It Takes a Train to Ride
As a resident and public-transit user on the Westside, it is heartening to read
that residents, businesses and public officials on the Westside have let go
of their NIMBY attitudes and are increasingly clamoring for rapid mass transit
Mayor,” Aug. 19–25].
The current Red Line goes from the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood to downtown.
The Wilshire Boulevard line will hopefully be extended to the ocean as soon
as possible. Another transit corridor is being overlooked, and would form a
worthy third leg to this transit triangle.
The MTA Bus Lines 4 and 304 carry riders on very crowded buses to the ocean
and back from Union Station along Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards.
These lines are packed and go where people want to go. A below-ground subway
or even an above-ground busway on Santa Monica/Sunset boulevards would be highly
used by residents, workers and tourists and appreciated by the businesses in
those communities. This line would allow riders to go from the San Fernando
Valley to the Westside easily and ease congestion on the gridlocked 405 freeway.
Let’s have the mayor, Mr. Waxman, the MTA board, and all the other politicians
who have any say on the public-transportation issues to actually ride around
ONLY on the bus for one month. No cars. No limited trains. Maybe a bicycle (if
the bus has a rack or if it’s not rush hour).
They would go to work, shop, go to appointments, see friends, all on the bus
lines they seem to want so badly for the people of this city.
Let’s see if adding an hour or more to the everyday commute might make a difference.
Or if trash, surly or racist drivers, no air conditioning or indifferent schedules
do anything to flavor opinion. Perhaps waiting in vain for an evening bus that
is 50 minutes behind schedule and overcrowded might put too much of a cramp
on dinner at a finer dining establishment.
Imagine actually sharing the experience with their constituents. Oh, yes: no
entourages. Perhaps the month would help in these decisions. Then see if they’re
as willing to hem and haw about rail being vital and needed and necessary to
the city we all live in. Perhaps the class divide would be too much. Perhaps
their schedules are too full.
I doubt any of those involved would sully themselves to meet this challenge.
But could you imagine?
“The Subway Mayor” is a milestone in the coverage of transportation policy in
Southern California. It is the first airing in the mass media of heretofore
undisclosed key aspects of the federal Wilshire subway funding prohibition and
the federal-court-supervised MTA bus service consent decree. For far too long
the debate over regional transportation policy has been dominated by misinformation
and bias spouted by alleged experts, the grandstanding and parochialism of elected
officials and a stage-managed culture of perpetual protest and slogans paraded
before the TV cameras by so-called grass-roots community advocates of dubious
Berkowitz has done a great service for us all by shedding the sunshine of reality
upon this dysfunctional culture. The recent election of Antonio Villaraigosa
as mayor of Los Angeles holds the promise of long-overdue bold leadership on
the transportation challenges we face. Berkowitz’s exposé likewise is a first
step toward re-examining the conventional wisdom and perceptions regarding land
use and transportation investments that the forthcoming public debate must confront
if we are to meet those challenges. Nothing less than the future of our region
hangs in the balance.
Two small corrections: Roger Christensen currently chairs the MTA Citizens’
Advisory Council and our group is Southern California Transit Advocates (not
I was quite surprised not only to see a pro-subway article in the Weekly,
but also one that puts the Bus Riders Union in its proper place.
Earlier this year I had occasion to take all four Metro Rail routes and found
the Red and Green lines to be the most efficient because they are totally separate
from surface streets. Though it raises NIMBY issues, given the need to expand
the system as fast as possible, it’s probably worth considering whether an elevated
system can be put in faster and cheaper than digging a subway.
Also, with regard to the Wilshire line, some thought should be given as to whether
the needs of more people might be served by sending the line north at San Vicente,
allowing a connection to Cedars-Sinai, to Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood
and down that to Santa Monica, allowing for a direct connection to Century City.
“The Subway Mayor,” was by far the most succinct and well-put-together article
on the history of our subway system I’ve read. Eric Berkowitz’s research was
exemplary. As a discretionary rider of the Red Line, I have found the service
to be efficient, dependable, well used and getting more crowded by the day.
The only critics of the subway, Metrolink and light rail that I hear are those
who don’t use the services and don’t know what they are talking about.
Two additional items that are of note: One, the special master, Donald Bliss,
among many others, is paid $450 an hour by the MTA to monitor the decree’s compliance,
meaning that if he rules MTA has satisfied the consent degree, his income is
gone. Two, Eric Mann and his Labor Strategy Center used some of the money they
got from MTA to promote pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda
pieces that they distributed on the seats of the buses a couple of years ago!
As a former LACTC, MTA and Metrolink employee, as well as a Westside resident
and transit user, I continue to be impressed at the L.A. Weekly’s grasp
of transportation issues and history in L.A. You do miss something in reporting
the (artificial) bus vs. rail debate, however, along with everyone else. That
is personal safety, especially for women. Waiting at a bus stop is as safe as
the neighborhood you are waiting in, i.e. not safe anywhere in L.A. after dark.
Bus stop safety is virtually impossible to provide, shy of making the entire
city crime-free and pedestrian-friendly. Subway stations are a different story.
It is feasible to patrol them without selling the farm. With CCTV, panic buttons,
“next train” signage, lighting and some staffing, they can be made relatively
undaunting. I’ve used the subway comfortably at hours when I would NEVER stand
at an L.A. streetcorner waiting for a bus. Why we think poor women (the largest
portion of transit users) should be relegated to waiting on the street rather
than in a well-lighted, well-trafficked rail station is beyond me. Notice Eric
Mann never mentions the preferences of actual transit users, who would surely
prefer reliable, safer train service to the vagueries of buses caught in traffic.