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April 20, 2012

All aboard for the Expo Line

http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/all_aboard_for_the_expo_line_20120420

The new Expo Line goes to Culver City, the farthest west LA light rail reaches. Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

The new Expo Line goes to Culver City, the farthest west LA light rail reaches. Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Why would the Metropolitan Transit Authority invite ethnic media for their own tour of the new Expo Line, the regional train line set to open April 28?

Because the line is as much about getting from Culver City to Downtown L.A. as connecting to the spots in between.

Freeways allow us to get from, say, the Helms Bakery furniture district to the Staples Center without so much as knowing that we’ve passed Music Man Murray Record Outlet, which is located at Exposition Boulevard and La Brea Avenue and is one of the largest physical music libraries around, or the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, a $60 million granite mega-church in the heart of the Crenshaw district with 24,000 congregants.

The new Expo Line will allow us all to not only more intimately travel through the center of the USC campus, or to watch rows of wood-paneled bungalows go by, or to witness teens flowing out of the Foshay Learning Center at dismissal time, but we will be sitting alongside the people who get on and off the train at all those stops.

Even if we don’t strike up a conversation, our little bubbles of isolation—normally confined to moving as quickly as possible on the asphalt streets—might get poked just enough to meander a little off course.

The 8.6 miles of track – above ground except for the last mile or so, when it merges with the Blue Line at Washington Boulevard and Flower Street—will open to the public at La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards beginning next week, and starting in June, riders will be able to get on and off at Robertson and Venice boulevards, on the very outer edges of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

There will be free parking lots at La Cienega and Robertson, as well as at Crenshaw Boulevard – the West Angeles Church has agreed to lease the MTA its parking lot, which is otherwise mostly empty on weekdays.  You’ll be able to travel from Culver City to Downtown in less than half an hour, and to the L.A. Live entertainment complex in about 20 minutes—and when you get there you can just wink at the guys waving flags for the $20 parking lots.

The fare is $1.50 for one ride, and you have to pay to transfer. A METRO day pass is $5. Construction on the $932 million project started in 2006.

Its ride is smooth and relatively quiet, and the trains are clean, cool and comfortable. The 10 new stations along The Expo Line seem to, so far, actually brighten the neighborhoods. The track beds are strewn with shimmering gray rock, and while fences and arms and lights and signage safeguard people and cars from the trains, the street-level stations are surrounded by flower-planted medians.

At the station on the concrete bridge that swoops above La Cienega Boulevard, and all along raised portions of the line, undulating stretches of hole-punched metal surf above the station. From afar, the sculptures evoke the waves of the Pacific Ocean – the hoped-for eventual destination of The Expo Line. Once you’re on the raised station platform, the metal waves provide the mottled shade of a backyard deck, and seem to urge you to move forward with the surges of people.

At the La Cienega station, black-and-white carved linoleum murals by artist Daniel Gonzalez, who works for City of Los Angeles History Department, take riders along Ballona Creek through the area’s history, from the Shoshonean landscape, to Rancho La Cienega, to the film industry of today’s Culver City. Other stations are adorned with photography, abstract works and painted vignettes, all part of the public art in many Metro stations.

Of course, for most people on most days, The Expo Line won’t be a cultural experience, or a foray into interethnic politics of Los Angeles. It’ll be a way to get from here to there.

The last stop on The Expo Line takes you to 7th and Metro, where you can connect to the Blue, Red or Purple lines to Long Beach, North Hollywood or Koreatown. Or you can connect to Union Station and take a train anywhere.

MTA estimates around 8.7 million boardings a month onto its rail lines. The Expo Line is expected to carry 27,000 people a day within two years. Trains depart every three minutes, and the station just might be near you.

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