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Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “L.A. Metro”

Loving LA The Low Carbon Way

LovingLA

Loving LA The Low Carbon Way: A Personal Guide to the City of Angels via Public Transportation, by Grace E. Moremen & Jacqueline Chase, (Claremont, CA: Dreamboat Press, 2015).

This delightful little guidebook will take you to some of L.A’s wonderful world class attractions as well as lesser known out-of-the-way places—all of it car-free.  For those unfamiliar with LA’s transit system, the book (and the companion website) offers a primer on LA transit, and illustrated, easy-to-follow directions.  For those familiar with LA’s transit system, the book offers a few surprises, and while I’ve done almost half of these car-free trips, I’m looking forward to trying the others.  Either way, there’s no better way to really see LA, or any city for that matter, than by taking transit, walking, and/or biking.

Loving LA begins with a basic overview of LA geography, including its freeways, the downtown area, and the immediate neighborhood of LA Union Station (which forms the hub of all of the book’s adventures).  The authors note the irony of their map of the freeways, “those very things that we are trying to avoid,” but they may help car-free travelers who are used to orienting their knowledge of LA geography around its freeway system.  Since transit systems orient themselves around “hubs” (i.e., key transit stations) and “spokes” (transit lines) the book provides an easy-to-read map of Union Station and how to find the various bus and rail lines located there.  They explain the basics of transit in LA, including how to use a TAP card, fares on different LA bus lines (LA Metro, LADOT DASH buses, and Santa Monica’s Big Blue buses).  They also have a handy website with maps and updates that allows you to find more information or access via any mobile device.  Once you’re armed with the basics, it’s time to explore any of their 24 adventures in LA car-free!

I love the book’s low carbon mission and the way it illustrates the interconnection between car-free travel and a true embrace of the city.  However, LA’s car-free culture is moving so quickly, that future editions will want to include the extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, and the emergence of bike share programs in Santa Monica and Downtown LA (scheduled to expand to Pasadena in 2017).

Metro Bikeshare, DTLA. (Photo: StreetsblogLA).

Metro Bikeshare, DTLA. (Photo: StreetsblogLA).

Indeed, while the authors do mention the accessibility of bikes on transit, these adventures largely ignore the bicycling option, which leaves an unintentionally misleading impression that transit combined with biking isn’t an equally useful way to see the city.  They note, for example, that the Huntington Library and Gardens is “too far away” from transit (in this case, the Gold Line or the 1.4mi to Metro and Foothill Transit bus lines on Colorado Blvd.), and thus advise readers that “a car will be necessary” for that trip.  It’s a shame they don’t offer some advice on the feasibility of using a bike to solve these “first mile / last mile” gaps.  Doing so would extend the reach of their low carbon adventures.  Even if Moremen and Chase don’t themselves bike, they might consider including information on the availability of bike parking (and bike share) at their destinations for those who do.

That said, this book is a wonderful little guide to seeing the sights of LA car-free.  Moremen and Chase have written a car-free love letter to LA with the intimacy one can only have outside the confines of the private automobile and its damnable freeway/parking lot matrix.

Moremen, an LA native, writes that despite LA’s troubled history, seeing LA car-free makes her optimistic for the city.  LA’s burgeoning transit system “makes its beauty and its resources more accessible to people in various ways.”  Chase, a transplant from Greenwich Village whose car-free spirit would make Jane Jacobs proud, has come to appreciate the way public transportation could reveal “the gems of this city, many hidden in plain sight.”  Outside the confines of the automobile culture, Chase writes:

I have come to know LA on a more human scale as we have journeyed through the neighborhoods on foot and by bus, light rail, and Metrolink.  The urban myth that people in big cities are unfriendly was definitely debunked for us.  On each of our adventures we have found the people of LA to be helpful and friendly.  LA is one great city! [xviii]

I love this book because it reflects the growing car-free movement in the quintessential “Car capital of the world,” and reveals the richness of social life outside that stultifying, unsustainable mode of transportation.  One cannot help but be caught up in their enthusiasm and that sense that comes from really seeing the city for the first time, of simultaneous independence and social connectedness that comes from getting around a city car-free.

So what are you waiting for?  Get this book and a TAP card, ditch the car, and fall in love with LA!

New El Monte Station

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.

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