New numbers released this week show it only took about a year for the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica to reach ridership numbers that were not expected until 2030. About 64,000 people now ride Expo on an average workday. The east-west light rail line is a major success, not only helping Metro’s overall ridership numbers, which had been dropping for years, but also bridging the mental and physical divide of the 405 freeway. Time to get real, though: the Expo Line is still very much a work in progress.
The potential of the 15-mile rail line has not been fully realized, five years after the first segment opened from DTLA to Culver City and 14 months after it stretched to Santa Monica. The line is still too slow, especially between USC and DTLA, when surface-running trains often get stuck at multiple red lights. Where is the momentum from city leadership to get traffic light synchronization moving? Why can’t Mayor Garcetti champion this practical commuting solution instead of a pie-in-the-sky monorail?
As mentioned previously, amenities at the stations are sorely lacking. Transit-related development has only really sprouted near the Pico, Santa Monica, and Culver City stations (the latter stop’s massive, and useful, parking lot closed in February for construction of new apartments and retail that have yet to break ground). Work on a big complex finally began at the Sepulveda station and some low-slung apartments were recently bulldozed near Vermont to make way for more dense units, but the area around most other stations remains unchanged—and bleak. Walking to, say, the Bundy or La Brea stops is an exercise in not getting run-over. Where are the expanded sidewalks and longer walk signals?
Speaking of the La Brea station, it’s been a construction zone for over six months, with dirty orange cones littering the new turnstiles and all landscaping torn out on the eastern side. Will the entire Russia scandal play out before Metro finishes dragging its feet on this station? If we can’t have a newsstand or coffee shop near the train, can we at least not be forced to trip over knocked-over fencing?
Meanwhile, a promised “greenway” at the Westwood station is encased in even more fencing. Signs indicate the park-like space—which will help clean storm run-off and provide homes for flowers and birds—is on its way, but there’s been zero movement for months and its website offers no clues. We do know when Metro plans on filling the large Cheviot Hills gap in the Expo-adjacent bike path (caused mostly by local NIMBYs who battled against it)—April 2021.
The Expo Line has proved that if Metro builds a rail line that travels where people need to go, they’ll come. But if they want a rail line that continually grow in ridership and feed the lagging bus system, they also need to maintain and improve it.