February 23, 2011
All aboard the case for an all-pervasive Metro
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Another downtowner, L.A. Department of Water and Power Commissioner Jonathan Parfrey, regularly rides the Red and Blue lines, Metro Bus 81 and 83, the downtown DASH and the No. 10 Santa Monica Blue Bus. A fan as well of the Union Station FlyAway Bus to LAX, Parfrey calls downtown Los Angeles the most transit-friendly area in Southern California. You can get almost anywhere quickly via bus or subway. “I don’t think twice about taking the [subway] to meetings in Hollywood, Long Beach and North Hollywood; it’s much quicker than driving,” he said. “Especially during rush hour.”
Indeed, changing attitudes about riding public transportation in Los Angeles benefit from the city’s traffic congestion and demographic shift. The needle is clearly moving on mass transit, and this is true as well of even the most observant of L.A. communities. Any halachic prohibition against riding Metro has now been lifted.
Take, for example, the current battles raging over a Wilshire Purple Line subway station at Constellation Boulevard in Century City and Metro’s plans for a Wilshire BRT. While no one should underestimate the concerns of the handful of Beverly Hills opponents about a station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, which would require tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School property, Metro Board members, including L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, have been unflinching in their preference for the Constellation option. And it is not just Yaroslavsky who publicly supports the idea. The Century City Chamber of Commerce, normally not among the most activist of constituencies, recently added to its Web site a page called “The Top 10 Reasons to Have the Subway Station at Avenue of the Stars and Constellation.” Unless the engineering suggests it is not feasible to safely tunnel under the high-school property, I am betting my pushke that that station will be built.
The Wilshire BRT is another critical project on which expected mayoral candidate and Metro board member Yaroslavsky has supportively chimed in. The BRT, too, is likely to happen, unfortunate as it is that Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Condo Canyon — the Wilshire Boulevard stretch between the Los Angeles Country Club and Westwood Boulevard — exceptions have been carved out of the dedicated bus lane project designed to improve bus travel times on the busy Wilshire corridor.
With 80,000 daily bus boardings along Wilshire Boulevard, and rush hour traffic conditions on our streets abominable, Metro’s environmental impact report estimates that the BRT will decrease run times for buses by about 12 minutes. And while the project is not without its detractors, the public, including many Westside Jews and the American Jewish Committee, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and others, recognize that Los Angeles needs transit solutions like the BRT to move more people efficiently and cost effectively than private cars. Half a loaf of challah is better than none, and the fact remains that politics and partisanship have failed to kill the important project.
Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park communities’ opposition to Expo Phase II, which uses an existing train right-of-way to bring light rail from Culver City to Santa Monica, has also been muted relative to the support the project has received. To date, both the courts and the public appear to have seen through the critics’ disingenuous arguments that the line will pose a danger to children and unduly disrupt traffic at critical intersections like Overland Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard.
That said, Jewish Angelenos, as well as our non-Jewish neighbors, should not expect any miracles of biblical proportion to wash away the traffic even once these projects are built. Traffic is a fact of life in Los Angeles and in other big cities that already have the transit system we can only dream of. That is a result of population growth and the reality that many of us will always want to get to the same places at the same time — during rush hour. Mass transit should be seen as what it is best at being — a fast, convenient and cost-effective way of getting from point A to point B when you choose to ride, or when you have no alternative way of getting where you need to go.
Without a doubt, certain memories and attitudes linger about the way Los Angeles used to be. Many, for example, find it hard to believe that it has been decades since they went for pony rides at Beverly Park Kiddieland, on the spot where the Beverly Center has long towered over an otherwise nice neighborhood. And when was the last time you ate at the Brown Derby or spent the night stargazing at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel? But finding an old timer who accurately remembers when you could get anywhere fast in the car is not getting any easier. Likewise, the use of “Westside” as code for “Jews,” is in decline, as well it should be. Curious about the actual religious character of the Westside, I contacted California State University, Fullerton, political science professor Raphael J. Sonenshein, who said that Jews make up only 40 percent of the City Council’s 5th District, which boasts the city’s heaviest concentration of Jews.
Thanks to the region’s population growth, as well as Metro’s considerable expansion, the view that many of us now hold is that transit has a critical role to play in the future of Los Angeles, even when it goes through, or under, our backyards.
The fact is, Metro is not your parents’ Los Angeles MTA, and L.A. is not the public transit-starved city it was long known to be. We all have our preconceived notions of the way things are, and, thankfully, often enough we are proved wrong.
So, with that, I will close with an anecdote. “Funny, you don’t look Jewish”: As a fair-haired, blue-eyed member of the tribe, I can’t tell you the number of times over the years that I have been taken for Irish, and not in a James Joyce Leopold Bloom sort of way. About transit, it has taken a while, but it seems as though L.A. is finally at a place where Westsiders, some of them Jews, no longer express surprise when they see their friends and neighbors riding Metro.
Sometimes, things really do change. Take me, for example. It has been months since anyone has said to me, “Funny, you don’t look like a Metro rider.” But then again, maybe I am wrong. Maybe it is just the gray in my hair and the New York in my step. After all, everyone rides public transit in New York.
Joel Epstein is a Westside resident, Metro customer and strategic communications consultant focused on transportation and other critical urban issues. For more about Epstein, visit joelepstein.com.
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