Ten years riding the Gold Line: photos and observations

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The Gold Line celebrates its 10th anniversary on Friday. Putting aside the issue of where the last decade went, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on a transit line I’ve been riding (literally) since Day One.

I covered the extremely crowded first day for local media. Excitement for the project was running sky high and lines extended all the way from the platform at Union Station down the tunnel to the parking garage under the Patsaouras Transit Plaza.

About a month later, I happened to move to Pasadena. I’ve used the Gold Line since — mostly to reach jobs in downtown L.A. — and also encounter the train frequently in my travels by car, bike and foot around Pasadena.

Of course, in the cosmic scheme of things 10 years is a drop in the bucket.

Musings and applause

•I’ve found that riding the train, especially at peak hours, is competitive with the time it takes to drive between Pasadena and Union Station. That wasn’t always the case. End-to-end travel time was 36 minutes when the train first began running and trains didn’t run as frequently. Today it’s a 29-minute run between Sierra Madre Villa and Los Angeles Union Station (Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s office pushed Metro to speed up trains) and trains run every six minutes at peak hours on weekdays. It’s no longer such a big deal to miss a train because another one comes along quickly.

•Stand on the Union Station platform at peak hour on any weekday afternoon and watch how fast the platform fills up again after a train departs. It’s pretty amazing. In the early days of the Gold Line, there was about 14,000 average boardings on a weekday. In June, there were 44,113 average weekday boardings, with roughly 70 percent of those coming on the original Union Station to Pasadena segment.

And one semi-related note: the Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan is looking at improving access and connections to the current Gold Line platform, which currently has one very busy stairwell and elevator.

•My gut feeling is that there’s a lot of people living east of the current terminus at Sierra Madre Villa who would take the Gold Line to jobs in Pasadena or downtown L.A. but are disinclined to pull off the 210 freeway, drive or take a bus to the Sierra Madre Villa station and giant parking garage. The Gold Line Foothill Extension that is currently under construction should help remedy that issue with stations — and parking! — in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa.

Likewise, the Regional Connector will make it easier to reach the heart of downtown from Pasadena with a one-seat ride to Little Tokyo, 2nd/Broadway, 2nd/Hope, 7th/Metro Center and the Pico stations. That will be another incentive for folks in the ‘burbs to ride.

•Hundreds of new apartments and condos have been built near the rail line, especially in Pasadena between Old Town and Lake Avenue. With the Great Recession beginning to ebb, Chinatown is also seeing some new development — including the long-awaited Blossom Plaza adjacent to the Gold Line’s Chinatown station. That’s great to see.

And now some nitpicks:

•It would be great to see some TODs near the Heritage Square, Southwest Museum and Highland Park stations. Nothing significant has been built near those stations since the Gold Line has opened, although there is a TOD planned for Highland Park.

•And then there is South Pasadena, which has also added some residential units near the train station — but in the dozens, not hundreds. The neighborhood around the station is lovely, helped in part by a small park and plaza adjacent to the train platform and the city’s public library and park that is one block away. My three cents: there has definitely been some turnover in businesses along Mission near the station and my hunch is that a few new apartments and condos would help supply some much-needed customers.

•Three stations were built in the median of the 210 freeway — Lake, Allen and Sierra Madre Villa — along the old Santa Fe right-of-way that Metro had purchased. And let’s face it: freeway median stations are, by definition, not super lovely places to hang out. 

Of course, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, putting the tracks and stations down the middle of the 210 made fiscal sense — the old rail right-of-way was already owned by the government. The stations along the 210 are also closer to the many thousands of people living north of the Gold Line tracks in Pasadena and Altadena. And the train can run fast because there are no street crossings.

On the other hand, freeway stations are loud and windy. And when trains run in freeway medians, they aren’t running on local streets that could benefit from having transit right out the front door of homes and businesses.

If I Was The King: I wouldn’t build freeway stations.

•It would be great if one day the Metro 267 bus that runs along Del Mar Boulevard actually serves the Del Mar station.

•Pasadena has six of the original Gold Line’s 13 stations. And, yet, in the past decade the city has done almost nothing to improve bicycle access to the stations (although, ironically, bike parking has been added to the stations). The Pasadena City Council, in fact, recently shelved a new bike plan because it was perceived as too weak. Holy Ugh! 

If I Was King Part 2: I’d start by installing a bike lane on Cordova between Lake Avenue and the Del Mar station, and then I’d add a bike lane to Allen between the station and the Huntington Library in San Marino. And then I’d look at two key streets — the north-south Sierra Bonita and the east-west duo of Fillmore and Arden — and order staff to do everything they can to make those great bike corridors, including losing some of the many annoying four-way stop signs. 


•And, finally, three dining recommendations for those who use the Gold Line: Heirloom Bakery & Cafe across Mission from the South Pasadena station, the Stone Brewing tasting room at Del Mar Station for T.O.B (transit-oriented beer!) and the Market on Holly, one block west of the Memorial Park station.

Coffee at the Market on Holly. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Coffee at the Market on Holly and the New York Times — a winning combination! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

So Gold Line riders, what do you think of the line after the first decade? One comment per customer please!

23 replies

  1. Can anyone explain why one of the downtown Pasadena stations was not put right at Colorado Blvd. instead of blocks away? This seems dumb.

  2. I would love to have bike lanes on Allen from the station down to The Huntington. However, after some Google Street View analysis, there is literally no right of way available for bike lanes from Colorado all the way down to The Huntington. There is no median turn lane, and the travel lanes are already a bit narrow, and the parking lane itself is squeezed, which is probably why there is a limit line running along the parking strip. There is no way that any of the residential units, both apartments closer to Colorado, and single family south of Del Mar, will be willing to give up their street parking for a bike lane. Nor will they be willing to go through the hassle of chopping down trees, concrete curb, and parkway to widen the roadway to accommodate bike lanes. Also, a shared parking/bike lane is pretty dangerous and annoying for cyclists.

    What I would like to see is having The Huntington/Metro/ARTS collaborate on a proposal/study to run a small shuttle bus to and from area Gold Line stations like Fillmore or Allen, timed to Gold Line schedules. Decreased car traffic and smaller quieter shuttle buses will definitely satisfy home owners near The Huntington than a bike lane.

  3. Yorkman, I was thinking the same thing but I haven’t figured it out yet. Could you enlighten the rest of us of TOD is? BTW, Thanks, Steve, for the article and the pictures. I rode the line once from Union Station to the end and back, just for the experience. I stopped off at the watering hole at Del Mar Train Station, which was a great experience, but it made me almost late to catch my Metrolink back to OC. I ran all the way from Gate 1 to Gate 8B and made it within a minute or so if it leaving.

    • Hi there;

      TOD is transit-oriented development. Stone Brewery has added a tasting room at Del Mar station in the past year and I suspect more than a few people have missed their trains as a result. Great place!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. I greatly enjoyed your essay but wish you had explained the term ‘TOD’, which I evenrually figured out.

  5. HarryKerryJr.

    I say it’s no use trying to convince conservative minded business owners stuck in the “drive to their parking lot” idea. Rather, as I’ve stated on another comment board, we might as well just build stations as a multi-use facility so that forward thinking business persons would open up shops right at the station instead. Then they’ll come back crying why they voted no for it and see their businesses wither away while the forward thinking business owners who operate restaurants and shops at the stations or surrounding the stations prosper. There’s no need to make trains go to where the shops are. We can just build stations and create new shops inside and the surrounding areas instead.

    The day Metro opens or allows a station with a pre-built space for businesses, I’ll be the first one to sign up and open up a store right there. I see it this way: the people are already there at the stations and they are constantly coming and going. They are not driving by, they can walk right past my station everyday and come inside and take a look what I sell. And what I sell, will in turn help this city run and fund mass transit through collection of sales taxes which is something illegal vendors do not do.

  6. I have been getting to school at PCC by riding my bike from el sereno to the gold line at south Pasadena station and then getting off at Allen station for the past year. In this stretch the gold line is quite fast because there is no street running like the east LA section or the expo down flower st.
    It is a bit of a distance from Allen station down to PCC, but not a problem at all on a bike. It is definitely much faster than taking the bus and also much more fun.

    As for the freeway median stations, I find the noise to be OK, its more of a problem that the stations are away from the main parts of town. I have heard that alternatives considered were street running on green st and the walnut st ROW. I think the ROW would have been good but apparently it had been built over. Perhaps some form of cut and cover could have worked there. To me the best option would have been a subway down Colorado Blvd as far as PCC but that would have been quite expensive. It would have been nice to have at least Lake station as an underground station under Lake and Colorado.

    I ride the section between union station and south Pasadena less frequently, but it is a good way to get downtown. It runs at a good speed except for the marmion way portion, that should have been a subway under Figueroa st, but I guess the money wasn’t there. As for the east LA section I think there is a lot of potential for improvement if the trains didn’t have to wait at the street lights.

  7. Buster’s Coffee across from the South Psadena station is great (Fosselman’s Ice Cream)! I keep intending to also try out the nearby Griffins Of Kinsale Irish Pub. Online comments make it sound interesting for the grub (I don’t drink).

  8. To be clear, I wrote GREEN line in 3rd paragraph above. I meant GOLD line, confusing it with green STREET.

  9. As nice at it may be to have trains right at the door of businesses (I’m all for it), it was those businesses who were GREATLY opposed to the Gold Line’s original proposed route of running along Green Street (which also allowed for direct service to Pasadena City College). In fact, the plan was to have Green Street become a transit way for trains and transit buses, closed to public vehicular traffic. My, how the Green Street business owners HOWLED! I remember one quote from such a business owner on Green Street, “I voted (the second transit tax, I believe) for transportation to run along and serve farther busy places, not in small streets like ours.”

    So, in our wanderlust, let’s not blame the MTA or “planners” in out “what could have been” when MORE OFTEN than you think, it is the public who kill the best laid plans for transit, and being that they too pay for such projects and let their elected officials know how much they despise great public planning, such plans die.

    As it turned out, the economic downturn killed the “blue line to Pasadena.” However when revived with the creation of the Blue Line Construction Authority with SGV interests in charge, the Green Line alignment was dropped to avoid lawsuits by those forward thinking Green Street business owners that would’ve cost time and money. The freeway median alignment met the Authorities requirement of LOW cost and FAST build above all other concerns, not good transit planning. This attitude also saw the idea of a box tunnel for the now lethargic Highland Park portion as dead as the Green Street plan.

    I’m all for getting those trains to the doors where people want and need to go, but the business owners have to be “on board,” as well, or we end up with freeway median lines that are too far from destinations like Pasadena City College.

  10. @Henry

    Foothill Transit Line 187 is FT’s busiest line. The GL Foothill Extension will basically parallel Line 187, but the GL train will move at a much, much faster speed.

    It takes exactly one hour to get from Citrus College to Sierra Madre Villa Station on Line 187, which is painfully slow and uncomfortable.

    I believe the same route will take about 15 or so minutes on the GL train, which is comparable to driving without heavy traffic.

  11. The problem with Fillmore is that it’s staggered, and you pretty much have to have stop signs at the crossings where it staggers like that, for safety. In fact, there is only one four-way stop sign I can think of on Fillmore, and that’s at Los Robles. There are two-way signs (in the Fillmore direction) at Oakland and Madison that I can agree can probably be switched to being stop signs in the north-south direction instead, but that’s pretty much all you could get away with doing for Fillmore.

  12. My wish is that the three odd numbered Avenues through Highland Park were blocked from automobiles crossing the grade of the Gold Line. The even numbered Avenues are the major arteries in the area while these three are small residential streets. While still traveling slowly through Highland Park the train would have to stop half as frequently at red lights.

  13. The 210 freeway is often worse than the 10 in the mornings now, so the Gold Line to at least Citrus College is sorely needed and will be used from day one. The Sierra Madre Villa station is starting to fill up in the mornings and has the capability to charge for parking (through the booths at the entrances), but doesn’t do so. And the Regional Connector will take the Gold Line to its highest potential, making the trains even fuller than they are now.

  14. My 13-year-old self was quoted over and over in the newspapers that day. Do you recall local media condemning the Gold Line as being constantly empty over and over for a year after it opened?

    • Hi Sam;

      Yes, I do recall the media coverage and I might know someone well who was writing such things.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  15. Good article and I really like the Gold Line. But since you asked, I wish that Metro had put a monorail in instead as they are quiet and the trains on the Gold Line are really noisy or at least have put more sections underground. I feel sorry for people whose houses are along the Gold Line. I need to put blinders on to enjoy the ride when the train passes these houses and through some of the neighborhoods. I have written several times to Metro about the filthy condition of the elevator from the Gold Line at Union Station. The last three times I have been there it was still filthy. Maybe they got around to cleaning it. I usually take the Gold Line from the Del Mar Station on the weekend. The walk down from the station to the parking structure and within the parking structure is somewhat creepy as most times there is only myself on the stairs or in the elevator and in the parking structure. Men tend to look at things such as this differently from how single women traveling on their own do. I look forward to more Gold Line destinations and connections. I hope there will be shuttles from the stations to places of interest nearby.

  16. The freeway stations and those of the Green line, all need noise reduction in a big way- walls, glass enclosures, something !!!

  17. I like that bench halfway across the long freeway bridge at the Sierra Madre Station. Metro is so considerate.