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LA’s Sweet New Expo Ride and LA Times Sour Coverage

TRANSIT TALK--Why is the Los Angeles Times so negative towards the Expo Line? The Times does some worthy reporting: they have an international bureau with needed reporting on the Middle East catastrophes, they believe in the threats of global warming and climate change, they cover state and local news with a fair amount of unbiased reporting. But before, and since, the opening of the Phase II of the Expo Line, their articles have focused on the negative. There is little to none of the local boosterism one would expect from the major hometown newspaper. (Photo above: Happy Expo Line rider.) 

The published letters to the editor have been negative about the new train line, and so far none have been positive. I know at least one Times reader and subscriber who sent in a positive letter-me, and would gladly have my letter not published for someone else in favor, but there is nothing from the Times. 

Is this a Chicago situation? The Times is owned by the Tribune of Chicago, buying the paper from the Chandler family, and there is a history of animosity from Chicago towards Los Angeles, and California, before the purchase. In the 1980s, Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote an article chastising the fern loving wimps of California, and then seemed to like the idea of the state disappearing in an earthquake. Why such animosity and wishes for mayhem, destruction and death on such a large scale? 

After the Tribune purchased the Times a character trait emerged in the paper. It was one of telling us in Los Angeles who was in charge and that we in Los Angeles needed lessons to know this. Within the first weeks of the purchase the Tribune, excuse me the Times, posted on the front page of the sports page how the Chicago Cubs were doing, as if we didn’t have two major league teams of our own, and as if we cared.  

After a heavy snowfall in the local mountains they posted a photo of a cabin covered in snow with the caption it was just like New England? No it’s not, it is just like Southern California. The lack of understanding of Southern California … with seemingly little effort to try … remains an acidic riddle. 

Eventually the Tribune people seemed to have read the memo that Los Angeles is its own place, with its own history, and long ago passed Chicago as the “Second City,” and is indeed an international city unto itself. But these latest negative articles and letters about the Expo Line seem to indicate the new Tribune Publishing Chairman Michel Ferro has steered the Times back into their perceived role of Los Angeles second to Chicago. 

A Times preview article reviewed the Expo Phase II route, and made particular note of the 17th Street Station in Santa Monica which will serve Santa Monica College. (I will also be using this station.) Of all the stations mentioned, this was the only one where walking distance was discussed, one-half mile to Santa Monica College as if this was a burden. The publisher did not do homework, this station is served by the Santa Monica Bus Lines 41 and 42 to take students to SMC, and the college has their own shuttle to the school and back to the station. The bus stop is across the street from the station.  

Moreover, any regular transit rider knows that a one-half mile walk is routine and not an issue. If one has a disability with walking, then it could be an issue, but solved with Santa Monica Buses and Santa Monica College shuttle. If someone is able-bodied and not able to walk one-half mile, then here is a great way to get into shape through walking. Indeed, walking is always involved with riding transit, particularly in Los Angeles, and this is good, it is about exercise, and seeing the city on a human level and not behind the wheel. 

The Times focus was on driving to stations and parking to ride, and then I guess just walk across the street to the destination. In a previous article I wrote of the need for parking at light rail and subway stations, but in West Los Angeles property is expensive and money could be better spent on maintenance of all transit, and building more. I use buses to get to train stations in the day when demand for parking is highest, and in evenings I drive to stations since bus service greatly declines or just stops.  

There was the photo of a man at a station next to a dog. Only certified service animal are allowed on trains and buses, and they must be on a leash. If no a service animal they must be in a closed carrier. I saw none in the photo. Indeed, city law states all dogs must be leashed when on public grounds, which a light rail station certainly is. Surely someone at the Times knows this, and should have not allowed that photo which will encourage people to bring their unauthorized, unleashed dogs to the trains.  

Then there are the three letters to the editor complaining about MTA in general, and Expo Phase II in particular, and as of today, not one positive letter. The woman in the first letter voices her concerns about trains traveling near schools and along pedestrian walkways, as if this is a problem. Crossing railroad tracks are like crossing streets: look both ways, don’t cross when the signals say no crossing, cross when safe. 

There is no mention of the hundreds of schools along streets and very busy boulevards which put students and others in danger from vehicle accidents, and pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by vehicles. Students are subjected to the health issues of breathing in vehicle exhausts, including dirty diesel engines, from traffic near the schools with schools near freeways subject to greater health risks. The light rail trains run on electricity and do not generate vehicle exhaust.  

This woman then disparagingly compares the transit systems of Los Angeles to New York. Perhaps she is unaware of the history of Southern California which once had an extensive urban rail system which became neglected and hastened to its demise by General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires so the trains could be replaced by buses. This decision was made by corporations with headquarters and major offices in New York, along with the financiers behind this, so New York could be complicit in the demise of our rail system. While this woman cannot be blamed for not knowing this history, the Times, as the paper of record for the city should know, and should have qualified this statement. 

The second letter laments that no train currently goes to LAX. Valid point. However, it is in the news that Metro and LAWA are pursuing a people mover into LAX from the Crenshaw and Green Lines. If this letter writer doesn’t know this, fair enough, but for the Times, the paper of record, to not acknowledge this is a neglect of their duties. This letter writer voices opposition to upcoming Proposition R2 for increasing transit projects. I favor it, but the Times responsibility is to present both cases, and it didn’t happen with this letter. 

The third letter laments the time it takes for the crossing arms to close off roads to traffic while a train passes. He would like to shorten the time. Repeatedly there are news accounts of horrible accidents nationwide between trains and vehicles that cheat the crossing arms and try to sneak across the tracks before the train passes. 

These accidents lead to horrible multiple injuries and deaths. If the reader thought the time was long now to wait for the train to pass before the crossing arms lower and then raise, the wait would become all day, if not longer, if there is a tragic accident between a train and vehicle, and traffic is prohibited from crossing the tracks effectively sealing off the streets. With the current wait times Metro seems to be on the side of caution, and they are right. The letter writer may not be aware of these situations, but surely the Times, which is in news business would know of these stories, and has not presented any counter argument to this.  

I’ve ridden Expo Phase I often. I’ve ridden Expo Phase II and will be regular rider. It is fantastic, it is a game changer, it is an accomplishment for the city, it is a great day and one made for local boosterism. Can there be improvements? Absolutely. But this is not the time to throw out negatives after negative as the Times has been doing. The Expo train is in Los Angeles, not Chicago.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra)

-cw