This week transit riders in L.A. got to enjoy the new El Monte Bus Station, under construction since 2010. Metro boasts that the new station is the largest bus station west of Chicago, and the two-level station certainly has a much larger capacity than any other bus station in Southern California. My first impressions are that the station is attractive and comfortable, with an open, airy design that makes it a model transit hub, second only to L.A.’s classic Union Station. There are lots of amenities for cyclists, including plenty of bike racks (the good kind that you can lock your frame to, not the cheap, “wheel bender” type of racks) and bicycle tracks along the station’s stairways so you can roll your bike alongside you as you go up or down the stairs. In the future, El Monte Station will also have a bike station that has indoor storage for bikes, air pumps, and space to make minor repairs or fix a flat.
For the past couple of years, Metro has converted an adjacent parking lot into a makeshift bus terminal while the new station was under construction. Before that, the old El Monte Bus Station was a dreary, dated structure that was well past its prime.
The new structure, by contrast, offers the commuter a safe, pleasant place to change buses or park-and-ride. There are easy-to-read LED signs on the bus bays, making it easy to find your bus, and plenty of space to sit. The top level of the structure has sweeping canopies above the waiting areas, protecting riders from the sun or rain, while providing a pleasant view of the San Gabriel mountains to the north.
The lower level has been designed with several large atria, so it doesn’t feel closed in and there’s plenty of air circulation, so you never smell bus exhaust. The restrooms on the lower level have been designed with safety and cleanliness in mind.
Talking to other station users this week, everyone seems to like the new station, including many of the bus drivers. So far, I can only offer a couple of minor suggestions to Metro officials: the restrooms, though clean and safe, are only located on the lower level, meaning that those with bus stops on the upper level must go downstairs to use the restrooms. Further, there are only three restrooms for a station Metro says is designed to accommodate 20,000 passengers a day. During the morning commuter rush on Thursday, for example, I noticed lines of 4-5 people waiting outside each restroom door. Just hope you’re not in a hurry to catch a bus when you need to use the restroom. One other minor critique: the bike tracks have been placed too close to the edge of the stairways, right next to the railings, which means that anything that sticks out from the side of your bike (handlebars, pedals, racks) will catch on the railings, requiring bicyclists to tip their bikes at about a 45-degree angle while negotiating the stairway. As a bike commuter with a heavy pannier, this makes pushing the bike up the track a more difficult ordeal than it needs to be. Moreover, at that angle, my bike tires had a tendency to fall out of the track, and I had to wrestle my bike back on the track several times before continuing up the stairs. After that, I and most other cyclists would simply take our bikes on the escalator or elevator instead. If Metro could reposition the bike tracks about 6-8 inches away from the railings, it would mitigate this issue. Otherwise, I’m afraid they’ll rarely be used.
Aside from these small critiques, the new El Monte Station is a clean, comfortable, attractive transit facility that I hope will induce more people to discover the benefits of riding the bus.