Review of the City’s First Transit Race, from a Last-Place Finnisher

4_6_09_union.jpgTransit People trudge through Union Station on our way to Heritage Square.

Yesterday marked the first ever "Transit People" transit race through out Greater Los Angeles.  For anyone not familiar with Transit People, they are a non-profit that provides field trips for students in public schools to some of Los Angeles’ most famous destinations such as the Natural History Museum, the Science Center and the Long Beach Aquarium.

Yesterday’s race was a fundraiser for the organization as five teams met at locales around the city at 10:00 A.M. where we all received a phone call telling us the finish line was at Heritage Square Park in East Los Angeles.  My team, led by former Metro Board Member Allison Yoh, met at the LaBrea Tar Pits and had 18 members.  Besides myself, Yoh and her family, the rest of our team featured eleven planning graduate students from UCLA, three public school teachers and two extended family members of Transit People founder Tim Adams.

After a brief consultation with the map our team snaked out of the park.  It should be noted that before we reached the bus stop, we were already utilizing three modes of transportation as I coasted on my bike and Devin Yoh was comfortable in his stroller.  Our route would have us take three more modes of transit, Metro Rapid Bus, the Red Line and the Purple Line.

I had a goal in my head of discussing something particular to the mode of the moment in my discussions so as we entered the articulated 720 Metro Rapid Bus I settled in next to a UCLA student, Sasha and we talked buses.  For those of you who don’t like the Bus Rider’s Union and wonder why I give them reasonably favorable coverage, it’s because they inspire people like no other alternative transportation group in Los Angeles does; even though I may disagree with them from time-to-time.  As we discussed transit politics, Sasha told me a story about a friend of hers who while going through his deceased grandmother’s belongings found a picture of her waiving a sign supporting low senior fares wearing a familiar yellow t-shirt.  His reaction?  Wow, my Grandmom was cool!

We exited the bus at the Wilshire/Vermont subway stop and rushed through the station, with all of us needing to stop and buy Metro day passes since only one of us had a TAP card and bus wasn’t selling them.  Our plan was to take the train to Union Station and pick up the Gold Line, and we decided to stop here instead of the earlier Wilshire/Western stop because we knew that both Red and Purple Lines ran though this station but only the Purple Line through Wilshire/Western and didn’t want to get caught waiting too long for a train.

So, we eventually boarded a Red Line train to the Dowtown and I rolled my bike into one of those spaces where they took out some seats just to make room for me.  I was standing next to the couple related to Tim and we traded stories about taking the rail in Asia.  For them, it was a trip to Japan where they took local commuter trains, and sadly weren’t herded onto them by men with mops and the bullet trains which they compared favorably to riding in an airplane, only safer, faster and more comfortable.  For me, I talked about a 2001 trip I took with my Mom in China which included a train trip from Hong Kong to Beijing.

After rushing through Union Station, with me starting to get sick of dragging my bike up and down four flights of steps at every station, we hopped on the Gold Line and took off for the Heritage Park Station.  Unbeknown to us, another team comprised mostly of UCLA students were in a car behind us.  On this trip I had a moment to talk Metro history with Yoh, who was actually on the board during the early months of the Gold Line’s existence before she was replaced after a two-year term by an upcoming City Councilman named Tony.

I also talked to two teachers who were part of Teach for America who had taken students on Transit People field trips.  Adrianna Rodriguez, a First Grade teacher at 109th Street Elementary School in the Watts Community, used Transit People to take her students to the Natural History Museum, Science Center, and a college tour of USC.  Hey, those football recruiters start early.  Mirla Urzua, a Second Grade Teacher at the same school, had similarly used the group to take her kids to the Museum and Science Center.  When asked how they felt about Transit People, they basically described it as a Godsend.

Our third teacher, Dillon Ross, a Fourth Grade teacher with Burbank Unified, was so busy being team photographer I didn’t have a chance to chat him up.  I’ll have links to his pictures later this week.  Until then, you’re stuck with mine.

4_6_09_tim.jpgTim Adams, Transit Person

We got off and chatted with the other team, who decided on a different route to the final destination than we did.  We were now faced with two choices, trust the GPS or follow the group that knew how to walk from the station to the park and hope to beat them out at the finish.  Knowing that I could beat them in a sprint, having a bike on hand will do that, but that Devin probably wouldn’t we went off on our own.  We took a long route around the park which dropped us right at where Tim Adams and a group of young people were having a talent show.  Adams informed us that we finished 5th of five teams.  He referred to it as "a bit of an upset."  Thanks for clearing that up, Tim!

Some of the other teams had more direct routes.  Our third place team was the other group of UCLA Students, but they started Downtown, not on the Westside.  The three other teams, one from Glendale, one from USC, and one from Pasadena each only had to take one mode of transportation.  The winning team from USC took the 81 bus straight up Figueroa before walking and arrived forty five minutes after the race started, earlier than Adams thought anyone would make it.  Meanwhile, the 4th place took the Gold Line straight from Pasadena and grumped that they couldn’t understand why they didn’t finish first.

All in all, everyone was a winner, be they the Transit People who raised hundreds of dollars, the contestants who got to know more about the city or the perfumers at the talent show who exposed me to some great choreographed dance, violin planing and stand-up comedy.  Personally I felt as though I were the biggest winner, I got to play in the sun all day with some new friends who were even nice enough to take me with them to the fair in Thai Town.

It might be awhile, but stay tuned for news of their next transit race.  If there’s enough interest, I’ll put together a Streetsblog team.

  • Correction–the bus on Figueroa is the 81. I should know, it was the line I rode Saturday after the SO.CA.TA meeting to get to the IHOP at 8th/Flower where some of us had dinner.

    When you speak of the BRU that “they inspire people” you have to realize the agitation model of advocacy is more colorful for media attention and easier for most people to grasp because it is mostly built on soundbite slogans and just requires participants to learn their lines and hit the marks–the downside is everything is reduced to simplistic rail v. bus etc., over time the novelty wears out with diminished media attention plus without follow-up whatever the protests generate in attention and potential political clout is dissipated. The turnout by the BRU and allies at the last Metro fare hearing was impressive but it was in the service of DOA demands (50 cent fare/twenty dollar monthly pass); Eric Mann just wanted publicity when he could have leveraged their advocacy for some real gains to benefit riders IF HE HAD BEEN WILLING TO COMPROMISE. That the riders needs were not well served that day by the BRU’s tactics is partly why I have a very low opinion of the organization.

  • Neil Cuadra

    My wife and I were two of your teammates. It was great fun to participate, support the TransitPeople organization, make some new friends, watch the kids perform (where else can you hear great knock-knock jokes from a 4th and 5th grade comedy team?), and gain a little more experience navigating the Los Angeles transportation system.

    I wondered about the choice to stay on the bus until we could transfer to the Red line, rather than switch from bus to train sooner at Western. It didn’t occur to me that we might lose time waiting for the next Purple line train, especially if the trains run less often on Sunday.

    I had an iPhone with me and gave the Trip Planner at a try. I learned a little trick, that it’s worth increasing the maximum walking distance to allow more trip choices. The default is 1/3 mile and with that setting it recommended that we take the 20 bus, not the 720 express bus that required walking only another block. With the setting at 1/2 mile or more, the Trip Planner did recommend the express bus, which saved a lot of time.

    If only one of us had thought to check the Heritage Square website from our smart phones, we would have found the correct walking directions from the Heritage Square Gold line metro station to the Heritage Square Museum! (

    When TransitPeople holds its next race, we’ll be even better prepared. And next time I think we should choose team names (good for team spirit) and wear TransitPeople vests as we travel across the city, to help spread the word about their great program.

  • Heritage Square was delighted to host. If this City is going to grow, we need to encourage the use of public transportation – not just for work, which I think is becoming slightly more common, but for play! Here’s wishing Transit People many years of success.

  • BTW, glad the event turned out well. I had run into Tim Saturday morning on the 20 as we were both going downtown. I wished him good luck. TransitPeople is a great organization and deserves our support.

    Races. Ugh! I am too slow for events like this. It is like reading the Southern Sierran about all the hikes people do. I find going from bus stops to shop etc. plenty of hiking for now.


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