Being in LA now after about a decade of living away, makes me feel like a born-again Angeleno. I’m also a newly converted, and ardent, public transit enthusiast.
To begin, let me just clarify, I’m not actually from the City of Los Angeles, a haphazardly shaped area made up of 35 communities including the San Fernando Valley. I’m originally from (and currently living in) West Covina, considered to be a “bedroom community” of Los Angeles in the nearby San Gabriel Valley. The San Gabriel Valley, or the SGV, is part of the Southland composed of the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles, including Glendale, Long Beach and even parts of Orange County. This area has its own unique history, though directly intertwined with LA’s sprawling growth over the years, and is nestled between the City of Los Angeles to its West, and the neighboring areas to the East, including San Bernardino County and farther afield, what becomes the larger Inland Empire.
As a native of the City of West Covina, I’m still a part of Los Angeles County, however, and though it is definitely suburban out here, it is dense and diverse nonetheless. In fact, it’s even more populated here than in all of the City of L.A. on its own. That is to say, more Angelenos live in the suburbs of LA than in LA City (something I also found to be true in Barcelona).
So, does this fact make me less of an Angeleno? In short, no. You definitely get more ‘street cred’ by living in the City of Los Angeles– Westside, Eastside, Mid-City, whatever, but as I just mentioned, most Angelenos technically live in the larger County of LA, and not in the City of LA. Also, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Culver City– all great neighborhoods central to Los Angeles– are not officially part of the City of Los Angeles. They are either their own self-governing cities or unincorporated areas. And to drill this point in further, the San Fernando Valley, the most quintessentially suburban of all Los Angeles suburbs has, ironically, been very much an incorporated part of the City of Los Angeles since 1915. If someone from that Valley is an Angeleno, then so am I!
Plus, during my time at UCLA, I experienced living and working in Westwood, Brentwood, Venice, Studio City, Hollywood, Mar Vista/Palms, and Culver City. I moved every year, in fact. Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time in Marina del Rey, Silverlake and Downtown LA. So, yes, I’m an Angeleno through and through. And, being back in Los Angeles after all this time away actually feels pretty darn awesome (in true SoCal speak), as well as, somewhat refreshing. Besides the weather of course, a huge part of what I love about LA is its diversity of people and neighborhoods– sprawling and unequal, but always captivating.
I haven’t always appreciated Los Angeles so much, which is one reason why I left for so long. If you know me well, you’ve probably heard me complain about LA on more than one occasion. Last December, I even wrote a blog post about how terrible it was not having a car in LA. And, there is still so much I don’t like about it. There are so many racial tensions, for example, and major class issues. (Though I also see great examples of interracial dating and collaboration.) And, Hollywood and hipsterism can be far too in-your-face for my taste.
But, now, I can at least complain about transit a little less. Thanks in a large part to Measure R (and soon Measure J) and to leaders like LA Mayor Viallargosa and Michael Lejeune of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Los Angeles (M.T.A.), the advances made in public transit in the Los Angeles area in the last decade (that I was abroad) are nothing short of amazing. Angelenos have more transportation options than ever before via light rail, subway, rail, etc., and are much less dependent on a car… and on gasoline.
Joining the thousands of Los Angeles transit commuters, and riding MetroLink into Union Station daily, helps me understand the LA metro region much more. I feel like a part of something larger. I’m amazed, for example, that I can easily get all the way out to Culver City and back with rail and light rail– no car or bus necessary. And that my metro commute is cheaper and faster than driving in, and even cheaper and faster than coming in from parts of the Westside (or at least equally long & costly), which is absolutely mind-boggling. More on this later…
All this said, the transit system is nowhere near finished. In fact, it has a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome, both literally and figuratively– starting from inefficiencies in the existing service itself, incomplete lines, the politics of expansion, and most importantly, in continuing to convince more Angelenos to use it each day.
Personally, I cannot give up my car just yet, and in fact, I am very thankful to have one, though it is a gas guzzler! Frankly, I’m even shocked at myself for embracing transit so much, given my own obsession with driving. I do, however, hope to be able to buy or lease a more fuel-efficient car in the future, and definitely see the possibility of being car-less (or almost car-less) in LA, say in 5 to 10 years time. I’m also happy in knowing that LA is easier to navigate for people who don’t own cars.
Like any ‘true New Yorker’ or perhaps a Barcelonan or Japanese salaryman, I make the most of my commute. I read, I tweet, and even occasionally make small talk with fellow riders; the ones who aren’t using that time to get some extra shuteye in! I even recently joked with a fellow Cornellian and Angeleno (who also has experience living in NYC and abroad) that soon, LA residents will be judged (and laughed at) less on their knowledge of freeways– like the 90, 110 or 405– and more on their transit line expertise– blue, purple, red, gold. Imagine that!?
Now, which lines do you take?