Smart And Spicy
Train to Santa Monica? You're Kidding!
May 12, 2016
Not kidding. I rode it. It's great.
9am on a 61 degree morning
Metro Expo Culver City Station
The train to Santa Monica felt like it had always been there. You know when a piece of furniture looks right after you tried it in a few places? That's how this train felt. Of course it's there. Hasn't it always been?
It was mind-boggling when I first heard you could go from downtown LA to Santa Monica by train. It defeats the very LA-ness of LA; everyone knows it's hard to get around here.
The train coming in was new and shiny. A voice announced, "Mind The Gap". I felt like I was back in London; you hear that all the time on London's Underground.
How long to go from downtown LA to downtown Santa Monica? 46 minutes.
I bumped into LA's Mayor Eric Garcetti. He was smiling like a kid with a new set of trains.
"We're repeating history six decades later," the Mayor said, "being able to link people from downtown to the ocean, our most beautiful asset. I'm not here as a Mayor, I'm here as an Angelino. It's hard not to feel a little romantic about today."
Expo gets its name from nearby Exposition Boulevard. Santa Monica is now connected by rail to downtown LA for the first time in sixty years, since the Santa Monica Air Line stopped operating in 1953 (earlier train lines formed the Pacific Electric Railroad, known as the Red Car system). The new extension's 6.6 miles long.
"I can't wait to never drive to Santa Monica again," confided Meghan Sahli-Wells, Culver City Council Member, bike helmet in hand.
You can get a free ride on Expo from 7th Street Metro Center to downtown Santa Monica on May 20 and May 21, to give the public a chance to see where their tax dollars went. The extension was mainly funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax measure approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.
The official opening is Friday, May 20, with special parties at stations from 10 am to 4 pm on May 21.
Culver City's station, opened since 2012, will have a special celebration with entertainment, children's activities, food trucks and bike valets. You can check it out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
"Para todas las personas en Los Ángeles," I heard Mayor Garcetti easily switching to answer a question in Spanish, explaining this train line's for everyone.
How many people take Metro? Currently it's about 30,000 people a day. That will double, according to Metro Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, who's also LA County Supervisor for Culver City.
"Why?" I asked.
"Downtown and back, that's just the beginning of it," he hinted. "We're taking advantage of moving West. Culver City is no longer the terminus." The Santa Monica expansion links Westside neighborhoods and expands Metro Rail to over 100 miles. Ridley-Thomas hopes a November ballot measure will authorize 200 miles.
I've found it's easy to get around by rail in Paris, London, Rome; whether Budapest or Toulouse, rail systems around the world's cities tend to be high-functioning and simple to use. Expo surpasses them all. True, it's light rail versus underground systems. Yet for ease of use and can't-beat-views, this system rocks!
Mark Ridley-Thomas compared the Expo extension to London's transit. "Metro can rival them without question," he said. "We are the newest; we're more modern, taking advantage of technological advances. We've learned from other cities in the U.S. and around the world".
Imagine how you'll feel when you're passing freeways. I can see it now: you feel relief staring out the window at I-10 gridlock while you're zooming to the beach. What you see from the train is what happens when you're above-ground: a feeling of space, and impressive views, since LA's built so low. We passed seven new stations built on the line (Palms, Westwood/Rancho Park, Expo/Sepulveda, Expo/Bundy, 26th St/Bergamot, 17th St/SMC and Downtown Santa Monica); three have Park & Ride lots.
They also created a paved bike path along most of the right-of-way between Culver City and the 17th Street/SMC Station, with lighting, landscaping, secure bike racks and lockers for cyclists using Expo.
Each station has original art. Some features are still being added (scrolling type showing the date, time, train route).
What's next for Metro? This weekend, Metro will be halfway through the new Crenshaw-LAX line. More options are coming; I heard speculation that with more efficient public transit, more people won't be getting into cars, and a lot fewer people may be buying cars.
Trains can be magical. I adored reading Paul Theroux' The Great Railway Bazaar as I took trains around Europe for the first time. It was his true story of his trip around the world by train. "I sought trains; I found passengers," he wrote.
Ride the train and your world expands; you get time to think, to see. It's stressless; you can chill.
Walt Disney said, "Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner."
Who knows who you'll find when you use the new Expo train? Or what ideas you'll have on your next train to Santa Monica?
Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.
You can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org