Touring the New Expo Line with the “Ethnic Media”

Metro offers "ethnic media" a preview tour of the new Expo Line. photo: sahra

I was invited to join other members of the “ethnic media” (Metro’s term, not mine) yesterday for a preview of the Expo Line. Set to open to the public on April 28th, trips between Culver City and downtown L.A. along the 8.6 miles of new line will be free all of next weekend.

The Metro folks were genuinely excited to be opening the new line to the city and eager to share their hopes for the economic benefits it would bring, plans for the expansion of the rail system to other parts of town, and the extensive safety campaigns that had been waged to educate the neighbors of the new line and the people that traversed it regularly.

They forgot to mention the crash that had happened just that morning at a crossing near USC.

The incident occurred at an intersection where cars previously could turn left without having to wait for a signal. My observation of that intersection (which has been intermittent) is that some people seem to be confused by the change and try to take the turn anyways. Waiting for that signal to change so you can make a left can be frustrating — the sensors don’t pick up bikes and, apparently, do not pick up the lighter golf-cart type vehicles staff at USC sometimes use to get around campus. The driver of one such cart, realizing that the signal wasn’t going to change, felt he had no choice but to take his chances and cross the tracks. Trying to merge back into traffic or cross lanes to push the pedestrian crossing button were not viable options for him at rush hour.

There are several intersections along the Expo line path where left turns are now regulated or, in the case of the Gramercy – Expo intersection, are just plain confusing.

Convoluted crossings on the Expo Rail line (Gramercy and Expo Blvd.). photo: sahra

Here, the bike lane diverges awkwardly and time-consumingly (as you must cross Expo in pedestrian fashion and then wait for the light to cross Gramercy) from the driving lane.* Drivers also seem unsure where to stop. The car in the left of the photo (above), although stopped, is actually in violation of the red light. He should have stopped 10 or 15 feet behind where he was.

There is also a need for more bike infrastructure at stops and space within cars for bikes that makes sense.

Once on the train, cyclists are often asked to roll their bikes to the designated space between two train cars to be out of the way. In theory, that is a good idea. Anyone who has tried to move with their bike through a crowded train to that designated spot knows, however, it is not so easy in practice. Assuming that the line will attract at least a few beach cruiser enthusiasts (the favored vehicle of USC students) and a greater influx of cyclists trying to get closer to the beach overall, Metro would be wise to take out some seats and designate more space to bikes.

The official I spoke with on the tour yesterday agrees this needs to happen, but acknowledged that it is a slow process. (Damien, we are putting our trust in you on this!!)

Diego Cardoso, an Executive Officer at MTA, takes a seat after his brief presentation. photo: sahra

The tour — from the Crenshaw stop out to La Cienega, eastward to the 7th St. Metro Center, and then back to Crenshaw — was over within an hour. The members of the “ethnic media” disembarked at Crenshaw Blvd., thanked the Metro staff, and headed back to their cars.

I hopped on my bike and rode eastward along Exposition contemplating the uneventfulness of the whole affair. It dawned on me that the reason that the tour had seemed so blah was because there were no real riders on board. For me, it is the regular ridership that gives a transit system character and make it what it is. I can’t wait to see what kind of culture the Expo Line takes on once it opens.

For more information on the opening of the Expo Line, please check out metro.net

*There may be a very good reason for this but it seemed inefficient to me — I would have preferred to ride with traffic. Thoughts are welcome.