High Speed Rail to LAX

Chicago’s outgoing Mayor Daley wants high speed rail from the city’s downtown to O’Hare International Airport. It would be the first of its kind in the United States – meaning that it would be fast, convenient, and far too logical for American politicians to actually build.

Your move, @villaraigosa.

A few years back, I proposed the Metro Flyline – a rail network from Union Station to every airport in the region. It was kind of a joke, in that not many people need to hop a train from Downtown Los Angeles to fly their personal jet out of Van Nuys Airport. But what about a line that did service the major transportation hubs in the region? A high speed TRIANGLE, connecting LAX, Bob Hope in Burbank and Union Station.

Put it all underground. Run the whole thing elevated. Tunnel through every living room in Beverly Hills.

I don’t know where the money would come from. I don’t know ridership numbers. I don’t know environmental impact blahbitty blah. What I do know, is that people would use it. Isn’t that what mass transit is for?

The point here is that it’s time for Los Angeles to start thinking big again. No matter how far-fetched and ridiculous it may seem. Let other cities celebrate highway widenings and Target openings. We’re better than that.

Maybe someday, we’ll have a mayor that won’t mind rolling up his sleeves and putting in a solid 8 hours of work.

Everybody Into the Subway!

Did you know there was a bike ban on Metro Rail during rush hour? That ban is gone, effective immediately. The Source wants to know how you feel about that.

With gas prices surging, the city’s renewed interest in a viable bike network, and increasingly popular events like CicLAvia, this can only be a good thing.

But, exactly how will Metro handle the possible flood of fixies? There has been some talk of removing seats from rail cars.  Instead of simply placating cyclists, why not encourage them by going a step further?

What Metro needs now is a multimodal rail car with bike storage. Sound far fetched? Plans were drawn up in 1976.

Mining The Gold Line

That a hearty band of like-minded pedventurers followed me through the Eastside at the beginning of last month for my 2nd Annual March March is old news, but what’s just come up is an awesome slow-mo video my friend Steven made of various aspects of the trek and I am helpless not to share it here:


If the embed above doesn’t work, the video can be found here: http://vimeo.com/22766801

Red Line: Take the L?

Chicago is known for its L – a heavy rail transit line that is elevated through its downtown core. But, did you know that Los Angeles almost had it’s own L?

It would have been on Wilshire, the transit corridor currently known for its underground Subway To The Wiltern. It would have been part of the Red Line, from Union Station to the Miracle Miracle, up through West Hollywood, back to Hollywood, and on to NoHo.

The plans were drawn up in 1983. Twenty-eight years ago.

Metro has put up the renderings and maps for what could have been.

Walk This Way: 2nd-Annual March March

As much as I like to bike around Los Angeles whenever possible, I’m occasionally known to and prone to taking long walks around and across town. Aside from joining in the last four of  the awesome annual Great LA Walks organized by Franklin Avenue Blog’s Michael Schneider, I’ve gone on ferthehelluvit strolls over the full length of Cesar Chavez/Sunset Boulevard from Union Station to Gladstones in February 2007, and the whole stretch of Western Avenue from Griffith Park to land’s end in October 2008 (with fellow Blogging.la’er Julia, among others). Last year, I went on my first March March by going from USC to the top of Baldwin Hills Overlook State Park and back, primarily along Jefferson and Adams boulevards.

So with March coming up again fast, I figure it’s high time I put the word out where I’ll be marching next in case any like-minded crazies wanted to join me — and you should because on March 5 I’ll be heading east to explore an historic and amazing  thoroughfare I’ve pushed bike and gas pedals over many times, but until now have never pedestrianated upon: Whittier Boulevard.

We’re doing things a bit different this time. Instead of an out-and-back all on foot, we’ll be multimodaling by gathering at Union Station for a 10 a.m. departure to board the Gold Line out to East Los Angeles. Along the way we’ll be detraining at a few stations for quick loops and looks around those stops’ vicinities. Eventually we’ll reach the end of the line at Atlantic Boulevard and from there we’ll then head south to Whittier and begin the return trip westward until we cross the historic 6th Street viaduct. We’ll then cut up through the Arts District and make our way into downtown and back to Union Station via Los Angeles Plaza and Olvera Street.

With the inclusion of the Gold Line getting us east, this walk’s total distance will depend in part on the number of tangents we take. The main stretch back to Union Station from East Los Angeles through Boyle Heights is about 7.5 miles, so the total will probably fall somewhere between the 10- to 14-mile range. If I had to guesstimate a more specific number I’d say 12 miles.

So, to recap:

  • What: 2nd-Annual March March — Whittier Boulevard
  • Starts/Ends: Union Station (main entrance)
  • When: March 5, departing at 10am (if raining that day we’ll try again March 12, 10am rain or shine)
  • Costs: Bring money for food/drinks and a $6 Metro Day pass is highly recommended
  • How far: About 12 miles, give or take
  • How long: Approximately 5 hours. Could be longer, could be shorter.

Any questions, drop them in the comments or tweet me @wildbell. Hope you’ll come along for the stride.

LA’s Greatest Landmarks: Union Station

Ah, the romance of the rails. Union Station in downtown Los Angeles is a gorgeous reminder of a time when travel was slower, more deliberate and perhaps a bit more civilized. Union Station is a great cathedral of modern life, a hushed but bustling place.

Built in 1939 for $11 million (which is about $168 million today) and originally known as LAUPT, or Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, the Spanish Mission style station was actually a bit late in the history of Grand Railroad Terminals. But Los Angeles was booming, having had a large population influx starting in the 20’s. LA needed a major terminal and the LAUPT was built to combine two local railroad terminals and three trainlines: the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.

Now LAUS, also referred to as LAX (no really!), Union Station sees approximately 1.5 million travelers a year and generates over $55 million in ticket sales.  With Amtrak, bus lines and local train service running through it, Union Station is full of city life. And this being LA, it gets used as a set or backdrop in many a movie and tv show.

Part of the original Station plan was the Harvey House Restaurant. Fred Harvey started opening restaurants at railroad stations after the Civil War. He made a deal to partner with the Santa Fe railroad and “civilized the west.” Harvey Houses were the first to employ women as servers as Mr. Harvey found them more reliable then the wild men out in the west. Harvey House Restaurants served good food at reasonable prices in elegant surroundings. And when you peek in the windows at the former HH, or are lucky enough to be invited to a private party there, you can see how swell of a place it must have been in it’s heyday. (Our own Lucinda Michele wrote about it a while back.)

I highly recommend an afternoon in the area, you can shop and eat at Olvera Street, then have a cocktail (and/or dinner) at Traxx Restaurant and Bar, then head over to Chinatown. (We had a great time at Union Station during Classic Eats #2 in 2009.)

Even more highly recommended is to take the train from Union Station somewhere. (I mean, if you aren’t already a regular commuter…) I was fortunate enough to take the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle last summer. Seeing LA from an angle I don’t normally get to see was fascinating.

All photos by me and lots of research done with help from Great American Stations and the Harvey House site.

A friendly note from me to Metro

So, it’s been a week Metro fares went up from $1.25 to $1.50.  Now, I’m not opposed to this increase per se – time passes, seasons change, bus fares go up, thus is the way of the world.  However!  as a very regular bus rider (Line 2 from West Hollywood to UCLA, represent!), I have a few ideas about what Metro should be doing my with my 25 cents per ride, suggestions that, if implemented, would make the buses of Los Angeles much happier places to be.

So, dear Metro Transit Authority, here are three humble suggestions for things you can do with my extra 25 cents a ride:

These buses would be much happier if they didn't have annoying televisions on them.

1.  Please offer transfers from one MTA route to another.  It is absolutely ridiculous that riders have to pay the full fare additional times if their route requires switching busses and/or trains.  This is a major city, right?  I can’t think of any other major cities in which transfers from one bus to another, on the same bus system, are nothing more than a heady fantasy.

2.  Some better bus stop infrastructure would be nice.  I don’t know if this is the purview of the MTA or if it’s a municipal responsibility, but I have had to wait for busses at some amazingly skeevy bus stops.  To wit:  One might assume that the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire, an intersection of two fairly major thoroughfares, could be a fairly major transit hub.  However, waiting for the Eastbound bus on Santa Monica means waiting at a bus stop where the bench might as well be a board balancing on some cinderblocks.  And there’s no shade. And the stop backs onto an empty lot.  As street corners go, it is probably among the least conducive to encouraging people to wait around for a bus.  And it’s not the only stop like that.  We need more bus shelters, or, heck, even some trees for shade, and there also needs to be some work put into making bus stops safer at night.  Having waited for busses in the wee hours even though my mother always told me that I should just take a cab, I have often found myself wishing for some kind of lighting so that I don’t feel like I’m liable to get jumped at any minute.

3.  And, my most important suggestion:  Now that you’ve got an extra quarter from every rider, you don’t need the income from Transit TV anymore, right?  Right?  Please, please, get rid of Transit TV, oh please, god.  This is absolutely key to the maintenance of my sanity.  Supposedly, 84% of people prefer being on a bus with these televisions on them, which leads me to conclude that they surveyed people who have never ridden a bus in Los Angeles.  When I get on a bus and those horrible televisions are on, I want to stick pins in my eyes.  TVs on buses are not an inherently bad idea.  However, whoever is behind the current programming on bus TV should be fired and not allowed to work in any media-related field, ever.  The Transit TV lineup includes news headlines, read in a monotone, by pasty zombie people; triva questions and brain teasers that seem to be compiled by someone with a less than secure grasp on the workings of the English language (my favorite example, from a few months ago was the following trivia question:  “Yogurt is a member of which food group?”  Answer?  “Milk.”  Which is not really wrong, I guess, but it’s not quite right either); horrible, often offensive jokes; and stupid commercials advertising inane things like mail-order college educations, or, advertising the ad space on Transit TV.  Like, honestly?  Do they really think the people who are riding the bus are the people who are going to buy ad space on the bus?  Do they think we are not agonizingly aware of the presence of ad space on the bus?  Oh, and the volume of the sets can’t be controlled by the drivers, and they’re loud and obnoxious, and all of this programming is presented in the most irritatingly patronizing tone possible.  “It’s like they think everyone on the bus is an idiot,” I said to my roommate one day.  “Or maybe,” he replied, “the people who make Transit TV are idiots.”  Truer words were never spoken.

So, dear Metro Transit Authority, these are the humble propositions I put forward to you, in all your infinite wisdom.  My alternate suggestion would be that you use your newfound revenue to buy me a car, but that somehow seems less within the realms of possibility.



(Photo courtesy of LA Wad, via the blogging.LA flickr pool)

LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Speed

Here is why Speed could not have been filmed anywhere other than Los Angeles: You need enough city space for a bus to go 50 mph for a whole movie without running out of city and 2 of the big action plot points count on a) a major freeway being under construction and b) a subway being under construction. Where else but Los Angeles in 1994?

You all remember the plot: Crazy Bomber (Dennis Hopper) is pissed off at LAPD hot shot Jack Treven (Keanu) for fouling up a previous hostage crisis and is taking revenge by putting a bomb on a bus that activates when the bus hits 50 mph and will explode if the bus slows below 50 mph. There is also plucky heroine, Annie (Oscar™ winner Sandra Bullock) and Jack’s LAPD partner Harry (Jeff Daniels).

After a lot of cars being smashed up on surface streets, they get the bus onto the 105 — it’s under construction with no traffic, there will be plenty of room to solve the bomb problem. Everyone relaxes for a moment until they find out part of the freeway isn’t finished and they’ll have to jump the gap, physics be damned. Later in the subway from Pershing Square to Hollywood/Highland, Jack and Crazy Bomber fight it out, (spoiler alert) Jack wins, but Annie is still handcuffed to a pole, the subway driver is dead, the controls shot to hell and the tracks end in a construction zone around a bend up ahead. What do you do? What DO you DO?

Obviously, you speed up the train (though why you could speed it up but not slow it down seems confusing…), make it jump the tracks and hope for the best. “The best” being the train flying up a ramp right onto Hollywood Blvd in front of the Chinese Theater. I love LA Mass Transit!

Click past the jump for some images and tangential info. Find the rest of the LA Plays Itself Series here.

Continue reading “LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Speed”

When The Streetcars Return

On the Left: An old streetcar from the Pacific Electric Railway, On the Right: A new streetcar from Washington, D.C.

If all goes according to plan, streetcars will return to Downtown Los Angeles in four years. But, what will they look like?

I’ve argued before that they should be historic replicas of the Red and Yellow Cars that used to traverse this city when it boasted the largest street railway system in the world. I championed a streetcar that would complement the architecture of our city’s Historic Core instead of mimicking trains you would find in Portland or Seattle or Whereverville. One that says Los Angeles.

That is most likely not going to happen. But, what about a compromise?

The new D.C. streetcars were just unveiled this past December. They already bear a slight resemblance of Big Red. Perhaps L.A.’s newest streetcar could at least pay homage to the past with a clever paint scheme.

Pros and SantaCons

The Daniel, Courtenay, VerdElf & Cris at SantaCon (photo courtesy of Daniel Hengeveld)
The Daniel, Courtenay, VerdElf® & Cris at SantaCon (photo courtesy of Daniel Hengeveld)

When I first heard that the forecast called for heavy rain two Saturdays ago, I had serious doubts about participating in this year’s SantaCon. However, despite the imminent threat, I once again donned my VerdElf® suit and joined the red tide.  This was my third SantaCon in LA and by far my favorite, perhaps because more of my friends joined this year than in previous years, but I had so much fun that I was actually a bit sad when it was all over. Below are a few excerpts from my SantaCon journal. For a consolidated look at this year’s event, visit the official site here.

11:30 AM: Met Greg (a.k.a Thomas Refferson) at a bus stop in Silver Lake. We took the #4 bus to the Santa Monica/Vermont Red Line station, hopped the train to Union Station, then transferred to the Gold Line. Until we reached Union Station, we were the only two SantaCon revelers in sight. However, despite a few strange looks, we made it to the meeting point without ridicule or incident.

11:50 AM: As we made our way to the next boarding platform, we discovered our first small contingent of SantaCon attendees at Union Station. Immediately relieved to see our own kind, we all exchanged a few obligatory ho ho hos, dispensed with introductions, which goes something like, “Hi Santa, nice to meet you. This is Santa. Hi Santa,” then promptly headed off to our next stop, the Chinatown Metro Station.

12:00 PM: About 10 of us arrived at the Chinatown Metro Station, the official SantaCon meeting point. From high atop the train platform we could see only a few red and white suited people scattered about. I began to worry that the rain had drastically affected the turn out. However, a few moments later we spotted a thick procession of Santas heading our way. Cheer commences.

All Aboard! (photo courtesy of Cris Dobbins)
All Aboard! (photo courtesy of Cris Dobbins)

12:20 PM: Scores of Santas line up to buy Metro day passes and we are told by a shadowy figure to board the Gold Line train east to Mariachi Square.

12:50 PM: Santa somewhat aimlessly mills about Mariachi Square. There are ponies and a brief ceremony where awards for “Best Santa” are randomly doled out. The clouds part and the sun shines on us, if only for a moment. A female Santa vomits in a nearby trash can.

1:30 PM: The red tide returns to the Metro station, continuing east to Indiana and El Mercadito. Santa begins to get restless and thirsty.

1:45 PM: A sea of Santas descend on El Tarasco for dueling mariachi bands, food and much drink. A conga line ensues.

3:00 PM: A shadowy figure alerts Santa to pay his tab. As the red tide spills onto the street, we are assaulted by protesting clowns and bursts of poisonous silly string.

3:30 PM: The staff at Trax Bar in Union Station, while unprepared, handle the onslaught of thirsty Santas with ease. The clowns have followed us here. No one can be trusted. Continue reading “Pros and SantaCons”

Hello LA, I’m Back To Stay!

I was gone for over two months, LA, and I missed you so much! The dependable weather, the 24 hour grocery stores and pharmacies, the huge variety in restaurants and coffee places. Coffee places that open earlier than 7am, even! And I want to thank you for a few of the little things you accomplished while I was gone.

First thing I noticed — no more construction on the 405 North between the 90 and the 10 freeway and the carpool lane is open!  Well done, it only took five years. (A few more details about the 405N and S here.)

The bonus part of this section of the 405 being done is that the under pass at National is wide open and without construction. This is like dream for a Westside/Rancho Park gal such as myself.

Then there was the newly paved Pico Blvd between 20th Century Fox and Rancho Park Golf Course — Smooth! It was like gliding on ice and made my trip home from a meeting in Hollywood that much sweeter.

I did hear that the Expo line is delayed. Hmmm, that is not so sweet, but as long as you keep moving forward with that, LA, I’ll be here to ride and cheer it on when it’s up and running to Culver City. At least there is good news in the bicycle front with the LA City Council Transportation Committee passing the Bicycle Anti-harassment ordinance. It still has a way to go, but it is also moving forward.

LA, you were missed. Thanks for tidying up before I got back, I really do appreciate it!