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Los Angeles entering new transit era

Rail line opened, more to come

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The latest installment of Los Angeles light rail system is now open and the city is focusing on additional projects, with hopes of becoming a US transit leader, according to The Architect’s Newspaper:

At his State of the City address last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a surprise pledge to extend Measure R, the half-cent sales tax that is funneling an estimated $40 billion into transportation projects over the next 30 years. When the measure passed with a two-thirds majority in 2008, it represented a turning point for the city:  Angelenos not only wanted better transit, they were willing to pay for it. Extending the tax, Villaraigosa claimed, would complete planned transit projects in half the time. “We will measure traffic relief in years, not generations,” he said.

Believe it or not, Los Angeles is on its way to becoming a world-class transit city again, and there is a pivotal new light rail line opening this weekend to prove it.

On Saturday, April 28, the Expo Line will lead the city into a new transit era. This 8.6 mile route from downtown to Culver City will not only serve a traffic-weary swath of the city, but it will give Angelenos the rail line that will metaphorically make the city whole again—traveling the width of the LA basin to reach Santa Monica as early as 2015.

And unlike some recent additions to the system, like the Gold Line Eastside Extension, it will be likely heavily used: Metro expects 27,000 boardings per day. When the line is complete to Santa Monica, ridership could be as high as 67,000 per day.

Designed by Los Angeles-based Parsons, with support from Gruen Associates and Miyamoto International, the Expo Line has been in the works basically since Southern Pacific offered the right-of-way for sale in 1988. Yet the completion of the $940 million project was delayed by over a year, particularly by community groups concerned with at-grade crossings. It’s a shame since the stations which are the most effective (and attractive) are those that are on street level, not hovering above the busier streets on concrete pylons.

Unlike the themed stations on the Gold or Red Lines, the Expo Line has a unified design. “This is a contemporary project,” said Jorge J. Pardo, Metro’s director of creative services, who oversees both station design and public art. He says the line-wide design is better for the customer, who needs to see the stations as landmarks. “There’s a reason this design can continue all the way to 4th and Colorado,” he said, the intersection in Santa Monica where the line will terminate

The stations are elegant yet unassuming. Perforated metal sunshades undulate over simple steel tubing painted in a cool blue, which on most days is exactly the color of the LA sky. On the platforms, the canopies cast constantly changing shade patterns. Yet besides the digitized waves traced in the air, the infrastructure almost seems to disappear, allowing the framed views into the adjacent neighborhoods to become the visual focus of the stations.

Roland Genick, lead designer for architecture and urban design at Parsons, said he hopes that the design for the line is somewhat subconscious for riders. “I think with a system that people use on a daily basis it is very important that there are bits of interest and surprises that one discovers over time, leading to a more layered understanding and appreciation.” One clever detail: historical illustrations and quotes in the platform pavers about the surrounding areas and the former rail line that traveled the right-of-way.

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