March 8, 2016
I journeyed to Azusa for the first time yesterday. Why, you may ask? It
was not to cheer on the Azusa Pacific volleyball team or to take a hike
up to Mt. Baldy but to experience the "Foothill extension" of the Gold Line, which opened for service yesterday.
I had a lot of fun. I not only got to see new towns and landscapes
(including stunning views of the San Gabriel mountains) but sample
excellent beer at the various pubs placed conveniently along the route.
With that said, small but pertinent operational flaws checkered my experience (and my optimism for the line's success).
For one thing, getting to the Gold Line by public transit was not easy
because bus service on arterials headed to Downtown was rather
infrequent (due to scheduling) and prone to traffic delays. Though I am a
fan of expanding Metro's rail coverage, I believe that such expansion
must be coupled with initiatives to improve the utility of its buses,
which carry three times the ridership of Metro's trains.
The litter arrayed around the seats on the Red Line (which I took for
the second leg of my pre-ride journey) and the odious smells that
permeated the train proved to be another blot on my experience. As I
discussed in one of my recent posts (and frequently brought up by public commentors on articles like this),
Metro could boost transit use and ridership significantly simply by
increasing maintenance (and heightening onboard security) on vehicles.
Then when I first boarded the Gold Line at Union Station, I was
surprised (and a bit worried) to see Sierra Madre Villa listed as the
destination on the train's front monitor, as well as on the maps posted
in the interior. Even the programmed announcer which blared upon
departure from each station still parrotted Sierra Madre Villa as the
"final destination". Only when the train passed Sierra Madre Villa
without making a "final stop" announcment (or dispensing of all its
passengers) did I know for certain that this was not a "Short Line"
Most disappointing of all, the neighborhoods the stations served displayed little semblance of the transit-oriented, walkable "third Los Angeles" Metro
is supposed to work towards. The Duarte station was surrounded by
suburban office parks. Monrovia station tempted with a grass-covered
commons in the immediate vicinity (called "Station Park") but this gave
way, as I moved away from the station along Myrtle Avenue, to a desolate
strand of auto body shops, office park complexes and gas stations,
encasing a sea of single-family homes: the Monrovia "Old Town", which
wayfinding signs pointed to as if right at the station's doorstop, lay a
good mile-long walk away, uphill (and under a freeway overpass).
Irwindale station, as expected,
amounted to little more than an island in an industrial wasteland. On
the other hand, the Arcadia station is snug in the heart of a commercial
strip that appeared nonetheless (on both approach and departure),
Only the Azusa station opened out immediately onto a commercial and
retail corridor along Azusa avenue, though this "downtown" was none-too
impressive. There seemed to be as many vape shops as eateries (I counted
only five restaurants and bars in three blocks). The early 20th-century
Spanish Colonial-style> buildings charmed but none integrated a
residential use into the district (whether exclusively or as a mixed-use
project). Copious parking suggested that most people drove here.
I shouldn't have been too surprised. Eric Brightwell's 2013 exploration of
the line's course noted Arcadia's dearth of sidewalks and the Monrovia
and Duarte stations' distance from those cities' pedestrian cores.
But I had hope that Metro learned in its 20-odd years of constructing
rail lines from debacles such as the Green Line and that its planners
had some awareness of the common (transport planning) knowledge that
mass transit requires residential density and walkable urban design to
With a subway along the region's densest commercial corridor not slated for completion until mid-century and
the Sepulveda Pass rail project not even on the table of Metro's
25-year plan, one can only assume that Metro cares little about workable