Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Glint of Transit Gold

August 02, 2003

More than 70,000 passengers rode the Metro Rail Gold Line last Saturday, twice the turnout projected for the opening of the 14-mile railway between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. Even considering the free fares and inaugural festivities, it was a heady show of enthusiasm for a region famously divided over public transit.

It's too early and too optimistic to claim that the new line signals a renewed commitment to light rail, even if it proves popular enough to pull some commuters off freeways. Already-approved funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add a six-mile East Los Angeles spur to the 73 miles of rail in place appears safe, but more ambitious light-rail dreams have been delayed because of the state's budget meltdown and the federal government's preoccupation with tax cuts. The Gold Line cost $880 million; no one is counting on that kind of money for a while.

What the region can count on to increase is demand. Planners predict that the new route will average 30,000 boardings each weekday, taking an estimated 8,000 cars off the roads -- for now. But those cars will be replaced over the next two decades as the population continues to grow. As Southern California edges toward a more permanent state of gridlock, bad air is making a comeback. During a hot spell in July, the region suffered its first Stage 1 alert since 1998.

If all this sounds hopelessly pessimistic, the region is looking unexpectedly rich in another resource: leadership. Under Chief Executive Roger Snoble, the MTA is adding Rapid bus lines and dedicated busways and developing an electronic-chip fare card that will speed boardings and ease transfers.

James K. Hahn paid little attention to the MTA in his first two years as L.A. mayor but now has named City Council members Tom LaBonge, Martin Ludlow and Antonio Villaraigosa to the transit board. All are energetic and enthusiastic backers of public transit, and Villaraigosa brings valuable legislative experience and connections. Other council members, such as Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti, have backgrounds in urban planning and support the kind of high-density development that clusters housing, workplaces, day-care centers and shopping along light-rail lines and bus routes, making public transit convenient -- and successful.

Battling gridlock in a time of few resources is going to take extra resourcefulness. Making sure that Gold Line stations have adequate parking spaces and efficient bus connections is not nearly as exciting as buying shiny new rail cars but will make a long-term difference in getting folks to use rail instead of automobiles. Ultimately, those same details will prove important in building support for more lines.

As desperate as the financial outlook is, optimism is still possible -- as anyone who's enjoyed the scenic and historically significant sights along the Gold Line can attest.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|