This is 30: On riding to the end of the line

With Earth Day just around the corner, climate change is on all of our minds –– especially for young people. Meet Emery Cunningham, high school student, captain of his school’s sustainability club, and the current chair of Metro’s Youth Council. Here’s what he has to say about discovering past and present LA via rail and bike.

By Emery Cunningham

I mostly bike or drive around my area, but when I go downtown I take the Expo line. I’m currently learning how to drive, and in this process I am learning more personally about both the freedom and danger that cars create. Cars can take you anywhere—especially in LA, which is practically designed for it. But is getting somewhere faster worth the risk of a terrible accident? And are the greenhouse gasses that a car emits worth the convenience?

I think about these questions a lot. I started to get interested in climate change in the seventh or eighth grade; at that time, I needed to start doing community service. After attending a seminar at school, however, I knew that these issues were serious. In high school, I joined Team Marine, the school’s sustainability club. It’s been around for seventeen years, which is longer than some members have been alive. Today, I’m one of the club’s captains.

Cunningham boards the Expo Line. Photo by Aurelia Ventura

That’s what led me to the Metro Youth Council. Our cohort is the second ever, and we just started meeting regularly. Already, we’ve looked at programs like GoPass [a free rider program for students], which I think is one of the best ways that Metro can help young people. Being a part of the council also has caused me to become much more aware of the ways that transit is integrated into the city, even one so closely linked with driving.

Recently, I rode the Expo Line starting from the 4th Street station in Santa Monica to Downtown LA with a friend. Throughout the experience, I found myself amazed at the way that something that seemed so large and clunky to me –– a full-on rail system –– could fit in so seamlessly with its surrounding environment. As we passed station after station, headed underground, and approached downtown, I found myself in awe of the infrastructure’s complexity. By the time we pulled into the last station at the end of the Expo line, I felt like the Metro system and the city had merged into one.

We got out and walked around downtown, and my friend, who has nostalgia for cultures lost to modernity, pointed out some of the reminders of old Los Angeles, like an old theater marquee we spotted on Broadway and the Last Bookstore on Spring Street, just around the corner from Pershing Square. This was what the streets of Los Angeles used to look like, I thought: busy streets totally crowded with cars, pedestrians, and track carrying the old streetcars. All those pieces of transportation still shared the road back then. I got the sense that the Metro system and the culture of Los Angeles had grown up together. The image of streetcars navigating busy streets of people and automobiles was entirely inseparable from the black-and-white “memories” of old LA in my mind. The beauty of the Metro system struck me. Although it’s new and modern, it’s also a connection to the past.

My friend often refers to books as little infinities because they contain entire universes we can travel to. Public transportation does the exact same thing ––it opens new opportunities and worlds for those who have no way of getting around alone. In other words, they allow us as humankind to explore “infinities” of our own.

Got a cool story about taking transit in Los Angeles? We want to hear from you! 

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5 replies

  1. “But is getting somewhere faster worth the risk of a terrible accident?”

    – *sigh* Never mind, when the student gets older and possibly gets the opportunities to use public transit overseas, he’ll come back with a much different mentally how LAs (or any US transit system for that matter), truly is.

  2. Glowing reviews of how Metro satisfies a touristy jaunt to Downtown should not be a selling point. Metro is supposed to be a replacement for commuting by car. Missing from this article is how long did this trip take. Real users of Metro are only concerned about whether or not public transit is as time-efficient and cost effective as driving. Oh…and safe. Another factor this article fails to mention in any form. Cute, but it’s not going to convince anyone to give up their car.

  3. If climate change is on Metro’s mind, then Metro should stop widening freeways throughout L.A. County. Metro’s own accounting shows that all the climate benefits of Metro transit will be outweighed by the additional driving that Metro freeway expansion will induce.

    • Go up to the state and tell them that. Why they decided to think a transit authority building freeways is totally (not) a conflict of interest is beyond me.

      This is literally forcing the 2 kids that absolutely hate each other to get along. It’s just not gonna happen.

  4. Kudos to Emery Cunningham for the outstanding essay on Metro and the crucial way that public transportation is woven into our culture. Metro adds richness to our community life and brings opportunity to explore our great metropolis.