MTA Squabbles Over Hue-Mongous Decision

Times Staff Writer

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 cross-town 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.


Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who sits on the MTA board, favors the name “Expo Line” and the two-toned compromise. The Cardinal Line would run from downtown to Culver City, and the Aqua Line would cover the second phase of the project from Culver City to Santa Monica.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is chairman of the MTA board, dismissed the two-toned talk as the stuff of collegiate rivalry. USC’s colors are cardinal and gold, and the Cardinal Line would run past the campus. UCLA’s colors are blue and gold, and the Aqua Line would run south of that campus.

“I figure it’s a UCLA-USC thing, and I’m the mayor for all the people,” Villaraigosa told an MTA executive management and audit committee last week.

“I went to both schools,” Burke retorted.

“I worked for ‘SC and graduated from UCLA,” Villaraigosa responded.

The color-coordination confusion comes as the MTA struggles with mapmaking symbols for its transit system.

In multicultural Los Angeles, naming transit lines after colors is a sensitive task. Transit officials privately said it would be inappropriate to call the Exposition Boulevard line -- which runs through both African American and Latino neighborhoods -- the “Black Line” or “Brown Line.”

And, of course, the “White Line” would never show up clearly on a map.

But they have proposed naming the El Monte busway the “Silver Line” since that color was once assigned to the project when it was first constructed. And they have recommended designating the busway that runs down the Harbor Freeway the “Bronze Line” because it connects passengers to various South Bay beach cities where suntans are the norm.

Officials also are considering renaming the downtown-to-Wilshire Boulevard/Western Avenue extension of the existing Red Line subway the “Purple Line.” The purple color and name would go with the Wilshire subway if it was eventually extended 13 miles to Santa Monica under a $4.8-billion proposal.

One transit activist has proposed that the Wilshire subway be named something more descriptive of its huge price tag.

“Perhaps it should be the ‘Platinum Line,’ ” said Darrell Clarke, co-chairman of the Friends 4 Expo Transit citizens advocacy group. Of course, “platinum kind of looks like silver or gray, so we need to think about those things too.”

For the record, Clarke said, the advocacy group favors aqua for both the Expo line’s name and its map color.

“If you call it ‘cardinal,’ doesn’t cardinal look like red on a map?” he said.

Colors are used to identify routes on Washington, D.C.’s, Metro system and Chicago’s CTA. New York uses a variety of letters, numbers and shapes.

An MTA study of other cities’ transit agencies indicated that the majority -- Buenos Aires, Madrid, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo and Barcelona, Spain -- used alphabetical or numerical designations as “names” in addition to varying colors on maps.

Local transit planners said Los Angeles eventually may use “simpler and clearer” letter designations such as the “C Line” and “D Line” for MTA’s route names.

For now, however, many Los Angeles transit supporters favor colors for the lines’ names.

“I took the Orange [bus line] and the Red to get here. And I’m grateful I took the Orange and not the ‘Metro San Fernando Valley Transit Way’ or whatever it is. Colors are so much easier to get your mouth around,” Roger Christensen, a train riders’ advocate, told MTA officials at last week’s committee meeting.

He warned, however, that renaming the Harbor expressway the Bronze Line and the El Monte expressway the Silver Line might lead to color blindness.

“These two fan out to multiple destinations,” Christensen said.

With the Aqua Line name, MTA officials acknowledged that they turned to an unlikely source for inspiration: a shadowy group of underground guerrilla artists.

They are borrowing the color and the name from an anonymous coalition of artists, architects and builders called Heavy Trash, which uses large, disposable art installations to draw attention to urban problems.

Six years ago, Heavy Trash created a stir on the Westside by placing official-looking “MTA construction project” signs along a 15-mile stretch of Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards.

The billboards announced “future station location” for the “Metro Aqua Line -- connecting downtown to the Westside.”

A phone number directed callers to the “Aqua Line Hotline,” where a recording stated that “Aqua Line operators” were busy answering commuters’ inquiries.

Westside motorists who read the signs while stuck in traffic were delighted, although Brentwood resident Sue Nordhause suggested to The Times that perhaps the billboards were something installed for the then-approaching Democratic National Convention “to make visitors think we have a transit system.”

One Times reader said the straight-as-an-arrow rail route depicted on the fake signs was the tipoff that the 2000 Aqua Line was a joke.

“This may be the way to engineer a system,” Laurie Barlow of South Pasadena said in a letter to the editor. “But no self-respecting politician would allow that!”