August 03, 2011

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

In Los Angeles it’s the opposite. The person who takes the train is the douche. And if anyone ever philosophizes about the subject, it’s to say something like, “Mass transit is no good for Southern California. It’s a car culture.”

Well, yeah, because people choose to ignore the multi-billion-dollar train and bus system that was built in the eighties and nineties. Los Angeles, like most big cities, became excited about mass transit in the seventies, got a boatload of money from Washington, and built a system that was pretty much operable by the year 2000. For a city with the kind of sprawl that El Lay has, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve used it. It works. Why does everyone deny that it exists?

Not that it doesn’t have major holes in it. For example, the most annoying traffic corridors are the ones that run east-west from downtown and Hollywood—Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, and Sunset Boulevard. And these are the corridors the LA master planners chose not to address in the subway system. The Purple Line runs from Union Station out Wilshire Boulevard and then stops dead at Western Avenue for some reason. Unless you’re going to Koreatown, the line is worthless. All they would have to do is extend it through West LA and Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and there would be mass celebrations by millions of William Morris agents, not to mention Wolfgang Puck, for taking all those Bentley-obstructing cars off the streets. As it is, the Purple Line is like a shuttle to the Wiltern Theatre, which I’m sure is very convenient for the manager of Tears for Fears.

There are other oddities. On certain lines, the train actually stops for cars. I know there are trolleys that stop for cars in most major world cities, but this is the same high-speed train that’s zooming underground in the downtown and Hollywood areas, then suddenly it becomes the equivalent of a 1938 streetcar? Trains should always have the right-of-way over cars. That’s sort of the point of being a train.

Another strange decision is the building of stations that are on concrete platforms several miles above the street. Most cities in the world have been trying to get rid of elevated train tracks for about, oh, a hundred years now. They disrupt neighborhoods, they’re eyesores, and they discourage commerce because there’s no place to put your newsstand, your Snapple kiosk, or your Pakistani lottery vendor. Elevated transit stations always end up with broken-down elevators, pissing off the handicapped, besides just being these imposing Roman aqueducts that nobody wants to climb up on in the first place. Los Angeles should have plenty of railroad right-of-way—it was laid out by Huntington and Stanford and all the other West Coast robber barons—but they seem bent on running the trains right down the middle of the freeway corridors, requiring you in some cases to clamber up into a scary-looking steel-and-concrete monkey-bar industrial maze that looks like something left over from an old episode of Mannix.

Still, the rail system is there, and if you combine it with state-of-the-art buses that are so sleek and quiet and cool that you’re likely to fall asleep in them, it can get you anywhere you need to go.

Three weeks ago Los Angeles announced to the world that they were about to face “Carmageddon.” The 405 Freeway was being shut down for construction at Mulholland Drive and so the world was going to end. These were similar to the apocalyptic reports we get in New York whenever President Obama comes to town and a bunch of streets and highways have to be closed down. And those reports always end with, “Alternate routes would be the 4 train, the B train, the PATH from Jersey City, or…”—you get the idea. And so “Carmageddon” was about to take place, and for some reason this was a worldwide story because I’m hearing these traffic reports on the opposite coast, and yet no one is saying, “So the alternate routes, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, will be the following extra express bus routes and more frequent rail departures throughout the western half of the county on the following lines….” Which would be, like, the sort of “duh” thing to do. Yes, you would have to take east-west routes and then cross the Santa Monica Mountains at some other canyon. You would have to go out of your way. But there was no mention of that sort of adjustment.

Instead, people were being told to stay home.

Now. The only reason people would be told to stay home is that the city’s leaders—the people who presumably approved the funds for the excellent mass-transit system and built it to its present state—are the same people who say, “The train doesn’t go to the airport.” I know it’s hard to believe, but what other explanation could there be? Nobody needed to stay home. You would only think that if you were proceeding from the assumption that there is no alternative to car travel. It’s like the entire city grew so enamored of medical marijuana that they forgot they have trains and buses. Then, when they occasionally remember that they do have a mass-transit system, they invent phantom criminals who are getting ready to reenact The Taking of Pelham 123, only worse because Denzel Washington is not here to save us. Actually, the most sinister thing that happens on the Blue Line is illegal Snickers sales, no doubt terrifying the first-time riders cutting the umbilical cord that ties them to Bel Air.

Which is fine with me, because I can stretch out on the shuttle on my way to the secret LAX Station.

Actually, on this trip, I’ll be leaving from Burbank Airport instead of LAX, a decision that causes my friend to apologize for not being available that day to take me to the airport because…

I interrupted. “The train goes there, too.”

“But I looked on the map.”

“It’s a different train. It’s the Metrolink.”


Los Angeles people, listen up. If you ever need to get anywhere fast, whether you’re in the Valley or South Central or Santa Monica or Long Beach or downtown, just email me. I’ll be in Greenwich Village and I’ll tell you which train or bus to take.


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