To Live and Ride a Bus in LA

The car is still king in Los Angeles. But quietly, almost sneakily, trains and buses are finding the edges of a city that stopped acknowledging its edges long ago.

At its core, Los Angeles is a city of last-minute anything and everything. Fiddlers and creators. Individuals. Individuals who pushed and prodded and stole and made their home sprawl into the desert and down the coast, and who pushed as they soaked up communities and rivers and mountainsides and sports teams. Nothing stood a chance.Chris Cantle/
And so Los Angeles is relentlessly unknown and uneasy. Live here or don’t. You’ll never get a grasp of the thing, and were you to take hold it’d burn down one neighborhood and claim another, send home prices soaring in some new godforsaken place, decide Turkish food is the cool new thing and send you out looking for Los Angeles again.Chris Cantle/
The lack of constraints, to growth, to demographics and to change; that’s why we many individuals have always clung to as many cars. Public transportation? Just try to keep atop the writhing, breathing, 500-square-mile animal in a bus.Chris Cantle/
We are lampooned for our cars, and have been as long as I’ve lived. Even through traffic crises and oil crises and presidential visits. We name our calamities, Century Crunch and Carmageddon and Jamzilla, which seems reasonable when we also name our interchanges. Every year, the average Los Angeles commuter spends an extra 64 hours, waiting.Chris Cantle/
If outsiders rib our commutes, our public transportation system takes its beatings from within. Locals readily trot out complaints. Trains that connect nothing with nothing. Lines that end abruptly and frustratingly before the places you need to go. The airport. The beach. The office. Metro buses work feverishly to take up the slack. Short stretches between stops create the needed density, but make a simple jaunt across town take hours. So the car is still king. But quietly, almost sneakily, the trains and buses are finding the edges of the city that so long ago outgrew them.Chris Cantle/
Route 30, West Hollywood to downtown. It’s the bus that rattles my windows on street-sweeping days, when it can drive a little closer to the curb in the mornings. Up Pico, through the best of Los Angeles. Mexican Koreatown, piñata stores, boxing gyms and old public pools.Chris Cantle/
“Buenos días, buenos días. Good morning, good morning.” Everyone through the door gets the same greeting. The driver would need a half-dozen more languages to greet everyone in their native tongue. The sun glints across teeth. Change drops. The bus grinds off into traffic again. The quick salute in Spanish and English is always enough.Chris Cantle/
Every morning, 2,228 buses roll out on 170 routes to 15,967 bus stops. Schoolchildren board alongside the homeless and cellphone salesmen in suits. Everyone gives way for a woman in a wheelchair. The system is a well-oiled machine, burdened with the weight of Los Angeles traffic.Chris Cantle/
The crowded 210, down Crenshaw. No drinks allowed, paper-bagged or otherwise. But it’s noon. And it’s hot. And someone else is driving. So nobody is complaining. Set out in the morning with no goal but to see some things, and you’ll damned near get your fill. It could be Metro’s motto. Maybe it should.Chris Cantle/
Route 30 gets busy east of Rimpau. Despite its density, or maybe because of it, the vast maze of neighborhoods west of Koreatown and between Santa Monica Boulevard and the 10 freeway, all the way to the ocean, are unserved by Metro’s rail system. It’s a miles-wide swath of the middle of Los Angeles, encompassing everything from Little Ethiopia to Beverly Hills. Every single resident depends on congested surface streets to get around.Chris Cantle/
On. Off. Ten? No. Fifteen times already today. This is a drop in the bucket. Metro records a million boardings daily. A buck seventy-five a ride. With a TAP card, the curious can connect buses and trains to their heart’s content for two hours. So I did.Chris Cantle/
The 210 South crosses the 10 freeway and connects to the Expo line in Crenshaw. It used to be damned violent this side of the freeway. Sometimes it still is, and there’s a police helicopter drawing lazy circles above nearby Jefferson Park. But mostly it’s old LA. There are street vendors and street food, and seafood places with music blaring. It’s a great place, changing fast, like the rest of Los Angeles. And the train is helping.Chris Cantle/
The Expo line, maybe the most important stretch of rail in all of Los Angeles. This is its western terminus in Culver City, but soon the rails will stretch all the way to Santa Monica and the coast from downtown. Further down these tracks, trains are testing. Santa Monica hasn’t seen a public transit train since streetcars were kicked to the curb.Chris Cantle/
$1.5 billion. That’s a start. One of many. That $1.5 billion buys 6.6-miles of track, train, seven stations and a bike path. And maybe the future. Not one without cars; LA would never go for that. But one where you can get around and take the thing in without having to sweat out traffic. Where you can chase Los Angeles, and try to stay on top of it.Chris Cantle/