Transitioning Transit to a Transracial Experience   

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--Let's start by warning anyone reading this that if you're big into political correctness, this article isn't for you.  If the concept of Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter is tough for you, then this may not be the article for you...and maybe you're part of the problem affecting our City, State, and Nation.

To suggest that racial equality isn't common sense--as much as is the concept of equality of those with different hair or eye color--means that the fight of myself and others to create an Expo Line, to bring the different geographies and cities and "racial neighborhoods" together as a method to improve our economy, mobility, and quality of life, was a fight lost before it was even begun.

Because the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, the Westside, the Mid-City, and Downtown regions are getting more transit, and want yet more transit, in the months and years to come...which means good things to all LA County residents but for many this means that transit is finally moving to "the white parts of town".

There's been plenty of racist and/or "race-conscious" screaming (which, when one really confronts it, is pretty much the same thing) about the Expo Line, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Orange Line, and the Pasadena/Foothill Gold Line.  And that screaming has dramatically complicated what should have been the easy concept of creating a new option for "getting from here to there".

Friends4Expo Transit (which Metro might or might not recognize as the organization which held firm in and succeeded in the Expo Line becoming a higher capacity rail line, and not a lower capacity Busway) was comprised of both Westside white residents and Mid-City black residents, and had strong ties to Eastside Latino residents.  As time went on, the demographics of our City and County have changed, and the racial character of transit advocates should continue to decrease as an element to be noted.

Yet the argument of whether "buses were better in order to serve black and brown people, while rail is better in order to serve white people" was one that came out of left field, and still pervades to some degree from certain transit "advocates", and reveals that left-wing racism is as repugnant as right-wing racism.  And Friends4Expo Transit had to fight those elements, too.

Anyone with half an ounce of common sense would want both bus and rail to be a first-class, and not a third-class experience, and for all ethnicities to enjoy and use.  After all, why would anyone want a public investment like a countywide rail system to be a lousy experience?

So the need to improve bus stops, bus commuting experiences, and bus/rail connections and operations should be as critical as the need to create a higher-capacity rail backbone for buses to feed into.

And, of course, Rapid Bus service and bus stops should reach higher in the same manner that light/heavy rail service and rail stations should aspire for admirable benchmarks.  Smart benches with LED displays as to when the next Rapid Bus or train is arriving, and with sufficient shelter and seating, isn't a stretch for any society--of any racial background--to presume is a reasonable goal.

The San Fernando Valley didn't reach high and push for a proper rail line for its Orange Line (it had no "Friends4Expo Transit" equivalent), and now it faces the agonizing question of whether it can afford a Sepulveda Pass underground rail line to the Westside, or a rebuilding of its Orange Line Busway into the Light Rail Line it should have been built as in the first place. Furthermore, the $27 million pedestrian bridge from the Red Line to the Universal Studios shuttle bus stop is a sad and pathetic connection compared to the originally-intended Red Line Subway direct connection which Universal Studios rejected to help pay for.

Hey Valley leaders and Universal Studios managers, take a bow.  Just please don't open your mouths anymore to complain about Metro...unless, of course, it's to eat a healthy serving of humble pie.  You repeatedly blew it and ignored the pleas of the engineers and reasonably-minded transportation/planning advocates, and if you want any consideration of special treatment then you should admit that up front in order to get the rest of the county to pay for your errors.  Heck, even some local widenings of the 101 freeway to smooth traffic flow was and perhaps is still too darned hard for you...but that's what happens when you let NIMBY's dominate political actions.

But I digress, because there are some critical complaints about ALL of the Metro system, and some problems to confront if we want more transit usage (like what we see in Chicago and New York and other cities where residents of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds commonly use transit).

To begin with, we need to better balance our fight for civil rights with our fight for common sense:

  • There is a Metro Code of Ethics, and a transportation/transit public awareness push that we must fight for, which should prevent the average rider from having to put up with, or even anticipate, boorish or inappropriate behavior.  Fighting, blatantly loud music, public nudity, homeless individuals opting to make trains or buses their place of residence should be countered by a strong L.A. sheriff's presence and the certainty that those who've richly deserved the right to be thrown off a train or bus (and maybe even arrested) are, in fact, thrown off.

And if that strikes someone reading this as a "racist" sentiment, perhaps that someone should get off their ivory tower and stare in the mirror and ponder their own undeniable racism--because a large percentage of transit riders, perhaps the majority, are black and brown.  And those commuters deserve a first-class, world-class, and high-class transit experience...including and especially those female commuters traveling alone.

  • No one wants to sit in a seat which might or might not be contaminated with urine or feces, and no one wants to board a bus or train that has such a stench that it becomes a burden to merely board.

This is true for black and brown transit riders, and will certainly be true for white riders--and for ALL riders--as we expand the Metro Rail system into the Westside, South Bay, and San Gabriel Valley.

Perhaps the answer to these and related problems will be achieved if we stop giving parking spaces for public sector employees, and start giving them free transit passes...particularly for those working for Metro and other transportation agencies.

Because just as transit has the ability to bring all the segments of society together, it also has the ability to uphold the rights and dignity of every transit rider (regardless of race or socioeconomic background).

It really just comes down to how high we'll raise the bar on our transit system, and how much we'll fight for the average transit rider to enjoy the first-rate transit experience most of us fight for...and pay for.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)