Eastside Gold Line impressions

The Gold Line crosses the 10 Freeway.

The Gold Line towers aboves the 101 as it leaves Union Station.

My colleague Fred Dennstedt and I had a chance to ride the new Eastside Gold Line Extension from Union Station to East Los Angeles and back this afternoon.

Here are our impressions:

Steve’s notes

1. It took 20 minutes for the train to travel the six miles from Union Station to the end of the line in East L.A. and then 24 minutes for the return trip. Initially Metro said the line would do the trip in 17 minutes, but it looks like for now it won’t be quite that fast. The operator I spoke with said the trip is typically taking in the ballpark of 20 minutes. By comparison, the 13-mile Gold Line trip from Union Station to the end of the line in Pasadena takes 29 minutes; the line also has its own right-of-way for several miles down the middle of the 210 freeway.

2. The train ride is very smooth — much, much smoother than a bus. The only part that was very slow was on the bridge over the 101 freeway just after leaving Union Station.

3. I like the fact that Gold Line trains from Pasadena are treating Union Station as just another stop — there’s no switching of train operators or needless delays. That should benefit passengers headed to Little Tokyo and the Arts District — it’s just another three minutes on the train past Union Station.

4. Along the four miles of the line that runs along streets or in the middle of them, the train seemed to get green lights at the majority of intersections. And it seemed as if the train integrated well with traffic. But as time goes on, it’s also clear that motorists, pedestrians and train operators — as is always the case — are going to have to remain alert to avoid problems.

5. Also related to safety: I watched most of the ride looking foward through the operator’s cab window and I think the operator has excellent sight lines in terms of seeing traffic around the train and crosswalks.

6. Although the train tracks are separated from the street by a high curb, I think the fencing that is going to be installed along some of the line is probably a good idea to thwart those who will inevitably jaywalk.

7. Most of all, I think the return trip makes the most compelling case possible to build the downtown regional connector. Just as the Gold Line is headed down First Street with downtown L.A. in its sights, the train swerves north to Union Station and connections to the heart of downtown via the subway. The connector will allow Gold Line trains from both East L.A. and Pasadena to continue straight from Little Tokyo into L.A. without a needless transfer.

Fred’s notes

1. I moved to L.A. in August of 2003, one month after the Gold Line to Pasadena began service.  In other words, the Gold Line has always been there for me and it’s the only way I know to get to Pasadena.  Six years later, I’m riding the Eastside Extension of the Gold Line to East L.A.  It’s like another part of the city has been opened up to me, and I think that’s just great.  I think of a transplant moving to L.A. today, or of a kid growing up here, and how this extension to East L.A. will be as normal to them as the Gold Line to Pasadena has been to me.

2. I have to confess, as a transit rider, my preference is at-grade light rail.  I’m sure some will say I’m crazy or stupid for feeling that way, but I have my reasons.  First and foremost, I think at-grade light rail creates the most seamless transportation experience possible.  It’s visible from the street level, easily accessible from the street, and creates a place on the street.  Inside the rail cars you get to bask in L.A.’s ample sunlight, view the passing neighborhoods and scenery through the large windows, and because of this you get a better sense of where you are.  Two of my favorite transit cities, San Francisco and Bordeaux, France, integrate at-grade light rail seamlessly into the fabric of the city.  I get that same vibe on the Eastside Extension of the Gold Line.

3. The Eastside Extension certainly spends a lot of time running at street-level, and Steve’s time calculations clock the train speeds at 15-19mph.

4. The at-grade stations are nice and functional. Most of the designs seem relatively restrained, which I think is a good thing.  They have enough personality to create a memorable place without drawing too much attention to themselves and screaming “some architect thought he was really clever!”

5. The subway stations look great and each retain their own personality while staying consistent in overall style of the stations along the Red/Purple Lines.  We got the chance to explore the Soto Station and it really was beautiful, with large type treatments, atmospheric blue neon, and a fantastic glowing ceiling sculpture that evokes a birds nest.  It may become one of my favorite stations on the whole Metro system.

6. One thing I noted was that the subway stations had turnstiles, but they were absent from the at-grade stations.  Some of the at-grade Stations, like Atlantic, looked like they could successfully be fitted with turnstiles, while others seemed too open.

7. Another curiosity, the stations featured the old-style scrolling LED transit information displays instead of the new LCD screens found in Red/Purple Line Stations.  Seems odd that the newest stations in the system will be using older technology.

8. Overall, I can say as a transit rider I will be riding this line and can’t wait to explore an area that may otherwise have just been another spot on the map for me.  That’s the power of rail, it creates destinations, and in doing so unifies our region in a way nothing else can.

More photos from the journey:

Art and design effectively creates atmosphere inside the Soto Station.

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