Though my invitation to the royal wedding appears to have gotten lost in the mail, I was pleased to have received an invitation to the recent tour of the Expo Line station at Western and Exposition. And at the cost of a Metro Day Pass, the amount I spent on travel to the event sure beat the airfare to London and the price of all the special clothes I would have had to have bought for the wedding.
True, the intersection of Western and Exposition is hardly Westminster Abbey or LA's most inviting corner for that matter. A gas station, a donut shop, a couple of bodegas or whatever they're called in LA, and now, a gleaming new Metro light rail line. That is what greeted me last Monday when I got off the bus at around nine in the morning to join the festivities. I was there for a press event with the local politicians who on the whole have supported the project. And in spite of the gray sky and cool weather, it was a great occasion. Here is what I saw: a train waiting on the east side of the intersection to roll into the westbound station, newly planted trees along Exposition Blvd and a for-now graffiti-free train platform that every day is looking more and more like the working station it will soon be.
Expo, for those who may not know, is LA Metro's latest addition to a growing network of subways, light rail lines and Rapid buses designed to make getting around this congested city easier. Aided by Metro's recently rolled out real-time NextBus app, which tells you when the bus will actually arrive at your stop, getting to the event (three buses), was no biggie. Since my travel around LA generally involves a transfer or two, NextBus has dramatically improved my transit experience. Anyhow, for the chance to see Expo on track, this was one occasion I would have endured delays and even twice the number of potholes we rumbled over.
Standing together on the platform with a ratio of 1.5 reporters to every politician, the event was a sweet taste of what will hopefully start running for real in November. Aptly named Thanksgiving is when Expo Phase 1 from downtown LA to just shy of downtown Culver City starts operating. That will be a great day, but already Exposition Blvd with its new rails and stations is looking better than it has in years.
While most of the politicians used their few minutes at the mic to offer a sound bite about how exciting it is to see this much-fought-over line almost operational, I spent the morning thinking about what Expo's arrival says about how far LA has come it its thinking about public transit. The Gold Line extension to East LA, Expo to Santa Monica, a Crenshaw light rail line, the subway extension to west of the 405 and a bus rapid transit (BRT) line on Wilshire Blvd, all speak to Angelenos' recognition that there has to be an alternative to sitting in traffic on the freeway and on LA's clogged surface streets. With the wind at our back, America Fast Forward, the patriotically renamed 30/10 Initiative, is where LA is going, and for more and more of us, Metro is taking us there. Now, to speed that ride, if we can just pair the aggressive transit-building initiative with bus boarding improvements like a TAP reader on the left-hand side of the boarding area we'll be all set. A repositioned or added TAP reader will speed boarding especially on busy routes like the Wilshire 720 Rapid. Hey, San Francisco already does this. Maybe we should too.
Yours in transit,
Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein