The opening of the 11-mile Gold Line extension to Azusa this weekend is another milestone in the ongoing transformation of Los Angeles from car capital to multi-modal metropolis. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is slowly restoring the connectivity that was lost when the last of the Pacific Electric Red Car trolleys were taken out of service five decades ago, and over the coming years rail lines will reach deeper into South Los Angeles, the Westside and the San Fernando Valley. Transit will increasingly become the connective tissue that binds the body politic together, and blah blah blah.
Here's the really great news. Thanks to the Gold Line extension, you can now take light rail to the races at Santa Anita Park. Or the Los Angeles County Arboretum, if you favor peonies over ponies. Ye Lords and Ladies can ride to the Irwindale station, which is short Uber or Lyft ride away from the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. And, of course, commuters and students will have the option of hopping a train to escape the soul-sucking traffic on the 210 Freeway.
Each rail line that opens makes it easier for Los Angeles county residents to explore new neighborhoods, try new businesses and consider jobs or schools further from their homes. Unconnected communities become connected when there's cheap, reliable and relatively fast public transit. Colleges in the northern San Gabriel Valley become more easily accessible to students from across the region. And a job downtown or in the southern or western reaches of the city might become more appealing when there is an alternative to the miserable drive or multiple-bus commute. Even the natural wonders of the region could be within easier reach — the U.S. Forest Service has talked about bus service from the Gold Line extension to the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. And when the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica opens on May 20, trains will stop within blocks of the beach.
For years the freeways of Los Angeles were the arteries that allowed the region to grow and flourish. But in many areas the freeways and roads are so congested, they've become impediments. Who wants to venture far from home when the slog back is so draining? The Gold Line extension is one piece of a growing network of light rail, subway and bus lines that — while not a perfect solution — give people a choice again.
Yet critical challenges and decisions lie ahead. Why is ridership in a slump and can it be reversed? Can the cash-strapped agency raise fares without losing passengers? Can the region's political leaders reach consensus on whether to put another half-cent sales tax on the ballot to build more transit lines? And would voters support it?
But those are questions for another day. For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.