LA TRANSPO - The recently opened Regional Connector from L.A. Metro is proving to be one of the most significant and beneficial improvements to riding transit of our time. The Regional Connector provides light rail riders to travel to, and through, Downtown Los Angeles without the previous mash-mash of multiple transfers between trains, and without the mad-dash to move between the upper and lower station platforms. The Regional Connector saves riders that most precious commodity, time, and time is always of the essence when riding Metro’s trains and buses, and indeed when riding the many buses of the other transit agencies in Los Angeles County.
Recently I met friends for dinner in Highland Park, an historic and very unassuming in a good way Los Angeles burb northeast of Downtown Los Angeles. To remain committed in my personal actions to reduce my carbon footprint to fight climate change, to get there from the LAX adjacent area I rode Metro’s Crenshaw K Line; Expo Gold Line and the Blue A Line. I drove to the Westchester/Veterans K Line Station.
It was around 4:00PM on a Saturday in the summer, a time when I usually am not riding trains, and the feelings on the trains were of a relaxing summer afternoon. It was a strange feeling, but life felt unhurried. Unlike the workweek when riders need to be somewhere at a certain time, in the late afternoon on a Saturday the urgency of arriving on-time was less.
The golden light from the lowering sun flooded the inside of the K Line train as it headed northeast for my connection to the Expo Gold Line at Crenshaw and Expo to continue northeast to downtown. Once the connection was made and I boarded, the Expo Train was also warming lit with the lowering sun’s light.
For reasons unknown the Expo train at times travelled slowly. This may have been due to track maintenance and line switching. There was not official explanation. After picking up speed the trains passed Exhibition Park, and it too was under the soft glow of the lowered sun on this summer’s afternoon. The large, mature trees of the park filtered the light to a soft glow.
Had I been driving, I would have never experienced this increasing golden glow inside the train and in the park, and I would have been stressed by driving. The Expo train then goes through a trench as it turns around the USC Campus, changing its route from east to north as it heads towards downtown.
Once downtown at Pico Boulevard, where the Expo and Blue Lines meet and share tracks, the train heads underground toward the 7th Street Metro Station. And here is where the value of the brilliant Regional Connector shines.
Before the Regional Connector to get to Highland Park from the Expo Train I would have needed to depart at the 7th Street Station, and head downstairs for either the Red or Purple subway lines for Union Station, the end of the line.
But that is not all, I would then have needed to walk from the Metro platform back into Union Station and then take steep stairs up to the former Gold Line Platform at Union Station, and board the former Gold Line train on its way to Highland Park, Pasadena and eventually Azusa.
With the Regional Connector I remained seated on the Expo Train as it passed through the 7th Street Station and then as it continued its new route, I could exit at any of the new three Regional Connector stations: Grand Ave Arts / Bunker Hill; Historic Broadway or Little Tokyo to connect to the Blue Line A train to get to Highland Park.
With the Regional Connector, for the connection between the Blue and Expo Lines I just stay on the same train station platform for the new Regional Connector stations and wait for the next train. There was no need to go downstairs to a subway, walk through Union Station and then walk up the stairs to catch the former Gold Line which was the course before the Regional Connector. That was a hassle, and a waste of time. This Regional Connector corrects those wastes of time. It is brilliant.
I like the murals at the Little Tokyo Station, so I departed the Gold Line Expo Train there to wait for the Blue Line A Train which came into the station not too much later.
Boarding the Blue Line the train continued on the Regional Connector towards Union Station to arrive at the same station used by the former Gold Line. The approach to Union Station is of long, sweeping curves, giving wide views of the Los Angeles skyline and to East L.A. From one of the rear train cars it is always a thrill to see the front of the train navigate the long curves.
While at the former Gold Line, now Blue Line Station platform in Union Station, the train stopped on the tracks for over ten minutes. Impatient with just sitting there I asked a Metro Ambassador why. After some communication with her supervisors, the Ambassador told me they were training new drivers.
This is good that Metro is attracting new trains operators, but just because it was a Saturday, and a lazy one for me, that does not mean others on the train did not have pressing engagements such as a sporting event, a concert, or whatever. This was frustrating.
While on the Blue Line Train sitting on the tracks, coming from the new tracks of the Regional Connector, I had now completed my latest quest of riding every mile of Metro’s light rail trains and subways. Once new Metro lines open, the quest will continue. My need to fight climate change and the new abnormal weather by riding trains and buses to reduce my carbon footprint remains my primary motivator, but riding every mile of Metro’s train track is a nice secondary goal.
My trip that afternoon was not over, I needed to get to Highland Park.
Finally the Blue Line Train leaves Union Station, and travels through some of the most bucolic scenery of any Metro train line. The train passed the lovely new Los Angeles State Historic Park, then travels along and over the Los Angeles River, and through arroyos with flora close to the tracks. There are moments when there is no sight of urban Los Angeles, but only the sides along the train tracks filled with oaks, sycamores, non-native bushes, and some barren sides of the arroyos. The ground was dry, but engaging in its L.A. way of dry hillsides.
The train climbs the hills and the eventually city returns along the tracks. This is the older parts of L.A.: Lincoln Heights; Heritage Square; Mount Washington with the Southwest Museum standing tall over the hillsides and tracks. There are moments when the views are very short and close, and then sudden openings to the hillsides of the grand Arroyo Secco.
Heading through this area and towards Highland Park, it is startling how close the neighborhood homes are to the tracks. In some instances the front door of houses are 50-75 feet away. Yet, the neighborhoods seem to have adapted to life with a trains running close by.
With this close proximity to an active light rail line, and without knowledge of news of constant train accidents with vehicles, or with pedestrians in these neighborhoods, I remember the fight to have the Expo Line run through parts of West Los Angeles. Neighbors there warned of constant mayhem and tragedies from the train. Yet, the news, like the Blue Line, is not filled with constant reports of vehicle accidents with trains, or the trains injuring people.
The Highland Park Station was next, and this is truly a neighborhood station. Here again are houses are in close proximity to the station and tracks. After riding the Expo and Crenshaw trains so much through the urban densities of Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Crenshaw, Exhibition Park and USC, and downtown Los Angeles, the unassuming Highland Park Station gave a slower feel to life when riding the trains in Los Angeles. It was refreshing.
It was a short walk to Figueroa Street to get to the restaurant for dinner with friends. In Highland Park Figueroa Street has the feel of a medium sized town. There are many independently owned stores and restaurants, and sadly a number of closed stores. The buildings are older, by L.A. standards. The sidewalks are walkable with families, singles, straight and gay couples walking without conflict and in a leisurely pace.
The meeting with friends was lovely, and welcoming. The return home was the same route, and with the Regional Connector, much less stressful with many fewer hassles than the old chopped up travels of transfers between light rail and subway, going up and down station platforms, walking through Union Station-which in itself is always a treat but not when trying to transfer between trains.
Perhaps I need to reschedule my life to take more Saturday late afternoon transit trips on Metro’s trains, made incredibly much better and easier with the Regional Connector.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here. He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)