How We Roll, Oct. 21; Back to the Future

Hoverboards: the Metro Code of Conduct doesn't say you can't bring them on board buses and trains. Screen grab: Universal Pictures.

Hoverboards: the Metro Code of Conduct doesn’t say you can’t bring them on board buses and trains. Screen grab: Universal Pictures.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads….”

–Doc Emmett Brown

The subject of Back to the Future Day came up in my beer league hockey locker room last night. The team agreed on two things: our breakout is weak and that we’re pretty certain a real hoverboard exists — we just don’t no for sure which top secret government agency is hiding it.

A hoverboard, of course, would seemingly make a great device for getting to and from stations for flying buses and flying trains (see: Back to the Future 3), assuming hoverboards would not be good for traveling longish distances — although Biff’s ‘Pit Bull’ model looks promising (here’s a clip from the movie; adult language warning).

Interestingly, Metro’s “First Mile, Last Mile” strategic plan is silent on hover boards. As this excerpt shows, the plan shows an old-timey skateboard and even a Segway:


I asked my colleague Steven Mateer about this as he was one of many who worked on the plan. His answer:

We could work with cities to install protected hover board lanes so as to provide safe and efficient access to our stations. We also may want to install secure hover board lockers at all Metro Rail stations and relax the rush hour restrictions on bringing hover boards onto Metro Rail trains.

Hill Valley transit, circa 1885. Credit: Universal Pictures.

Hill Valley transit, circa 1885. Credit: Universal Pictures.

I like that he’s thinking about protected lanes. This could be especially important with the aforementioned cars, buses and trains flying every which way.

There have been some breakthroughs although the limiting factor is that the hoverboards that have been invented usually need to be ridden over certain types of surfaces typically found in a science lab and not necessarily on a typical street in L.A. County. Among those who have taken a crack at it, Lexus supplies a pretty interesting video:

On the print side, there’s a good story in today’s New York Times about what the movie predicted rightly and wrongly. Excerpt:

With the benefit of hindsight — and a closer look — “Back to the Future, Part II” proves surprisingly prescient. Coexisting with inventions and trends that may never come to fruition are those that have now arrived, including the use of drones, eyeglasses as wearable tech, video conferencing, and a focus on urban renewal and green space.

As many media outlets have reported, flying cars still don’t exist, the movie “whiffed” on the smartphone, fax machines are largely irrelevant and the Cubs probably won’t win the World Series. Side note: In the movie, the World Series was presumably over by Oct. 21 whereas in real life it won’t start until Oct. 27 and could end as late as Nov. 4 (or later if there are weather postponements) because the buffoons at Major League Baseball do not understand that “Fall Classic” translates to “over by the end of October.”

Of course, predicting the future is always fun and here are a few renderings from the Metro Library’s Flickr collection that mid-20th Century local transportation officials made:


Credit: Metro Library.


Credit: Metro Library.

There has been on- and off-again monorail talk in our region over the years, but nothing has made it past the parking lot at Disneyland. The alternatives analysis for the Purple Line Extension subway did actually look at a monorail for Wilshire Boulevard and found all sorts of issues — forcing riders to transfer from below ground to above ground at Wilshire and Western, the size of the aerial structure needed for stations, speed and capacity.

Here’s a rendering from that study, along with a monorail versus other types of transit comparison:




There has also been occasional talk about building pod transit in our region. Pod fans like to say that they can whisk riders to their chosen location, although that means building an awful lot of trackage for the pods and no major city has decided they would be more practical than good ol’ buses and trains.

Pod transit as envisioned in an early 1970s rendering.

Pod transit as envisioned in an early 1970s rendering. Credit: Metro Library.

Finally, here’s one prediction/proposition for the future that is in the process of coming true: a Wilshire Boulevard subway. Source alum Carter Rubin penned this excellent post looking back at the history:

The idea of a subway to the Westside wouldn’t surface, however, for several decades. In 1961, a predecessor agency to the present-day Metro, known also as the MTA, sought a federal loan to construct a “backbone” transit line that would run above ground from El Monte to downtown. The line would then tunnel westward under Wilshire Boulevard to the newly minted Century City district — formerly a 20th Century Fox studio back lot — as well as UCLA and other points west.

As you might have guessed, that idea withered on the vine (as did the original MTA eventually). The idea, however, never went away and the subway project was revived in the 1980s although the Westside segment suffered two big blows: a federal ban on Westside subway funding pushed by Rep. Henry Waxman following the unrelated methane explosion at a clothing store at 3rd and Fairfax in 1985. In 1998, Los Angeles County voters approved a ballot measure that banned using local sales tax revenues for subway tunneling — a measure by then-Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky that he said would save Metro from spending money it didn’t have on construction.

Everything changed in 2008 when Los Angeles County voters approved the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase. The 1998 ballot measure didn’t apply to Measure R and that meant that R could provide enough funding for the Purple Line Extension to also attract the needed federal dollars.



The proposed Fairfax/Beverly Station as seen in an early 1980s rendering. Credit: Metro Library.

The proposed Fairfax/Beverly Station as seen in an early 1980s rendering. Credit: Metro Library.


One notable difference this time around: the subway will actually follow Wilshire Boulevard most of the way to Westwood (with a swing south in order to have a station in Century City).

And, in fact, work on the Wilshire/La Brea Station continues next week with traffic lanes being reconfigured to accommodate station excavation, expected to begin later this year.

Of course, the transit future really harkens back to the transit past as our region was once criss-crossed with streetcar lines and other tracks used by passenger trains. What will everything look like on Oct. 21, 2045?

Well, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has released a new flyover video showing the route of the bullet train between Union Station and Anaheim:

Of course, the majority of the estimated $68 billion in funding still needs to be secured to get the train from San Francisco to Los Angeles — only a short segment in the Central Valley has funding at this time.

And, finally, Greentech Media today asks whether Elon Musk’s proposed hyperloop project will live up to the hype. The hype: at a cost of $6 billion the hyperloop will transport passengers between L.A. and New York West (i.e. San Francisco) in 35 minutes at speeds up to 760 miles per hour.

Your guesses at what 2045 will hold? Comment please.

Recent How We Rolls:

Oct. 20: CicLAvia gives the air a good scrubbing, L.A. to legalize locking bikes to parking meters, millenials versus the driving habits of Americans.

Oct. 16: the Velotopia, closing gaps in the Valley LA river greenway, rideshare and taxis competing for business travelers

Oct. 15L.A. as a city of dreams, thoughts on fare structure, USC’s transit subsidy cut and potential effects on employee commuting behavior, more affordable housing and possible reasons for transit ridership decline.

Oct. 14: update on new platform for Silver Line at Union Station, where does the money go that is left on TAP cards that expire?, post mortem on the techie luxury bus in San Francisco that went belly up.

Oct. 12: transit stations and gentrification, the residential rise in DTLA, cool map showing where the jobs are in our region, the impact of Metro fare increases on ridership on the different rail lines.

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5 replies

  1. I think we are getting very close to the day that hoverboards will be close to what we saw in the movie. Although way of 2015 date where every day consumers can use them however we are definitely on the right track!

  2. Hmm. Pity the prediction about the Cubs is unlikely to pan out.

    From an old Jeff MacNelly “Shoe” comic strip “. . . Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s the same . . .”

  3. Back to the future indeed…where are the helicopters the Division of Highways (now CalTrans) wonks said we would all have now to contend with freeway jams?