closest stop to where I work.  The time includes about a twenty minute walk from DeSoto station to the office, but I walk fast enough that I think I can cut that down to fifteen minutes. Still not convenient enough for me to want to do it regularly.  
I do ride Metro a good deal though.  On weekends, holidays and vacation days.  I used to make a monthly "Urban Exploration Excursion," where I would take the train to some station I hadn't been, find out what was around there and go and take a look.  
I found out that a restaurant I discovered in Japan, a curry house called CoCo Ichibanya, has a store a two block walk from the Wilshire/Normandie station on the Purple line.  I walked the five minutes from my apartment to the DelMar station on the Gold Line, got on the Purple Line at Union Station and headed there for dinner a couple of weeks ago.  It tasted exactly as it did in Japan, just as good.  This is a route that I'll remember and use now and then to head to that restaurant.  
In the media coverage of the Expo line opening, there was a constant theme about this being a new era of transit in Los Angeles.  Politicians and others being interviewed referred to it as a “game changer.”  Several people mentioned that it was the first time in sixty years that downtown and the beach were connected by rail, recalling the Pacific Electric “Red Cars” that ran during the twenties to the early sixties.  
I never even knew the Red Cars existed until I saw the movie, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  I recall Bob Hoskins’s character wondering why anyone would buy a car when, “You can get just about anywhere you want on the Red Car for a nickel.”  Los Angeles used to have the most extensive public transit line in the world at the time.  It wasn’t an exaggeration.
I think claims of the Expo Line being a game-changing event are overblown, though.  I do want the line to succeed, and I do want to see Metro expand and extend into other regions in and around Los Angeles.  I think a healthy, well-run public transit system is part of a healthy, integrated city.  It feels more like the benefits of city life are around you. 
I can’t help but compare L.A.’s Metro with the transit system they have in Japan, which is the most impressive I’ve used in my travels.  Whether traveling across the country or across Tokyo, it always seemed that wherever I wanted to go I was only a few stops away.  And on more than one occasion, the place I wanted to visit would be staring me in the face when I exited the station closest to it.  Below is the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine from the steps of the train station.

The one similarity I noticed taking the Expo line to my experiences in Japan was the diversity of the ridership.  How many people were like me, taking it for the first time experience, I’m not sure.  But the number of people, with the cars filled to capacity, and their diversity did match what I was used to seeing on the trains in Japan.  If the Expo line extension encourages this broadening of the train’s appeal, then it is definitely a good thing.  
But a “game changer”?  I’m not so sure.  I enjoyed my trip.  I walked around the 3rd Street Promenade, a fun a vibrant urban area.  I bought a hot chocolate at a Starbucks.  I spent some time writing my previous blog entry.  Then, around eleven, I decided to head back home.  The ride to Union Station was about fifty minutes.  The last train leaves from there to Pasadena about two in the morning.  I didn’t want to push it.  
Good thing I did.  Right after we left Pico Station, the last stop before 7th Street Station, where I needed to transfer to the Red or Purple Lines heading to Union Station, the train stopped.  It would crawl forward, sometimes only a few feet, before stopping and waiting again. 
"Sorry for the delay," the conductor, or driver, don't know what the official term is for Metro.  "There's a train ahead of us stuck at the platform.  We're waiting for them to get it going again."  
And wait we did.  For what seemed forever.  The conductor (or driver) kept coming on to apologize for the delay.  To explain that we were waiting for them to get the train ahead of us unstuck.  He must have seen something on his screens, because after a few messages of apology he started to add, "Please DON'T try to open the doors or leave the train before we reach the platform!  We'll get you there as soon as we can."  
That turned out to be around half past midnight.  Freed from the train, I ran to the Purple/Red Line platforms toward Union station.  The Gold Line train eventually got me back to Pasadena.  It was sometime between one and two in the morning before I got home. 
Yeah...  We've got a wait before we have a game-changing transit system in L.A..  I'm willing to get out and push, if it helps it get here faster.  


Post a Comment

<< Home