More modestly successful, and more mainstream, is the Southern California Transit Advocates, considered the oldest of the Los Angeles advocacy groups, around since the late 1980s.
Then there is Madres del Este Los Angeles Santa Isabel, a vocal body of poor Latino mothers working for better civic amenities, including busways. (After a turf and power battle, two groups called Madres del Este Los Angeles have emerged: The pro-bus body, and a vocal group supporting a planned light railway. Each claims to be the legitimate voice of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.)
It's not uncommon for a member of one advocacy group to be a member of two or three others. Friends4Expo members, for example, are forming alliances with other advocates, fighting for a variety of other transit projects, including extensions of the Green Line railway to Los Angeles International Airport, a light-rail plan in Venice and the almost-finished Pasadena Gold Line railway. For people like Clarke, the analytical Friends4Expo co-founder, praise from officials such as Watson is an affirmation of the years of hard work done in obscurity, when few seemed to be listening.
A 48-year-old Santa Monica resident, Clarke got hooked on transit as a student at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, when he watched construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system come to an end. He was such a fan that in 1974 he was on the first BART train to be open to the public traveling from Oakland to San Francisco.
In the late 1980s he joined a vocal group of Culver City and South Los Angeles residents who were trying to get the city to buy and transform the dormant Exposition Boulevard railway for transit.
Back then, a schedule he maintains a dozen years later emerged out of necessity. Clarke would arrive home from his job as an information technology manager at IBM, take a short break, then spend as much as five hours working at the battle for the light-rail line: organizing and running community meetings, knocking on neighborhood doors in a search for supporters or holing up in front of his computer.
He hoarded armfuls of data that he and the others still use: census and economic figures, traffic and cost estimates and demographic breakdowns. The statistics were a handy way to support the argument for light rail.
For all of the exuberance Clarke and others showed, by the mid-1990s, as the MTA turned almost all of its attention to building costly subways, the effort to put trains on Exposition had withered. It was reborn only in 1998, when a financially crippled MTA turned away from subway construction and began looking for ways to build more for less money.
Clarke and a crew of about 20 others in the group's inner circle were at it again, officially forming Friends4Expo, making the rounds of transportation meetings, prodding officials to fight for the Expo Line.
Always at the ready were the statistics and projections: 837,000 people live within two miles of the Expo Line! Clarke would say. That's 13,300 per square mile! That would be the 12th-largest city in the U.S.! That's much more dense than San Diego and Portland, Ore., where light rail has been a huge success!
The advocates counted about 200 members then. Today there are nearly 1,500, most of them engaged with the group through the Internet or by attending community meetings hosted by Friends4Expo, often at local high schools. "There were times that I would be up there and I would just be feeling like a gnat, capital G-N-A-T, gnat," said Clarke, who lightheartedly uses the nickname "transit nerds" for himself and others in his group for their tendency to go on about the length of rail cars, rail costs per mile, overload capacity and the like.
They're an eclectic bunch. Among the inner circle are urban planners, lawyers and inventors from the Crenshaw district, middle-class mothers from Santa Monica, businesswomen from Cheviot Hills, train buffs, bus riders, filmmakers, teachers and political aides.
The group also has its share of iconoclasts.
One of the most charismatic is Dr. Ken Alpern, a Westside dermatologist who calls himself Friends4Expo's "token Republican."
"I have my family and my work and my hobby," says Alpern. "It ain't golf. It's transit."
Alpern is known for punching out late-night pro-rail screeds over the Internet and for aggressive lobbying of politicians.
A forceful, energetic man who lives on just a few hours of sleep each night, Alpern often rises at 4:30, the better to prepare for the 5 a.m. teleconferences he schedules with Washington officials and congressional aides, conversations in which he pumps them for information and pleads for them to bring home federal dollars to Los Angeles.