LA Transportation: The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid

TRANSIT WATCH--So here we are in spring of 2017--we've just had two elections that were both bruising and decisive, either in victory or in failure. The city and county of Los Angeles has a new president they overall do NOT like, but can legally drown their disappointment in a haze of legalized marijuana. Public spending on transportation and the homeless is up, and developers are encouraged to build affordable housing ASAP. 

Among other issues on voters/taxpayers minds: trains and mobility, and overall ridership.  We want to get from here to there.  Despite the knee-jerk tendency to complain about everything, Metro has a lot to crow about, and so do we--but we've got a lot to focus on with respect to improving and preventing operations at Metro and other transportation-related services. 

First, THE GOOD: 

1) Ridership is up on the Expo, Gold, and other light rail lines, in ways we kind of predicted but did so a decade ago with our fingers crossed. Ridership on the buses is NOT what we expected, but there's a confounding variable that NOBODY saw coming a decade ago: Uber/Lyft. 

Those who are transit-dependent and find it convenient will use the buses, but for all of us who were fearing doom and gloom because our buses weren't connecting to our trains (myself included!) there is an individual freedom and mobility with Uber/Lyft/Metro Rail that is being achieved by more than we realize... and probably isn't too easily measured. 

2) My teenage son, who I once brought to Friends4Expo Transit meetings in a baby carrier, is now big enough to carry me, and attended a Railroading Merit Badge event with his and other Boy Scout troops.  Interest was high, our trip on the Pasadena Gold Line was standing-room only, and a huge choice of restaurants now exist at Union Station where virtually none existed a decade ago. 

3) Downtown is rapidly becoming a place to go to, rather than a place to avoid.  Interest is almost as high in the Downtown Light Rail Connector as it is the future LAX/Metro Rail Connector. However, the southeast portion of Downtown remains ignored and unloved (more on that later). 

4) As awful as it is that the I-10 and I-110 freeways are, even on the weekend, for those who use them it DOES portend that our economy is coming back big time, in one way, shape or form. Whether it's with decent jobs and/or whether it's due to an underground, cash-only economy are two other questions not to be answered here. 

Next, THE BAD: 

1) It was such a struggle to build the Expo Line that it now goes too slow, and its impacts on traffic actually ARE as horrible--perhaps worse--than many of us had feared. 

Although thoughtful author Ethan Elkind has a lot of good ideas on how to improve our transportation investment after passing Measure M, he too often supports the point of view that gives the "thumbs up" to transit riders to an extreme that throws another, more hostile finger at those who must use their cars to get to work, errands, etc. 

2) Transit advocate Matthew Hetz also opines the need for single-family housing to use mass transit for environmental purposes, and it is hoped that greater awareness of our expanding mass transit system will encourage more to use mass transit. 

And our young Millennials and teenagers, as evidenced by demographic trends, are avoiding the stress of cars and using transit ... and Uber/Lyft ... and walking ... to the benefit of all. 

3) But the lack of elevated grade separations--pursued by too many at Metro, and opposed by too many next-to-the-track neighbors being of visual concerns--is hurting us all.  The trains are too darned slow, and the cars trying to cross the tracks are forced to wait 10-15 minutes or longer during rush hour.  

And ditto for pedestrian grade-separations with our need for pedestrian bridges over major thoroughfares! 

So the next time someone complains of a rail line, or the need for a visually-impacting bridge, either the majority of us (who, when polled, probably do NOT care about the looks of a bridge) and/or Metro should tell the immediate neighbors to "deal with it" or move.   

I'll wager that a bunch of us on the Westside and in Mid-City find the Sepulveda Blvd. bridge to be just beautiful and wish we had a lot more of them to allow our trains and our car traffic to achieve quicker and safer speeds to enhance our mobility, environment, and quality of life. 


Simply put, using the underutilized Harbor Subdivision rail right of way for walking and bicycle paths instead of completing a direct LAX to Inglewood to the Blue and Silver Lines to southeast Downtown Los Angeles to Union Station is about as stupid an idea as ... 

... not connecting LAX to Metro Rail, or 

... not connecting the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines with an underground Downtown Light Rail Connector. 

Over the next few years, we will realize that our need for a second "light rail connector" is paramount and hideously overdue to serve the southern and eastern portions of LA County with LAX and Union Station. 

And we're blowing it. Big time. 

So there really IS a lot to crow about in the world of transportation.  And then there's a lot we'll be EATING crow about in that same world of transportation.  

Yet the hope for improving mobility in our future is always there ... as the crow flies.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)