By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On a Downtown Train: Blue Line
The light-rail line connects with the Red Line subway at the Seventh Street/Metro station (between Figueroa and Hope). It takes about an hour to get to central Long Beach, via Watts (if you want to see the famous Towers, use the 103rd Street Station) and Compton. It leaves every five to 20 minutes, depending on the time of day, and half the trains end at the Willow Station — in the northern perimeter of Long Beach. The seats are hard, and the leg room constricted, but at least you can usually find a seat, and it gets you there with some bridgeway vistas of the warehouses, storage yards and aging suburbs that adjoin our industrial sector. It also serves the Staples Center and L.A. Trade Tech. It gets a little funky late at night, with the occasional on-train fistfight and passengers of all ages and stripes who look like they have nowhere else to be.
Articulated Vision: Orange Line
This is the dedicated bus lane trumpeted by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy — with good reason, if ridership, now approaching capacity, is reason to crow. In fact, now is the time to start replacing those buses with higher-capacity light rail. The route starts directly across Lankershim Boulevard from the Red Line’s North Hollywood terminal (which is a smart connection into Hollywood and downtown), and it has its own two-directional concrete lane through the San Fernando Valley past Pierce College all the way out to the Warner Center. It uses long (“articulated”) buses, which are a cross between a train and a bus. It has its own street signals, like a train, but it also stops at red lights, bringing down its average speech to about 12 miles per hour. Sounds slow, but compare that to crossing the Valley on the 101, especially on a Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.
California Dreaming: 920 Express/720 Rapid
This is the crosstown Wilshire Line, often populated with tourists from England, Japan and Australia aiming for the beach, and UCLA students heading for campus. The 920 runs only during rush hours and makes a mere six stops between Vermont and the beach — which would be ideal if it had its own lane, or the streets weren’t gridlocked on the Westside. The 720 runs to and from East L.A., all through the day and night, every 10 to 15 minutes, with limited stops — not as limited as the 920 Express, but considerably fewer than the local Line 20. It’s the best public-transport service this corridor has ever seen, tempered only by the potholes, which can cause potential harm to internal organs.
The Milk Run: Line 20
Same route as the 720, but it makes “milk-train” stops at every corner. You can start downtown right now, and arrive in Santa Monica in early 2010. Don’t worry, the TV monitor on the bus will let you know who won the Super Bowl.
Speed Thrills: The 450s
Great, fast commuter bus service from downtown along dedicated and diamond lanes to San Pedro, via the Artesia Transit Center. Can run you an extra $1.25 for the freeway/gas toll, over and above the base fare.
No Midnight Express: 780 Rapid/180 and 181 local
The 780 is a good, swift Rapid line that runs from Pasadena City College along Colorado, through Eagle Rock and Glendale (by the Galleria, of course), along Los Feliz to Vermont, and then along Hollywood Boulevard and down Fairfax. The bad news is that it stops running at 8 p.m. if you need to get to Hollywood at night from Old Town Pasadena. I took it from Hollywood to the Pasadena Playhouse, which worked out fine. Returning to Hollywood, however, I waited on Colorado for 45 minutes, until a local 181 chugged up. The backdoor was broken, and the placid driver kept urging exiting passengers out the front. Things got thorny when the driver tried to let on a woman in a wheelchair. The hydraulic ramp didn’t function, and since it was around midnight, the driver couldn’t just leave her there. We all waited a good 15 minutes, until the bus could be angled and the ramp manipulated in order to get the poor woman on to the bus. The driver had the same problem when she got off at Hollywood and Vermont. Equipment malfunctions added almost a half-hour to an already long ride.
Scenic Journey: Gold Line
The most scenic light rail in the system. The overland route from Union Station takes you high over Chinatown, across the L.A. River and through hilly passes around Lincoln Heights, up through South Pasadena and Pasadena — eventually rolling along the 210 freeway to Sierra Madre. It runs about every 20 minutes, until midnight, and offers a cleaner and more pleasing alternative access to Pasadena than the 780 or 180 bus lines.
Hell on Wheels: Line 333/33
When Faust, having sold his soul to the Devil, eventually died and was consigned to Hell, his first punishment was riding the 33 along Venice Boulevard. The buses are overcrowded and filthy. I found myself lodged up against somebody’s armpit for the 45-minute lurch between Western and Sepulveda. The drivers have either left this cerebral plane or have understandably bilious tempers, which is why they often, with standing-room-only crowds, neglect to pick up passengers at stops if nobody already riding has pulled the cord to exit. The TV monitor broadcasts news events and weather reports entirely in Spanish, in order for the MTA to claim that it’s serving the poor, Latino community that traverses Venice between downtown and Venice Beach. (The line eventually swerves north into Santa Monica.) In truth, the MTA woefully underserves that community. The 333 limited is a faster bus, and fractionally more pleasant. Just ask Faust.