It has been more than six decades, but passenger rail is finally returning to the gridlocked Westside.
Metro's Expo Line extension opened today and will run from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.
Metro passengers are getting free rides from downtown to Santa Monica until trains stop running Saturday night.
Saturday is expected to draw the really big crowds on the Expo Line to the beach -- though the free trains were plenty crowded on Friday.
Just outside the the downtown Santa Monica station, more than a dozen Breeze bike-share bikes also were free to use for further exploration.
A pedicab with a sidecar waited across the street for passengers. Uber handed out cards offering $15 in free rides to new users.
But most of those who poured off the first trains at the downtown Santa Monica station seemed to want to head on foot straight for the Santa Monica Pier or for the beach, to stick their toes in the sand.
Stefan Stasik is such a public transit lover that he flew from Canada on Thursday night to get on the first public train to leave downtown L.A. for the Santa Monica shore.
On the platform at 7th St/Metro Center on Friday morning, Stasik, 45, who works in IT in Victoria, met up with fellow transit buffs he'd found on Facebook.
The Expo Line was free Friday. But Stasik said his travel to ride it probably will cost at least $1,000.
It's worth it, he said, to celebrate the benefits of ditching your car.
"When you don't have to be reliant on your vehicle, you end up having a lot more freedom," he said.
Stasik says he hasn't had a car for well over a decade.
Marketing materials for the Expo Line promised to carry passengers to the beach, and Andrew Rice took them at their word.
The 47-year-old Mar Vista resident and a friend boarded the train at Culver City on Friday afternoon, carrying paddleboards.
Wedging the boards onto a packed train "wasn't super easy," Rice said after they disembarked in Santa Monica, "but it's doable." And, he said, passengers enjoying the first day of the Expo Line thought it was funny.
"It's L.A.," Rice said. "People are used to seeing beach gear."
On the platform nearby, two dozen men and women in black T-shirts and scarves emblazoned with "Los Angeles Football Club" chanted, shouted and clapped to the beat of a small drum.
The group, made up of Major League Soccer staff members and fans, were hyping a MLS expansion team that will start playing in L.A. in 2018. Their $250-million, privately financed stadium will be built on the site of the Sports Arena in Exposition Park, just off the Expo Line.
"We're making the maiden journey to our future stadium," said John Thorrington, an executive vice president of the team, as he waited for the train.
Behind him, serval supporters sang, "The sports arena's coming down, coming down, coming down," to the tune of "My Fair Lady." Others yelled and waved their scarves in the air.
Gary Roth, 54 of Cheviot Hills, emerged from a packed train impressed with the smoothness of the ride.
Roth lives a four-minute walk from the Westwood/Rancho Park station and works near the 26th Street/Bergamot station. He probably won't commute by train every day, he said, but plans on making the Expo Line a part of his life — especially at lunchtime.
"Downtown Santa Monica is only five minutes away," Roth said. "I'll be riding it."
For a moment this morning, at the first downtown stop of the first public Expo Line train to the Santa Monica shore, it looked as though not many people had shown up to mark the moment.
The transit buffs who were waiting at the 7th St/Metro Center station to board were enthusiastic -- shooting video on their phones -- but relatively few and far between.
There were still seats available when the train -- operated by Karmisha Myvett -- left the station at 11:28 a.m.
But big crowds were waiting at 11:56 a.m. at Culver City -- and soon it was hard for anyone on the train to move at all, even an arm or a leg.
Passengers cheered and clapped when the train reached the end of the line -- a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier -- at 12:19.
From the Sept. 13, 2011, Los Angeles Times:
Traffic crawled at an infuriating pace Monday morning on the 10 Freeway.
But at a groundbreaking ceremony for the last leg of the Expo light-rail line to Santa Monica, dozens of Southland officials proclaimed a different future.
Construction of the first phase of the Expo Line, an 8.6-mile stretch from the downtown 7th Street/Metro Center station to Culver City, has been underway since 2006 and is slowly nearing completion. The $1.5-billion second phase will continue 6.6 miles west to Colorado Avenue and 4th Street, about a half-mile from the ocean.
Phil Ender, 71, was a passenger on the first Expo Line train from Culver City to Los Angeles four years ago.
He arrived in downtown Santa Monica at 9:30 a.m. Friday, hoping to get in line early enough to repeat his performance.
"I have a streak going," Ender said. "Don't want to miss my chance."
In fact, Ender was first in line, with hundreds of people waiting behind him for a free ride on the 6.6-mile rail extension.
The line, the first Westside rail connection in more than 60 years, now runs 15.1 miles through west and central Los Angeles, from Santa Monica to Metro's 7th Street station in downtown L.A.
The retiree said he frequently rides the Expo Line from his home in Culver City to eat and shop in downtown Los Angeles, and takes the bus to Santa Monica.
But a train, he said, is a big improvement.
After more than six decades without a rail line to call their own, traffic-choked neighborhoods on the Westside are awaiting the Expo Line's arrival with mounting excitement.
But beneath the anticipation of the Friday launch is a lingering concern: parking. Four of the seven new Expo Line stations will not have dedicated spaces for transit riders. The other three have a combined 544 spots, which are expected to fill up early.
The lack of parking could pose a challenge for some commuters hoping to use the first Los Angeles rail system to reach Santa Monica in more than 60 years, particularly those who don't live along major commercial and residential corridors.
Hundreds of dignitaries, advocates and Westside residents gathered beneath gray skies in Santa Monica on Friday morning to cheer the opening of 6.6-mile Expo Line extension.
Just before 9:45 a.m., four Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees walked out onto the street-level train tracks at 4th Street and Colorado Boulevard, holding a blue banner that said, "More Expo."
As a sleek silver-and-yellow light-rail train glided into view, bystanders and members of the media thrust iPhones and cameras into the air to record the moment — and then waited a few moments longer, as the train stopped at a red traffic light.
Finally, as the train sliced through the banner, the audience cheered and whooped.
At a ceremony afterward, Metro representatives and elected officials cheered the extension, which will increase L.A.'s passenger rail system to 105 miles.
The Expo Line runs along the same route as the Pacific Electric streetcars, which stopped carrying passengers between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica in 1953.
"We're sort of back to the future," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes Santa Monica. "Thanks to Metro and this fabulous new extension, we are reopening the future."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti congratulated the neighborhood advocates and transportation officials "who fought and dreamed and said this could be done."
"At the end of the day, this isn't about getting lines down," Garcetti said. "This is about connecting with each other."
Garcetti joked that on Friday night "somebody is going to go out on a date on the Expo Line and fall in love." The audience laughed.
"Somebody's going to fall in love tonight?" Kuehl said. "Well, I'm in love with this train."
From the Aug. 11, 2007, Los Angeles Times:
Standing amid mounds of dirt at the edge of USC on Friday, political leaders celebrated a milestone for L.A.'s fledgling rail system: the start of major construction for a rail line from downtown to the Westside.
But like so many mass transit projects in Los Angeles County, the Expo Line was shaped by three decades of political squabbling and compromises that raise questions about whether it can achieve the goal of getting Westsiders out of their cars and onto mass transit.
The first 8.6-mile leg of the line will run from the 7th Street/Metro Center station in the heart of downtown to Culver City. But it will be nowhere near many of the Westside's most congested destinations, including the Miracle Mile, Grove-Beverly Center areas, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Century City and Westwood/UCLA.
Instead, it will move along an old Southern Pacific rail line through relatively quieter southwest L.A., roughly following Exposition Boulevard. The route avoided heavy opposition from community groups and reduced costs, which will be at least $640 million. The line is supposed to start operations in 2010.
From the March 23, 2006, Los Angeles Times:
Grab your Crayola boxes, boys and girls.
They are running out of colors for Los Angeles' expanding Metro transit system. And that has created a political debate involving crosstown college rivals, racial concerns and, of course, money.
There's the Red Line, Blue Line, Green Line, Orange Line and Gold Line. Now officials who are planning a light-rail transit line along Exposition Boulevard need a color for it that riders will remember and route mapmakers can illustrate.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials today are poised to christen the downtown-to-Westside route the "Aqua Line." But it might not come without a fight at the MTA board, where some members favor using the cardinal color at the Exposition Boulevard line's start and aqua at its end.