Saturday, October 4th 2008

Two weeks on the L.A. Metro
posted @ 12:48 pm in [ Los Angeles ]

I have now lived in Los Angeles for 11 years. Somewhere around the time of my wedding I decided I was very sick of driving in L.A. traffic. It’s inescapable, whether on the freeways or on side streets. Crumbling infrastructure, mis-timed lights (with many busy intersections lacking left turn signals), and an ever-growing population has made driving anywhere in Los Angeles a living hell.

We moved from L.A.’s west side to North Hollywood. We decided on an apartment not too far from NoHo’s red line station. I can walk there from my apartment now within 20 minutes. My husband’s commute to Burbank has been reduced to a 15 minute drive.

My wish to not drive ever again has intensified. I had to drive to work downtown a few times from North Hollwyood, and I have to say I’ve never quite felt like people were actively trying to murder me in my car like I have since moving here. There is a complete disregard for other drivers here in the Valley, and it is truly disturbing.

The metro has made it easier for me to skip out on driving. The trains are quite comfortable and air conditioned, fairly reliable, and very fast. With the walk to the station, my commute is about the same as the drive, but without the frustrations and dangers of driving.

Not to say this system is perfect, however. The lines are extremely limited. Compare our L.A. subway map to New York’s. Manhattan alone has more lines than all of Los Angeles. Los Angeles’ light rail lines are only 73.1 miles total. The metropolitan area alone covers 4,850 square miles, not including the wider boundaries of L.A. County. Considering that Los Angeles County has a GDP that would put it in the top 20 nations in the world (according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors), this is a sad state of affairs. Cheerleading literature from the MTA states they are starting to extend the rail system, but the next extension will open in 2010, and only stretching to Culver City. It’s too little, too late. The city is groaning under the weight of 10,363,850 residents needing to move around right now.

I received a leaflet asking me to support Measure R. I am of two minds about it. It calls for a 1% sales tax increase to fix roads and traffic light time, and extend bus and rail lines. But what has happened to the money poured into the Metro over the years? Why hasn’t the Metro kept up with the needs of the population?

Apparently part of the blame falls on residents who love their cars and have a view of public transportation as belonging in the realm of the poor. Historically Westside residents have vehemently opposed a rail line stretching to Santa Monica, afraid of the influx of disadvantaged to their front doors. I guess they don’t notice the throngs of homeless people sleeping on the streets around 3rd Street Promenade. It’s only been recently that public advocacy for light rail expansion has been strong. Rising gas prices, choking smog, and unrelenting congestion has done much to change minds, thankfully.

A general distrust of the Metropolitan Transit Authority has been another obstacle. When I first moved to Los Angeles, there was an article in the L.A. Weekly about a Metro whistleblower who had come forward with stories of corruption, mismanagement, and the use of public funds to line private pockets. Memories run long with that story, and trust is just starting to rekindle in the MTA.

It’s a shaky trust. A few months ago, NPR was reporting the MTA holding public meetings regarding cutting the number of bus routes running in poorer neighborhoods. This caused a great deal of fury, as bus routes in those areas were particularly under-represented, and the poorer neighborhoods have the greatest need for public transit, especially during these times when gas prices make car travel a reality for the upper middle class only.

The Metro has work to do before it can consider itself a modern transit line. It needs to post timetables at its stations, and the maps, timetables and trip planners need to updated on its website. Right now much of the information is in PDF format, which is not really accessible on smart phones, and the purple line timetable PDF is not available at all – it links to the red line PDF. This was extremely frustrating when we found ourselves stranded at Wilshire/Western off the purple line this morning at 1 a.m. The online trip planner is next to useless as it can’t parse half the information you put into it. I usually have better results calling their trip planning line. I do have to say that their staff who answer these calls have always been courteous  and knowledgeable.

The Metro light rail system, however, is much better than the bus system, and it always beats driving. I’m always delighted when I have an opportunity to take the subway rather than driving or the bus, and my commute to and from work is stress-free compared to the driving I used to do on a daily basis.

I look forward to seeing the improvements and expansion of the light rail system. Please vote for Measure R this November. Los Angeles is way too big to not have a modern rail system akin to New York’s.

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