It's 8am on Friday morning and I meet Izzy Schloss, a friend from college, who agrees to my request of joining her on her commute to work. With one condition: we take public transit. She agrees, with slight hesitation but an open mind, and I plot our voyage from Vermont in Los Feliz to Old Town Pasadena.
Living on the southern part of Los Feliz near Vermont & Hollywood, Izzy has two options to get to work. There is the Red line that she can ride to Union Station and then transfer to the Gold line to Pasadena, walking included it takes about 1 hour. This is the obvious route. The one Google Maps would often advise, however there is an alternative. Metro's often criticized "Rapid Buses" (the red busses) were introduced in 2000 as a way to speed up bus travel. They make limited stops more akin to a subway or light rail. However, most common maps of metro don't feature them and the bus stops don't exactly advertise any particular significance so they are often overlooked, even by avid transit users.
We discovered this route worked well only because of my favorite transit app, CityMapper. Its interface makes it almost seem like Waze for mass transit. It is quick and efficient, and most importantly uses more logical connections then other interfaces like Google Maps. For Izzy, who wished to avoid cumbersome connections and being underground, the 780 was a great option.
The 780 would get us to where we needed to go for $1.75 in about 45 minutes. About 50% longer then her average car trip that takes "20-30 minutes most days depending on traffic." Which proved Izzy right when asked to comment on mass transit in LA saying "it's terrible...not on time, and usually takes at least twice as long to get anywhere then it would in your car." I couldn't refute the time argument and there is a lot of room for improvement, however, I found it interesting that we usually talk about commutes from only a single angle: time. Izzy went so far as to say, "its about efficiency. I want to get from my home to work as fast as possible, I'm not saying that it's right, but if anything that means I get to spend more time at home, and if I get really illegal, I can do it in 15 minutes."
We begin snaking through Atwater Village and Glendale, and I ask Izzy if she has had positive experiences with mass transit. She talked about a recent summer spent in Spain being an Au Pair where a good bike network and bus system allowed her to get everywhere she needed to go. What struck me the most was that, while Izzy loved the efficiency of the system, what she really loved was how it taught her about her surroundings and helped her learn Spanish by listening to others. One could argue that we are allowed to be more carefree about time on vacation but being an Au Pair and taking Spanish lessons Izzy still had places to be and speed was a factor. Many of us love to utilize the social benefits of mass transit when we are in cities that have systems that are perceived as efficient, but ignore the benefits in our own cities. LA is a perfect example. Izzy doesn't use Metro because she perceives it as being inefficient but the irony is the freeway system in LA, particularly during rush hour is far from efficient with traffic jams and accidents effecting your arrival time (add to that a million other factors.) So if time wasn't the main issue, maybe something else was.
As I asked Izzy what was the quality of time spent on her commute like she said she enjoyed "time to herself...listening to NPR.." I definitely understand the desire for alone time and it makes a lot of sense, but the funny thing was when asked what her least favorite aspect of her commute she responded, "well I don't like the terrible traffic sometimes...and it's funny I usually keep my windows down because I don't like the isolation. That separation to everyone around me."
LA is the product of being a civic experiment in how far we could take the idea of privacy and private property. The car has become an extension of our home and many often end up with a community solely consisting of those either in their home or work. In many parts of LA, you can find it difficult to run into people in parks, or on the street, or any other public space because they tend to not exist or are engineered as an after thought. This can be tempting for the individual, particularly those that adore privacy, but dangerous for a society. We isolate ourselves. If desired, we ignore problems of those with different lives then us whether it be racial or economic. For example, the massive homeless problem brewing in LA can easily be avoided if one just turns up their radio, rolls up the window, and takes the right route.
So, is there a way to have a city that looks out for one another and yet allows for the very healthy desire of a certain amount of privacy? That is a very large issue and not the sole responsibility of any one Angeleno who's just trying to get to work. The funny thing was, by the end of the trip as we were passing through Eagle Rock, she remarked that trip had been so easy. She enjoyed seeing the evolution of the city between Los Feliz and Pasadena. She enjoyed a coffee. She talked to a friend. She wanted to try it again, and next time bring a book. The ride turned out to only take 39 minutes (I tried it twice just to make sure.)
Not everyone has the luxury of the door to door route that the 780 offers Izzy, for many of us transfers are required. Increased frequency is needed. Those are all valid and very real concerns. Yet, the thing that I find most fascinating is that Izzy had no knowledge of this very convenient route prior to our investigation. There are so many transit routes in this city of 4 million that many have little to no knowledge of. Metro can do a far better job of advertising our system, but if you are annoyed by traffic and feeling isolated, if you want more time to read or watch a show, or even just desire the ability to feel like you live in a city, I advise you to download Citymapper, or any other transit app, and discover your options. Or leave me a comment asking for a hand, I'd love to explore the city with you.