The L.A. metro

Hi All:

First some news, then the Metro report:

Now In the Service of Gaia: The Call is available at both Gaialicious and Neighbor’s in South Lake Tahoe. I am scheduled to do a book signing at Neighbor’s February 17 but, as I said earlier, if you call me (530.577.5818) I’ll happily arrange to sign your copy before that.

By the way, Felix at Gaialicious, turned me on to an excellent book reflecting a lot of my theme but with a more positive spin. I don’t wish to denigrate my own pessimism, for I believe that’s a kick start the environmental movement definitely needs, but the book’s a good read. It is Consciousness in Action by Andrew Beath. Gaialicious definitely has it (and either can order it, I assume).

I’m assured by the lawyer that Common Sense for the Third Millennium should be recognized as a 501C(3) organization by the end of the year. That would make any contribution anyone wants to make to it tax deductible. The first year of full organization will be critical to the group’s success. For example, if we can secure grants in the first year we will be very well positioned to accomplish great things. To do that, the ideal thing would be to be able to pay a grant writer. Your gift now could make that possible.

If so inclined, send a contribution to Common Sense for the third millennium, care of George Drake, P.O. Box 7987, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158.

Okay let’s go to the somewhat delayed report on L.A.’s Metro. While visiting there last month, I decided to spend a day riding the rapid transit rail system so as to be able to write about it. That’s a very limited exposure, so please regard these notes as only first impressions and forgive any incorrect conclusions you see. I hope you find it better than nothing, though.

First thing to observe is the most obvious: the majority of the transit opportunities in L.A. for the un-rich are, by far, buses. There are also commuter rail lines that serve suburbanites, but the majority of L.A. “rapid transit” is conducted on surface streets and, therefore, is rapid only when the streets are lightly traveled, which would be from about 3:30 to 5:30 AM in most areas (during which time I believe bus service is also minimal, but I’m not sure). My comments will avoid the bus service almost entirely.

Cost: I think it was $3.00 for a day pass, all you can ride. Sorry I didn’t get around to writing this right away, so I’d be sure–if you really need to know, I’d guess you can find it at www.metro.net. Most notable thing about the pay system, though, is the manner of enforcement. There are (mostly unattended) machines to dispense the tickets but nowhere to deposit the ticket to gain admittance. I.e., no turnstiles of any kind. If you’re caught using the service without a valid ticket in your possession, there’s a large fine (like a traffic ticket, I assume), but nothing prevents you from using the service without having bought the ticket.

My immediate suspicion is that there is a lot of abuse. My instincts also suggest that the enforcement issues that arise when someone without proper i.d. is questioned and cannot provide a ticket may be a source of abuse in some instances on the part of the authorities–so it’s probably not entirely one sided. It may be a ploy to increase ridership in the first years of service, I don’t know. May also just show faith in the honor system. It’s definitely different than I’ve noticed elsewhere, though.

The service is still quite limited, as urban train systems go. Unlike D.C., NYC, Boston, or any major city in Europe and much of the rest of the world, you probably can’t get to your destination in L.A. without having to use ground street services such as bus, taxi, or private automobile for at least the last mile. Yet L.A. traffic is so bad that, if you can reasonably utilize the Metro on the arrival end at all, you probably will be well rewarded for having driven to the nearest access point instead of trying to drive the whole way.

There are four lines, red, blue, gold and green. The red, gold and blue all serve downtown to some extent, but would do so better if they went to more destinations than they do. For instance, both the gold and the red lines terminate at Union Station, the hub for the commuter rail lines. One line going to that destination should be enough.

Where we in the west miss, I think, in our planning for rapid transit rail is in failing to realize that, because underground trains run so frequently, there is almost nothing lost by having to change trains to get to a destination. Anyone going to Union Station from any locale, almost, is as well served by a line that connects to an already existing line to Union Station as by direct service to that locale. So, when building the second line, say the gold (I don’t know which came first, red or gold) the primary consideration should have been to design the connection to the red line so that prime spots in downtown L.A. which had not yet been serviced by red got service. The goal needs to shift from getting people into the city’s center to getting them around the city’s center. There’s still plenty of opportunity to do that, as the system is still so sparse. I understand a new line is planned. I just hope it concentrates on serving the under served areas of downtown rather than connecting straight to Union Station. But if it’s that rational I’ll be surprised.

The cars, being new, were clean and modern. Unfortunately the seats were perpendicular to the windows, which is another hold over from our long distance experience with trains that needs to be abandoned. One row of seats down the side and lots of places to hold on while standing works much better for rapid transit. One very bad aspect of the Metro was the extremely noisy ride that the red line, I think it was, had while underground (the trains were mostly above ground but, at least, totally independent of rail freight lines). The trains were only four cars long, which can obviously be increased as traffic increases. But the stations all appeared to be only long enough to host six car trains at the most. If that is so, then the system has a built in limit which is very disturbing, for an upgrade of the stations will be very expensive, if not almost impossible.

Usage seemed good for the time of day I traveled. Who knows whether the number of paid customers was good or bad? Signage was, however, simply awful. I speak English pretty well, but could hardly make any sense out of any of the maps I saw–largely because they seemed to be bereft of “you are here” notations–and those signs/maps that were posted were few and far between. Maps of the system itself were not very readily available for public distribution. It’s a small system, but a map is essential to a new user in any case. I’m not sure, but it also appeared that station names were inconsistent (depending on how approached?) and, in at least one case, even wrong.

Service now runs from Pasadena or North Hollywood to Long Beach (North to South on red, gold and blue) and Manhattan Beach to Norwalk (East-West on green) and there’s apparently a line which shares roadway (but not traffic?), from North Hollywood west out to Woodland Hills (I didn’t go there, though).

All in all, Metro has a long way to come yet, but it is an excellent start, and well worth knowing about if you are going to L.A.

Next time I’ll try to be Christmasy.

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