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After 35 Years, the Subway Makes a Comeback in L.A. : Transportation: Metro Rail station at 7th and Figueroa opens. Some complain about the lack of amenities.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles’ first subway station in 35 years was open for business Friday morning at 7th and Figueroa streets, a gleaming facility that freeway-frustrated commuters found long on convenience but short on amenities.

Transit authorities opened the Blue Line trolley’s terminal on the first level of the 7th Street Metro Center Station. The $65-million station’s second, lower level, which will handle Metro Rail Red Line subway trains, is still under construction.

Several thousand passengers disembarked into the station and hurried up escalators and stairways. Many are regular rail commuters, and they happily endorsed the 7-month-old Blue Line--first of several commuter rail projects planned for Los Angeles.

“I love the trains. . . . I’ve been riding (the Blue Line) since day one,” said Tom Anderson, 36, of Long Beach, a downtown courthouse worker. Sometimes, listening to news on his transistor radio, he hears traffic reports warning about freeway congestion and, he said, “I just smile.”

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Only one complaint infrequently was heard among the chorus of praise: The station, by design, has no public toilets, drinking fountains or pay telephones.

The decision not to offer toilets, fountains, phones or vendors in any Metro Rail or Blue Line stations was made for security and public safety reasons, said Neil Peterson, Los Angeles County Transportation Commission executive director. The commission built the Blue Line. The decision was based on the experience of other transit systems, he said.

“All too often bathrooms become security problems, they can’t be monitored and maintained properly,” Peterson said. “Eventually, they get closed. That’s what has happened in Atlanta and several other places.”

Pay phones get vandalized and can be used by criminal elements, Peterson said.

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As for the lack of drinking fountains, news and food vendors, he said the commission will reconsider its decisions to not include these amenities.

“Drinking water is a legitimate concern,” Peterson said. “It may make some sense to add fountains.” The same is true for news and food vendors, he said. “We want to make the stations as people-oriented as possible.”

The lack of toilets and drinking fountains has drawn the greatest criticism.

“It’s outrageous,” said Gary Blasi, director of the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation’s homeless litigation unit. He scoffed at the commission’s reasons for not putting in public toilets, contending that “it’s feasible to have public facilities that operate in acceptable ways.”

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Few riders were complaining Friday.

“Why aren’t there any public bathrooms?” asked Silvia Babic, 70, of Hollywood, a frequent train rider. Nonetheless, she said, “I love the trains, I think they’re great.”

The sleek, new Blue Line trains had been operating on the Los Angeles-Long Beach Light Rail Line since July, but until Friday they had to stop short at the street-level Pico Street Station because work on the two-level subway station is behind schedule.

Rail buffs who turned out early in the morning for the station opening said the sights and sounds of a subway--so familiar to urban commuters the world over--have not been seen or heard in Los Angeles since 1955. That is when the last streetcar pulled out of the old Subway Terminal Building on Hill Street.

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Commuters coming out of the station’s two exits--at 7th and Figueroa and 7th and Flower Street--can connect with 20 Southern California Rapid Transit District buses, RTD officials said.

The $871-million Blue Line is the first of several light rail, commuter rail and subway projects to be completed. The commission plans to build a $7-billion, 300-mile rail network that will link Los Angeles to surrounding counties.

RTD officials who operate the Blue Line for the commission reported daily ridership is up to 24,000 on weekdays, indicating that the public is accepting rail transit.


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