Last week I finally got a chance to ride the new Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, and here are some takeaways:
Many stations have lots of free parking, with the sheriff’s office patrolling the lot I used in Culver City (see photo). This is a bit of a shock coming from the Bay Area, where BART parking costs money each day. So evidently demand is not that great, if Metro can afford to give this resource away for free. Ultimately this land would be better used as office and housing rather than expensive parking stalls for car drivers.
- Farmdale and the Westwood stops are basically pointless and should be closed down at least temporarily. Farmdale was created by a legal settlement solely to slow the trains down. Westwood is in a single-family residential neighborhood with what appears to be no hope for urban-style development. Any buses down Westwood (a heavily traveled boulevard) could intersect with Expo at a neighboring stop instead, like at Sepulveda.
- The Expo bike path didn’t seem to be heavily used. I rode the line both mid-day and during the afternoon commute time, but the adjacent new bike path was only used by the occasional jogger, as far as I can tell. I gather they’ll need to do a better job finishing the missing gaps in the bike lane, but in the meantime it seems like a huge opportunity for bike advocates to promote. Notably I saw a lot of people with bikes on the train — more than I’ve noticed on Bay Area trains.
- LA’s train culture and etiquette is still evolving. It’s a different thing to get used to traveling on a train with others instead of driving solo. At one point an elderly man with a walker tried to get on a jammed train, but nobody would scoot in towards the center of the car to let him on, despite another rider urging everyone to do so. “Sorry,” the rider told the man loudly as the doors closed. “Evidently this is a train full of A-holes.”
- But on the positive side, I saw a number of friendly interactions, such as the elderly couple sparking a conversation with a pregnant mom and two friends who happened to bump into each other on the train platform.
- The end-to-end travel time is worse than advertised. It took me 53 minutes to get from Santa Monica to downtown LA, worse than the estimated 46 minutes.
Lots of good development happening in downtown Santa Monica. I was pleased to see all the new apartment buildings going in right by the station (see photo). Those will be some lucky residents, being able to stroll down to the train from their homes and get east quickly.
Overall, despite some of these negative observations, it was pretty thrilling to ride the line. The views of neighborhoods I’d never seen before reminded me of how nice it can be to watch the world go by from an electric train, with a smooth ride and an opportunity to explore parts of the city you’d never see otherwise. And it was great to parallel Interstate 10 in parts while the freeway was badly congested.
So there’s a lot to be excited about with the new lines, but definitely a lot of room for improvement, too. It will be fun to watch the Expo Line, as a brand new, fully-built train route, settle in to the Westside.