Expo Line Review: First Rides and First Impressions
May 3, 2012 3 Comments
The following is my first-impression account of the Expo Line after one workday trip in each direction. I wrote it last night while commuting from Culver City to Downtown.
I’m sitting on the Expo Line, literally zooming past cars on the street (and they’re not even in traffic) as I write this. I rode the length of the line on Saturday during the grand opening, but even more significantly, I rode it on the first workday Monday morning to my office in Culver City. Today is my first day riding the return trip from work.
To be honest, I was slightly surprised at how many people were on it Monday morning. Of course, it wasn’t full like the other lines during rush hour, but the number of people on my train did seem to rival the other lines during off-peak hours. For the first real day of service, that seems like a major success. The numbers will always grow.
The trip to La Cienega/Jefferson was so quick I didn’t get to finish nearly as much reading as I’d hoped. Barely a short block from the station is the start of the Ballona Creek Bike Path, which I swear was built long ago but in anticipation of my office moving from Downtown to Culver City and then the Expo Line being built. It practically connects the station directly to my office and provides a quick, easy, away from the danger of cars bike connection. Even with the transfers from the Red Line to the Expo Line to my bike, I still made it to work faster than taking the 733 bus (which is a convenient, one-seat ride from my home to office) and was the first person in the office by a long shot.
On the return trip, which I’m still in the middle of, I’ve already noticed a few things that need work, though. It was much more difficult to get from Ballona Creek to the station than it is to get from the station to the creek. There was no bike lane, path, or even directional signage that I could see. It’s imperative that this connection be more fully integrated, especially because La Cienega is currently the end of the line and will continue to be a major bike connection point even when it’s no longer the terminus. For my part, I had to ride on the sidewalks and against traffic to get to the station.
Speaking of bikes… There’s already a wait list for bike lockers at the station, and they haven’t even given out the keys yet. Time to add more — they only started with eight. And on the train… There was no spot for bikes. Metro has made room on most light rail trains in the center of the cars by turning the seats sideways. Not yet on this one. (This is a problem with the specific, individual train car I happened to be in, but necessarily with the Expo Line itself.) Good thing it’s not too crowded and I’m not in the first car, because the only place for my bike was in the entry way and blocking the cab door.
I’ve spent a couple of minutes sitting at red lights (which I didn’t experience or didn’t notice on the westbound trip). The signals need to be timed better for trains and they need to have signal priority, because if you’re going to sit at a red light, you’re also going to lose the savings you’ve made. Regardless, I made it to USC only about 20 minutes after boarding. Not bad.
The trip from USC to downtown took longer than it should have too. I didn’t so much notice being stopped at red lights, but simply moving incredibly slow, staying at the stations for an extra long time, tentatively lurching forward inch by inch, and then sitting at Washington Blvd. for about four minutes. As I write this, we’re now holding at the Pico station for “a few minutes” too.
All in all, the simple fact that the Expo Line exists is a wonderful victory. For me personally, it’s great because it connects where I work and where I live, as I’m sure it does for many others too, but also because it connects USC (whose men’s volleyball team is playing in the NCAA Final Four at the Expo-adjacent Galen Center tonight [Thursday], Fight On!), the Coliseum, and the cultural and science centers of Expo Park to the ever-expanding transit system. There are still, however, improvements to be made. Fortunately, these improvements are things that can still be done, and with a little work the experience can be made nearly perfect.
Maybe it was just my experience on these particular days at these particular times, but it seems as if almost all of the shortcomings are far more apparent when traveling in the easterly direction — from the bike connections to the travel time and waiting time — while the westbound trip was smooth, fast, and easy (exactly like it should be!). The total time of my trip including my bike and Red Line connections was about 12 minutes longer heading towards Downtown. Is it just me or has anyone else felt the same?
[Update: It's now the next morning and we've sat for just as long, if not longer next to LA Trade Tech on the westbound trip. Over five minutes already. Not sure why, as trains have passed us in the other direction, and we've already made it through the Blue Line junction. They've really got to figure out the signals on the Flower St. stretch of track between USC and Downtown -- everyone on the train is verbally complaining about the cars, busses, and bikes that are passing us. The total trip from 7th Street to USC on Expo took about a half hour just itself.
Also, I found the bike path connecting the station with the Ballona Creek. It's on the south side of the station, the southwest corner of La Cinenega/Jefferson, and is denoted by a single sign. This morning, however, it was unusable, as there were three Metro service trucks parked on the bike path, taking up its entire width.]
[Update 2: Turns out there were specific delays and signal system issues on Flower this morning. I missed the Metro alert before I got on the train. This morning's experience should not be a normal one, even though signals do need to be improved.]