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A Los Angeles Primer: the subway

Los Angeles has a subway. This surprises almost as many visitors as it does natives. First moving here, I only considered apartments within walking distance of a station. Even then, I sensed this criterion, all-important elsewhere, has historically meant little to Los Angeles apartment-hunters. Despite taking four or five journeys underground every week, I understand, without the sneer of the least agreeable sort of public transit booster, why many Angelenos have never boarded so much as a station escalator. The Red and Purple subway lines serve this city of 500 square miles with less than eighteen miles of track, combined. Add in the above-ground train lines and the system’s total comes, as of this writing, to more like ninety miles. Too much of the time, the question of whether you can get from where you are to where you need to go by subway, or by any line to which it connects, meets with a flat “no.”

I never look forward to explaining this to visitors from Europe or Asia. To whose satisfaction can I, or any Angeleno, account for why the westward Purple Line dead-ends thirteen miles from the coast, or why the northern end of the Red Line passes through one side of Hollywood but not the other? Shortly after setting myself up in Los Angeles, I asked a friend, well-placed by day job to know about Metro matters great and small, these very questions. His response, in full: “Politics.” A fair point, but whenever I return home from a trip to Osaka, Mexico City, or even Washington, D.C., I wonder where else politics has so suppressed infrastructure as essential, to my mind, as water pipes, garbage dumps, or power lines.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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