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First Ride on the New Crenshaw/K Line

LA TRANSPO - Over fifty years since it was first envisioned, the new Metro Rail Crenshaw Line/K Line opened October 7, 2022.

After the official start of funding the line, The K as Metro seems to be calling it these days, it is over budget, and around two years over schedule. 

The current stations in operation for the K Line running north to south are Expo/Crenshaw; MLK; Leimert Park; Hyde Park; Fairview Heights; Downtown Inglewood; and Westchester/Veterans. Future stations for the line are LAX/Metro Transit Center and Aviation/Century, with their use dependent upon the opening of the LAX people mover.                 

Perhaps the primary function of the K Line is to connect at the Expo/Crenshaw Line Station, and stations along the route, to take riders to the LAX automated people mover to then take them into LAX. The people mover is scheduled for operations in 2024. The planners at Metro, city of Los Angeles, and LAWA/LAX hope this light rail train will dramatically reduce vehicle trips into LAX for departing and arriving passengers. Driving into LAX to drop-off or pick-up someone can lead to familial, business and relationship strains. 

The line should also be of tremendous travel benefit to neighborhoods along the route, and particularly for Inglewood with its two stations offering a car free way to get to SoFi Stadium, the Forum, and the new Clippers Arena-the Intuit Dome under construction, with shuttles from the station to the venues. 

Recently I took my first ride on the K Line from the Westchester/Veterans Station to the Expo/Crenshaw Station. Then it was a transfer to the Expo Line eastbound, riding it to the end at the 7th Street Metro Station. Then, heading downstairs to catch a Red or Purple Line subway to Downtown Los Angeles to attend a daytime concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

This ride completes my quest of riding every mile of Metro’s rail lines: subways and light rail trains. Once future Metro Rail construction projects are completed, the quest will continue. 

In addition to this quest, since 1993 I have been a regular transit rider in Los Angeles County on buses and trains to fight first air pollution in the Los Angeles Basin, and now the present and increasing threats of global warming. Driving less and riding transit more lowers my carbon footprint in the fight to save the planet. 

Observations and thoughts on the first ride the Crenshaw/K Line.

Having a local light rail station is a tremendous boost for the neighborhoods along the line. Prior the K Line, for me to get to DTLA by transit would depend on the time of day. If the trip was during with day when there is more frequent service of buses and trains, I would take a bus to the Pico/Sepulveda Expo Station, and then train transfers to get to my destination. 

In the evening when bus and trains are less frequent, some buses come only every forty to fifty minutes and stop around 11:00PM, I would drive to an Expo Line Metro Station for either the Pico/Sepulveda, Culver City or La Cienga station to catch a train. On low traffic days it was a minimum of twenty five minutes to drive to a station, park, pay for parking, and then walk to the station platform. Depending on traffic, this could easily stretch to over thirty minutes. 

To drive to the Westchester/Veterans Station, park and walk to the station platform took seven minutes. This local K Line Station is a tremendous savings of time, and as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Time lost is never found again.” 

Newness of the Crenshaw/K Line

When I walked up to the Westchester/Veterans Station a train was on the tracks. A train on the tracks is usually a very good sign, but, from years of riding trains and buses, when train or bus is at the station or a bus stop, it’s time hurry-up and get onboard. 

Paying for fare with the TAP card is much improved since the card was first introduced. The new TAP card kiosks are easier to read with better video displays. The area to pay is larger and easier to find. And the sound of payment is louder and clearer.  

Japanese manufacturer Kinki Sharyo built trains for the Crenshaw/K Line. They are also used for the Expo Line. Kinki Sharyo built the first bullet train, LINK.  

The immediate sensations when the train car was entered: everything was new, everything was clean, and it had that new-train-car smell. The seats are a vinyl print, and not the cloth cushioned seats used on the other Metro trains and buses. A consensus of transit riders prefer the vinyl seats: they clean faster, it is easier to see if they are wet, and while harder than the cloth seats, the vinyl seats are more comfortable because after some use butt imprints on the cloth seats make some discomfort. 

Once out of the station, the smoothness and quiet of the train is remarkable. No bus can ever equal the quality of ride of a train. I know because I ride a lot of buses. It remains to be seen how well these tracks hold up after a few years of use.                  

The large windows of the Kinki Sharyo train cars offer fantastic views of the city passing by. Countless times I have driven the roads which line the K Line. It is such a pleasure to be riding in a train and pass traffic, particularly pass over the clogged 405, at a faster speed then the street traffic, and there is the bonus of not being stressed with driving.  

Because I had to be at Disney Concert Hall at a specific time for the concert, I could not take a leisurely trip and exit at various stations for exploring. With this neighborhood Westchester/Veterans Station so close, future trips will include sightseeing along the line. I particularly wish to see Leimert Park which I passed many times as a boy when my dad would drive by on his way to work downtown.  

The K Line is above and below grade which makes looking the scenery for the entire route obviously impossible. 

For those sections above grade, once past the Hyde Park Station, the train passes through neighborhoods of age. These are not newish tract homes, or gated communities. These are neighborhoods of graceful buildings-commercial buildings and homes, remarkably unchanged from another time. Some well maintained, others not so. These are neighborhoods not swallowed and changed by gentrification.  

This section of the line offers a look at parts of Los Angeles off the beaten path. The view is somewhat familiar, but also not. It is as if stumbling upon a forgotten Los Angeles. 

These are the neighborhoods of the centralized Black population of Los Angeles, neighborhoods of long time Los Angeles residents, many of whom are, like me, native to the city. There is a rooted firmness to the city in these Black neighborhoods, making a central core to its history and culture. With so many of my family and friends moved out of Los Angeles, it is always refreshing to talk with Black Angelenos, native to Los Angeles, with whom we can share city histories. 

How long will these neighborhoods remain as they are is unknown. A proven benefit of a local light rail line is an increase of property values near the line, but this should not be at the expense of these Black neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods I remember from my youth when my dad would drive the family around town. This section of town was his area of patrol as a LADWP lineman. He had in insiders’ knowledge of the area, which I remember.  

These are also neighborhoods of lower incomes, and neighborhoods which need to remain affordable to those now living there. 

The arrival at the destination at the end of the line, the Expo/Crenshaw Station was uneventful. The station is new, and clean, but I was struck at its small size. It remains to be seen if the K Line lives up to its hype as the much needed transit connector to LAX via the Expo Line. It should, and if so, this station could be very active. 

Metro Ambassadors and Greeters

Metro train and buses must be policed. Criminal activity happens everywhere, and to have no police presence is to invite bad, and sometimes evil behavior. There are also the homeless riding the trains, and the mentally ill. Police should not do social work, and social workers should not do police work. Metro, to try to better address the issues of the homeless and the mentally ill using their trains and buses, and to supervise low level disruptive behavior, is incorporating two levels of non-police to interact with people: lower level greeters and above that the ambassadors.  

This is good, and encouraging, but from my first ride on the K Line, the abilities and functions of the greeters and ambassadors leave questions. There were no greeters or ambassadors on the Expo, Red or Purple Lines it would also ride that day. 

On my trip the Metro greeters far outnumbered transit riders on the K Line. Indeed, there were very few passengers. In their bright orange-red vests, the greeters could not be missed. But, what is their function? On the return ride on the K Line a man was playing music on a device much too loudly. It was both a ‘whatever moment,’ and 'I wish it was quieter on the train as Metro rules assert” moment. This man was on the train from the MLK to Inglewood station, playing his loud music, and not one greeter, nor ambassador asked him to lower the volume.  

In their functions should they? Or should they allow one person to disrupt the rest of the passengers?  

When these greeters were on the train they did as a lot of people do these days, they buried their heads in their mobile devices. Should they not be paying attention to the surroundings of the trains?  

Police should not be involved to tell someone to lower the volume, but this is a distraction to others, not permitted as stated over the train’s intercom and on signs. What kind of transit ride is to take place if the new authorities to create a clean and comfortable transit experience, the greeters and ambassadors, are not around or paying attention? 

On the return ride, after exiting an Expo train at the Expo/Crenshaw Station, at the station plaza was another group of greeters receiving instructions, and two fluorescent green vested Metro ambassadors. They greeted me nicely, but as a transit newbie. I let that pass, but I was taken aback when one ambassador sent me off with the remark that the ride on the K Line is better than the Expo Line because it is clean.  

This remark seemed is at the heart of a glaring problem with Metro’s trains and stations. They need constant sweeping. There are plans to employ more people to sweep the trains while in service, but this idea that the new trains are better because they are new has the contrary thought that there is little concern for the upkeep of the older trains and stations-let them get dirty. In fairness to Metro, many of this nations’ and world’s trains are not swept while in service. Perhaps Metro for the “city of the future” can stand out, and try to keep its trains and stations clean. 

Metro, the master of bad and confusing signage keeps the crown

Exiting the Crenshaw/K Line train at the end-of-the-line Expo/Crenshaw Station was exciting. My quest to ride every mile of Metro’s light rail and subway lines completed, for now. It was exciting to be standing in a new part of town I knew only from driving or riding the Expo Train.  

Any experienced transit rider who needs to make a transfer to another train or bus exits at any stop with a clock ticking loudly in their head, trying to calculate when the needed transferring train or bus will arrive at its station or stop. If there is some distance involved, like moving between the two platforms at the 7th Street Station, some anxiety sets in. It is not a good feeling to miss a transfer by five seconds, particularly if the wait for next train or bus will be a long while. 

At the Expo/Crenshaw Station I asked a Metro ambassador where to go to connect to the Expo Train to DTLA. I’ve passed this area many times driving and in an Expo Train, but when standing there as a transit rider and pedestrian I was disorientated. 

The ambassador told me to just walk across the street, pointing north. Sounded easy enough, but then I encountered the confusion of Metro signs. I walked to Exposition Boulevard, and saw the tracts for the Expo Train, and a sign to the right, just above the ground for the train west to Santa Monica. I needed to go east to DTLA. I looked around, scanned the street and train tracks, and saw no sign for Expo/Los Angeles.  

The next train coming clock was ticking loudly in my head, and I had to be at Disney Concert Hall for the 11:00AM concert. Missing the next Expo train could make me late for the concert. The ticking clock in my head became quite loud. 

I crossed Exposition Boulevard and the Expo Line tracks looking for the signs for Expo/Los Angeles. It was not until I had crossed the boulevard and started walking west that I saw across the boulevard the Metro signs for Expo/Los Angeles, DTLA, on the other side of the boulevard. The signs were also low to the ground, good for pedestrians, but were placed for viewing only when looking north or south, fine for drivers, useless for transit riders standing on the plaza.                 

When standing on the plaza, Expo/Los Angeles station entrance signs were parallel to me, sideways to my view, and were in essence invisible.  

When a transit rider exits the K Line at the Expo/Crenshaw Station Plaza, there needs to be signs for the Expo/Los Angeles readable from the plaza, not facing out to Crenshaw Boulevard. There could also be signs with large arrows painted on the concrete directing transit riders to either of the Expo Trains heading east to Los Angeles, or west to Santa Monica. 

After an amazing concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, I encountered a long-standing bugaboo in the confusion between the Blue and Expo Lines. These two trains share the color blue, and they share the same tracks and station. While the Blue Line color is blue and the Expo Line is supposed to be aqua, this is cutting hairs, and they can be very hard to differentiate, particularly when needing to make a transfer, and the clock ticking in the head becomes loud. 

On the way home, at the 7th Street Metro station I exited a Red Line subway, or was it the Purple Line? Here is another Metro trick to fool riders with two subway lines using the same tracks and stations and both having colors very close to each other on the color wheel.  

On the 7th Street Station platform the Blue Line and Expo Line have their separate stairs because the trains use different sides of the station platform upstairs. 

The need a transfer clock was ticking loudly in my head, and on the platform I needed to get upstairs for the Expo Trains. I saw a sign for one stairwell with blue and an arrow pointing up. Yes, there was an “A” in the center, but the music from the concert was making a nice counterpoint to the clock ticking in my head. I mistook the Blue Line blue for the Expo Line blue, and walked up the stairs to the wrong platform. There, a train was on the tracks, but I was not certain it was the right train. I tried to figure which platform I was on. The in-station trains’ sign listed “Los Angeles,” and that would work for either the Blue or Expo Trains heading to DTLA. Had the signs on the train been changed to “Long Beach” while on the tracks, I would have quickly recognized my mistake and walked to the other side.  

I must have been seen as dazed and confused because a nice woman from the Blue Line train got out of the train and approached me on the platform. Upon finding that I was on the wrong side of the station, she directed me to the other side for the Expo Train. 

Crossing over the tracks I arrived at the correct side of the station platform for the Expo Line, and I had mistaken platforms a few times before, so I knew the route to the other side. In what was a lucky day, another train was on the tracks, but its signs read “Los Angeles.” This is more confusion, and after eventually riding the Expo Train I still needed to catch the K Line, so the clock was ticking in my head. 

Once a train arrives at the end of the line, would it be too much to immediately change its signs to the new direction? Is it too demanding of Metro to assist transit riders? We transit riders are why there is a Metro. Is it too challenging to be proactive, and change the trains’ signs immediately when the train arrives at its final destination and is to reverse its route so those standing on the platform can be assured that train on the tracks is the one they want? 

On other rides I have directed other dazed and confused riders like I was, lost in the visual fog of Metro’s signs, with lines sharing the same tracks and stations having colors too close in the color wheel. 

This K Line trip on was a Friday, usually a busy transit day, but the trains up and back had very few passengers. Not so with the Expo Line and Red/Purple Line trains I rode. Even before its connections to LAX are operational, the K Line has great potential, but like many things Metro there needs to be follow-through and refinements on its initiatives-the functions and duties of the greeters and ambassadors, and creating signage which fully and clearly serve and assist transit riders. 

Overall, this was a successful and satisfactory trip on Metro. The Metro Rail system is maturing and its reach is spreading. I will ride the K Line again, and hope to make it my go-to train, but Metro needs to incorporate into its organizational culture not just the engineering, mechanics and timings for its trains and buses, but the rider experiences, and how the Metro culture affects so many. 

I ride buses and trains to reduce my carbon footprint to fight air pollution and global warming. (Not driving in Los Angeles traffic is great added bonus.) Nothing is more important than combating the dangerously warming planet. The fastest way to fight global warming is to drive less and ride transit more. If Metro is to be part of the fight, operations needed tightened, and more focus needs to be directed to its riders.

 

(Matthew Hetz, a native to Los Angeles, is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His works can be found at https://www.matthewhetz.com. Also, he is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College, and is dedicated to improving transit and the environment.)