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Awesome adventure: Multi-modal trip to Santa Monica on the Expo Line

"Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me..."

Herman Melville writing about the 10 Freeway

The years...No, the decades...No, the millennia that I have endured on the 10 freeway. Referring to that atherosclerotic artery as a "freeway" is a cruel, ironic joke. If you have ever suffered through a daily commute on that impacted intestine of a road, you will read about the plight of Syrian refugees and think, "At least they didn't have to leave Santa Monica after 2PM." It's like being water-boarded with NPR.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the lonely days when I forgot my hands-free ear bud. Other days, after exhausting my iPhone contacts, I have been reduced to calling my parents.

I once got "clutch knee" from entering first gear a few thousand times between Hoover and The Staples Center. The 10 is single-handedly responsible for me giving up on manual transmissions. It castrated my driving masculinity.

It is the devil shaped in concrete.

When I read that the Expo Line was finally opening, I dropped to my knees and wept with joy. The worst words in the English language were no longer, "You have 4:30PM callback on Friday in Santa Monica."

Recently, it just so happened that my wife had a Friday evening appointment in Santa Monica. I thought this would be the perfect excuse for the Little Dictator, who loves trains as much as any three year old could, and me to embark on our maiden train voyage to Santa Monica to meet up with mom. When I laid out the day's plan to him over breakfast (some parenting book idea) his head nearly exploded with excitement.


We were starting from Cafecito Organico on the southern tip of Silver Lake, swinging by the Orange 20 bike shop (one of my faves) then onward to the Santa Monica/Vermont Red Line Station. The bike ride looked like this:

With the exception of the first block of Hoover between Bellevue and Clinton, this whole ride felt really calm and safe. Even this stretch of Hoover isn't that bad because the stop sign recently installed at that intersection calms traffic speeds for north traveling cars. If Hoover is too scary for you, take the (horrible) sidewalk only at pedestrian speeds.

Clinton is one of the best routes for traveling west out of Silver Lake. It's one of my "go to" safe streets. Heliotrope next to LACC has a wide, wonderful bike lane. The rest of the bike trip was residential topped off with riding one block on the sidewalk next to the station. Overall, a pretty low-stress ride.

We would normally take the elevators to whisk our bike down to the platform, but on this day, I was riding a new Brompton H6L with a Pere chair purchased at The Flying Pigeon. I will write more on this bike at a later date, but just know that multi-modal commuting is what this bike was engineered for. So, I carried the compact, folding bike down the escalator.

Down on the platform, the Little Dictator helped me figure out on which side of the platform we needed to board to head toward Union Station. Then he read the arrival monitor to see how many minutes till the train arrived. Some day he will need to navigate the world independently. I am one of those annoying parents that looks for teachable moments to reinforce that independence of spirit whenever I can.

You're supposed to identify the bike cars on the subway by looking for a picture of a bike next to the door. I seem to have bike car blindness, because I can never find the damn picture as the train races into the station or if I do see the picture, by the time the train stops, the bike car is 100 meters down the platform. The first car is always a bike car on the subway, so I always just head to the front of the red line platform and board there. Then I wheel my bike into the spacious corner without seats and either hold it while the train moves or, secure it to the railing with a bungie.

I prefer to take the kid off the bike, send him to an open seat before the train moves, secure the bike, then sit with him. Fair warning, it can be awkward to get the kid out of a bike seat prior to the train moving. If your kid is younger than three and a half, you may just want to keep them strapped in the bike and hold it and a railing for safety. Try riding with a bike for the first time sans child or during non-peak travel times when the trains are mostly empty.

On this day, luckily, the train traveling to Union Station pulled into the station almost immediately. Unluckily, this left me no time to fold the bike before we boarded the packed train. It was more packed than I have ever seen it previously. I was thankful the Little Dictator was almost four years old, because he could hold onto his own railing while I awkwardly tried to keep the bike from smacking into people while also holding on to my own railing simultaneously while still spotting the three year old in case there was a sudden jolt. The whole situation reminded me of one of my sister's hilarious observations:

"If evolution is real, then why don't new moms grow a third arm?"

She is not a creationist and I am not a mom, but I really could've used a third arm right then. Once again, usually subway travel in LA is much more relaxing than taking the car, this day was the rare exception. After traveling about fifteen not-so-fun-packed-like-a-sardine minutes on the subway, we disembarked at 7th Street/Metro Center to switch trains. I have switched trains here about a dozen times, and I still have trouble finding the right train platforms.

METRO, do better with the signage.

I have read that the Expo Line to Santa Monica will be running three car trains soon, but at the moment they are waiting on the delivery of additional passenger cars to make that happen. Currently, the Expo Line is carrying three trains worth of people on two trains. Following a five minute wait, there was a crush of people rushing for seats when the train arrived. I accessed my inner New Yorker, used the Brompton as a lead blocker to open space in the scrum, and managed to snag a seat for the Little Dictator then planted myself across the aisle from him.

In defense of Metro, it was Friday afternoon peak commute time. One should be happy our investment in rail is being used to capacity. On this day, as opposed to non-peak travel, the crowd made for a little less of an adventure and a little more grin and bear it. After people disembarked for about five stops this was still the view:

Los Angeles Expo Line

Bromptons were invented for trips like this. The fold allows you to sit and enjoy the ride instead of standing next to your bike at the end of the train car for fifty minutes.

Los Angeles Expo Line USC
My child riding the Expo Line

At least one person was still thrilled to be on a train. ^^^^^^^^

Our total travel time door to door from Cafecito Organico to the end of the Expo Line in Santa Monica was about one hour and twenty minutes. For comparison, Google listed the same trip as 44 minutes by car (add five to 10 minutes parking on top of that). Also, I should add that schools were on summer break. Rush hour drive times to Santa Monica are reliably fifteen minutes longer when schools are in session, so this trip is actually one hour by car nine months a year, not including parking and walking to your destination. By biking the whole way and skipping the train, Google estimated our travel time would've been one hour and fifteen minutes.

Our cost was only $1.75. Kids under five travel free with an adult. Transfers are also free. Overall, a very good deal. I would've preferred a far less costly to construct protected "bike highway" transversing the city rather than riding a light rail train, but short of that, I will appreciate not sitting on the 10. I did appreciate the fact that I didn't have a screaming three year old strapped into the back seat of my car as we crawled through traffic yelling, "I want to get out!!!!!!!" (Why are there no ejection buttons engineered into children's car seats? Perhaps, a Kickstarter idea?)

Had we been traveling east out of Santa Monica, the time it would've taken, as estimated by Google, was one hour and twenty minutes by car. In other words, our travel time going multi-modal with a combination of bike/train would've been identical to the time spent crawling along the 10 heading home. Both driving and riding the train would've been slower than just biking the whole way east. If you were riding an electric bike, like the one my wife rides, you wouldn't have even been required to sweat if you chose not to.

This is a good example of why designing our cities around car culture makes no sense to me. A driver is paying thousands of dollars a year for the "freedom" to travel slower than the speed of a bike, breathe the most polluted air of any major city in the U.S., increase asthma rates of kids living where they're driving, accelerate climate change, pay higher taxes for costlier infrastructure, and die younger from a sedentary lifestyle. If that's not bad enough, your child's brain isn't being nourished as they waste their days in the backseat. The low-density housing, car culture sprawl also ensures that, with few exceptions, only the wealthiest among us can afford to own housing near their jobs. So, you also get the added bonus of less time with your family and more time in your car. But, God forbid, we spend tens of thousands of dollars on a protected bike lane instead of 1.2 billion dollars adding a lane to the 405 only for it to be slower than before they built the extra lane...

But, I digress. We disembarked in Santa Monica. A cycling paradise. We road in lovely bike lanes on calm streets to Chipotle (What can I say? It's cheap and healthy-ish). Then the real fun began:

3rd Street Promenade Santa Monica, CA

The Little Dictator made a friend running around the dinosaur fountains. Then we strolled over to the Santa Monica Place Mall to play on the whale. I know a mall play structure does not sound very free-range parenty, but it is a GREAT play structue. He loves that thing and I loved watching him and the other kids create their own play, while climbing, chasing, and sliding with one another. It's demi-free range.

Santa Monica Place Mall


Finally, the whale had done its job:

Santa Monica Bike Path

We hopped on the bike and headed down the boardwalk to the bike path:

Santa Monica Pier

Following a downright beautiful bike ride overlooking the ocean on one of those perfect Santa Monica summer evenings, we watched the sunset over the pier.

We joined up with mom a little later. Then I folded up the "Brommie" in fifteen seconds, threw it into the hatchback of her car, and we carpooled home after traffic had died down. This awesome adventure was made possible by the new Expo Line and this:

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