It seems silly now that I’ve been driving for over two decades. But as my driving test approached, I counted the weeks, then the days, then the hours. I wasn’t excited about anything specific. I just felt the magnetic tug of mobility, more powerful than any Tesla motor.
I put my license to particularly good use the night some friends and I went to Taco Bell and then drove around the Westside with a palm frond hoisted out the window. The odds that Led Zeppelin was in the tape deck are about 100 percent. That’s how much there was to do in Brentwood back in the early 1990s. Or that’s how dorky my friends and I were.
Today, I almost feel 15 again, minus the palm frond. That’s because the Expo Line Phase II opens in seven days.
By now, I’ve been waiting for it even longer than I waited for my license. I went to my first Friends 4 Expo meeting in 1998 or 1999. The idea of running light rail down the old Southern Pacific right of way known as the Air Line seemed too obvious to even need an advocacy group. But this is Los Angeles, and this is public transit. Sixteen years is the blink of an eye in the world of infrastructure.
Expo won’t be as revelatory as the subway, which will, two phases from now, terminate at the Veterans Administration. Until then, Expo still gives Brentwoodians a transportation option like we’ve never had before. At least not since the last trolley rumbled down the San Vicente median.
I won’t belabor the value of, say, riding Expo to downtown at 8:30am on a Monday. That goes double for an evening trip to Disney Hall, when you’d rather be stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits than on the 10 East. It might come in handy on Saturdays to see the Trojans or Sundays to see the Rams (good timing, NFL).
Westsiders can find millions of ways to shorten trips and expand their options with Expo. As long as they’re paying attention.
That’s where Brentwood residents come in. Few species complain about traffic, often justifiably, as does the Brentwood native. Wilshire is a mess. Barrington is a mess. We won’t even talk about Sunset. Expo, imperfect though it may be, gives us a chance to stop complaining.
Obviously Expo will be impractical for many people, especially those who have no occasion to go downtown. And plenty of Westsiders are too snobby to ever consider riding it. But studies show that small reductions in traffic can sometimes lead to significant decreases in traffic. There’s a tipping point at which traffic goes from moderate to viscous. On a good day, Expo can tip us back.
I therefore challenge every Brentwood resident and Brentwood-based employee who can make use of Expo do so at least once in a while. Maybe not once a week or even once a month, but sometimes. An occasional trip isn’t much to ask for in the effort to reduce, or at least escape from, the hell of Westside traffic.
Although the Expo-Bundy station is way down there in that nether region known as “West Los Angeles,” Brentwood folks have abundant opportunities to get there unscathed:
The Big Blue Bus just retooled its routes to serve Expo. Line 14 goes straight down Bundy, and the new Line 15 goes down Barrington and makes a right on to Exposition Boulevard. Easy as can be.
The station is an easy, mostly flat bike ride, much of which can be taken on side streets.
And, most obviously, Expo was made for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. You’ll more than pay for the ride with what you save on parking.
Even those Brentwood residents who would sooner be caught dead than take a train – especially those residents – now have a crucial obligation: that of lending moral support.
It’s no secret that public transit, and the people who use it, are objects of scorn, or at least pity, in Los Angeles. This prejudice must end.
Even if you pity the typical transit rider for being poor or revile them for being from an ethnic group that makes you uncomfortable, every poor person and every “different” person who gets on that train because they have to – not to mention every well-off person who does to because he wants to – deserves encouragement and gratitude from everyone who drives our streets. Sometimes, just saying something is cool, or at least worthwhile, makes it so.
So get excited, Brentwood. A trip on light rail might not be as thrilling as a joyride around empty streets at midnight with foliage sticking out your window. But it can make the Westside a better place.
A Brentwood native, Josh Stephens writes about urban planning and is contributing editor to the California Planning & Development Report. He also serves on the Brentwood Community Council.