January 23, 2019

The Green Column: Gas Prices Send People To Public Transit


Nationwide, out of “every 100 pounds of global warming pollutants Americans release into the atmosphere, 27 come from cars, trucks, planes and other vehicles propelled by fossil fuels.” (See Patrick Mazza, “Transportational Global Warming Solutions,” Climate Solutions Issues Briefing (May 2004).) In West Coast states, that figure doubles—half of California’s greenhouse gases (GHG) come from vehicles, the same study reported. As a result environmental advocates are stressing the importance not merely of requiring more efficient cars and cleaner fuels, but also of land use planning that discourages urban sprawl and promotes dense, compact, pedestrian-friendly metropolitan areas where citizens live near where they work and play. Many also want to see gas taxes used to price driving in ways that more accurately reflect its cost to society and to build up transportation choices—from buses, trains, and car to bike lanes and sidewalks. Encouraging the use of mass transit, or better yet biking or walking, may be even more important than increasing fuel efficiency, some argue. Even if we were able to increase fuel economy by as much as 40 percent, those gains would be wiped out within 17 years by as little as two percent annual growth in vehicle miles traveled, said study author Mazza.


The Green Column: Gas Prices Send People To Public Transit

Topanga teens Simone Hill (left) and Kali Bush-Vineberg (r) board the Beach Bus at Topanga Center last summer, taking advantage of low-cost transportation to nearby beaches.

But what’s an environmentally conscious Topangan to do? We are certainly not a “dense, compact, pedestrian-friendly metropolitan area,” nor do we want to become one. Many of us live miles from our schools and workplaces and most of us travel miles for movies, sporting events, concerts and major shopping. With gas prices hovering at around $4.50 a gallon or higher, raising taxes to reflect the social and environmental costs of driving is a political non-starter.

Those higher gas prices are already working to increase ridership on L.A.’s growing bus and light rail systems, the Los Angeles Times recently reported. In fact, according to L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, “ridership on the Orange Line is up 60 percent since its first month of operations and has surpassed projections 15 years ahead of schedule.”

Still, where does this leave Topanga? For most of the year, L.A.’s public transit system can be accessed only by getting in the car and driving out of the Canyon.

For now, there’s a temporary answer. Thanks to the support of Yaroslavsky’s office, the Beach Bus resumed in June for the summer months, taking riders from the Valley to the sea and back again. From June 23 through September 1, on an expanded schedule that now runs six days a week, the beach bus transports local riders south to Topanga, Will Rodgers, and Santa Monica Beaches.

Last year, the County expanded the Beach Bus route to include as its northern terminus the Warner Center transit hub in Woodland Hills. This year again the Beach Bus terminates at the transit center and while the immediate purpose of expanding the route was to allow more Valley residents to take the bus to the beach, it also offers Topangans an opportunity to sample the public transit system enjoyed by L.A. area flatlanders. (The Beach Bus schedule is available on-line to http://ladpw.org/PDD/Beach_Bus/Page_07.cfm). It takes approximately 40 minutes to get from the Pine Tree Circle to Woodland Hills and the one-way fare is just 50-cents. Once there, riders can connect with the Orange Line and in turn, to much of the rest of L.A.’s mass-transit system.


From the Woodland Hills Transit Center you can catch the relatively new Orange Line to cross the San Fernando Valley to downtown and beyond. Completed in 2005, under budget and at the equivalent cost of one mile of subway, the Orange Line’s “articulated buses” leave every 10-to-20 minutes operating on their own busway. It takes about 50 minutes to cross 14 miles of the Valley to the North Hollywood Red Line subway station. These exclusive busway are an improvement over sitting in an older bus, inhaling exhaust fumes while trapped in gridlock with the one-to-a-car driving public, although even these buses are still not as comfortable as light rail, subways or trains.


The plan is to extend the Orange Line up to the Chatsworth Metrolink train station, which is currently accessible only by car. Metrolink, which originates in Oxnard, offers a European-style train experience that can make your car feel claustrophobic. It has two-story seating, with half-a-dozen tables for labtops (110-watt outlets are under the tables), incredible leg room, and unique views of ball fields, airports, and industry.

The Metrolink ride to Burbank is just 20-to-25 minutes; from there the train rounds Griffith Park to Glendale, and arrives at Union Station in about 40-to-45 minutes from boarding in Chatsworth.


The Green Column: Gas Prices Send People To Public Transit

The inside of the Union Station terminal, a beautiful art deco building, connects Metrolink travelers with L.A.ís subway lines.

Union Station itself is well worth a day trip. The beautiful Art Deco building has been featured in many classic movies and today continues to be used by films and television shows requiring a 1930’s set location.

While there you should take a peek at the much newer Metropolitan Transit Authority (“MTA”) Patsaouras Transit Plaza, part of the Metro Gateway Transit Center, which houses to MTA headquarters.

The Transit Center is the junction point for buses, subways and trolleys and cabs. According to Wikipedia, L.A.’s subway lines are the fifth most heavily travelled subway system in the United States with an average weekday load of 3,897 passengers per track mile. The Gold Line heads north to Pasadena, the Blue Line travels south to Long Beach (stopping at Staples Center), the Purple Line runs west to Wilshire and Western, the Orange Line continues east to East Los Angeles, and the Red Line runs through Hollywood and past Universal Studios.


For the rider exploring the Metro rail system for the first time, the Red Line (which has been speeding riders under the Hollywood hills from downtown to North Hollywood for 10 years) is the one to take as it features some of the most striking subway stations in the world, each with a unique style. Two on Hollywood Boulevard are not to be missed.

The Red Line’s first stops are downtown and MacArthur Park. The latter, still a dicey location despite City clean-up efforts, is home to a popular attraction—50 year-old Langer’s Deli and its world-class pastrami sandwiches.

Continuing on-board brings you to Hollywood Boulevard. The Highland Street station adjoins the Kodak Theater and leads to a plaza inspired by D. W. Griffith’s 1916 film Intolerance. The station, whose stately 60-foot pillars support a seated elephant, sits behind Mann’s Chinese Theater, with its footprints of the Stars.

Continuing north, the Red Line passes through its deepest tunnel to arrive at Universal Studios then continues on to the North Hollywood Station which connects in turn, to the Orange Line.

Will the Red Cars ever return?

Old-timers who often bemoan the fact that L.A. once had the world’s largest inter-urban trolley service can take heart as it is slowly being restored. The planned Exposition Line will follow the old Red Car tracks past the University of Southern California to the Westside and, hopefully, will once again connect downtown to Santa Monica, 100 years after the first trolley arrived in 1906.

There will probably be a measure at some point in the future to increase the sales taxes to further expand L.A.’s mass transit system. Topangans will be asked to pay for it, but will they get a chance to use it?

For now, the County says there are no plans to extend regular service to Topanga beyond the summer Beach Bus. But who knows what might happen if a critical mass of Topangans begins using the Beach Bus to experiment with the greater L.A. transit system and find they enjoy the bus-to-subway experience? If you try th