For months now Metro LA has been taunting us, running test trains up and down the shiny new tracks laid down right along Alameda and over the First Street bridge out into East Los Angeles. The trains, all clean and modern, glide by with only a driver onboard, making all their stops. The ticket machines on the platform still wrapped up in shrink-wrap, platforms themselves empty too.
Last Sunday though, we finally got to ride.
The Gold Line Eastside Extension had been coming for decades, and when the Pasadena-Union Station part of the line was completed back in 2003 the planning was already well underway. This little 6 mile, eight stop run of track may not seem like much to those in mass-transit oriented cities like Boston (I do miss the T) or New York, but it brings the gold line practically to my doorstep (well, within a couple of blocks) and opens up easy access to Union Station and the Red Line to Hollywood or Wilshire, Chinatown and its Galleries, Pasadena, and East Los Angeles from the Rise Industries Studios. Need to get to LAX? Train to Flyaway. Need to hang out at Mariachi Plaza and then hit La Serenata di Garibaldi for dinner? Two stops. Need to get to the Armory Center for the Arts for an opening? Gold line takes you right up into Old Town Pasadena. Wanna hit a farmers market on Saturday morning? Train out to East LA Civic Center. Hollywood Bowl without traffic? Take Gold Line to Red Line and get off at Hollywood and Highland for a short walk up the hill.
But while its great for Rise Industries, the real hope for Metro is that it becomes the new commuter route for people coming into downtown from East LA, and that it brings more museum goers, bar hoppers, and food eaters in to the pretty lively downtown neighborhoods within reach of Little Tokyo. Its only a short walk to 4th and Main, or Second and Hill, or even Grand and the Disney Concert Hall. As most people who have been driving down here will realize, parking sucks and is getting expensive. Maybe even some of the hipsters frequenting Hipster Sausage (aka Wurstküche) will take the train and free up my parking spaces at night.
The Little Tokyo/Arts District stop opened to some low-key fanfare on Sunday, with a small array of booths from local businesses and cultural organizations. There were some speeches, a ribbon cutting, and then a few different bands took to the podium to play for the sparse crowd. The real affair was going on at Mariachi Square two stops away in East LA, where a couple of blocks were lined with booths, packed with people, and rocking to two bandstands, one at each end. Kids drew on the streets with chalk, bounced in Bouncy Castles, or tried out some Faux rock climbing, and crowds of people milled around checking out the booths, sampling Tamales, or moving to the music.
The trains themselves were really the main attraction though, with long lines just to get on, and packed conditions (like a normal day in New York at rush hour, I suppose), it felt like we just might one day have a full-on train network connecting all of Los Angeles. While that reality is still decades in the future, plans are already in motion to further extend both ends of the Gold Line, even as progress is made on the Expo Line into Culver City. If all of Los Angeles won’t be connected by rail, at least perhaps enough art hotspots will be to warrant gallery hopping across town exclusively by train.