Meanwhile, a Metro day pass costs $5, and a month pass is $62.00. If you commute in LA, chances are pretty good that your employer will buy your pass for you.
Astonishingly, those days were a measured improvement over what my parents experienced. The smog used to be thick enough to obscure the sun completely, turning the daylight into a diffuse glow. Sometimes, it blocked enough of the daylight to create a sort of murky twilight. Here is the first known photo of LA's smog, from 1943 :
Beijing is like that, except the mantle of smog is much, much wider than the one that covered Los Angeles in its worst years. For the Olympics, China has been working to improve the situation, but the progress so far is not very impressive. Days with good air quality, called "Blue Sky" days, would be emergency smog alerts in Los Angeles. The Beijing Air Blog has some interesting data on China's ongoing battle with air pollution, though there haven't been many posts in a while. Here is Tienanmen Square on April 27, 2008, which was officially a Blue Sky Day :
The smog extends pretty far from the city. This is the shot from a train window about a hundred miles north of Beijing. The factory (refinery? LNG plan? cement factory?) is only about a mile or two away, and it's almost completely invisible.
I'm not going to delve into why this is a bad thing. Global warming, cardiopulmonary disease, lead, mercury, yadda yadda. You already know the arguments, or you can make your own. Here's a reason that doesn't require any sort of scientific background to understand. The day after I took the photographs above, a heavy thunderstorm scrubbed the smog out of the sky. This is what China is supposed to look like :
China is a damn beautiful country, when you can see it.
I waited for a 720 bus to pull into the station, and then took off. It was pretty much a dead heat until the Starbucks at San Vincente, and I got a couple of lucky breaks from the walk signals. I beat the bus to Western by about four minutes, completing the trip in 43 minutes without breaking a sweat. Oh, and it's mostly an uphill ride with lots of pedestrians to which one must yield.
To that end, I've started using the Metro as much as possible. The Metro Gold Line is fantastic, and gets me from Lake Street in Pasadena to Union Station downtown in about 20 minutes (less if I catch an express). The Purple Line gets me as far as Koreatown, and this is where things start to suck. From Wilshire and Western, it's about seven miles to UCLA. During business hours, the 720 bus takes about an hour and 45 minutes to traverse this miserable stretch of urban leprosy. The worst part is Beverley Hills, which I would gleefully bulldoze if given the chance.
It's maddening. The first 22 miles of the trip take about 30-45 minutes, depending on intervals between trains. The last six and a half take three times that.
While I was riding a 720 bus packed with more people than I attended high school with, it occurred to me that 6.5 miles in 105 minutes is a little slower than four miles per hour. I could probably beat that walking on my hands.
So, I bought some new tires for my bicycle, and gave it a try. Sure enough, I passed five or six 720 busses as they sat like flatulent beached whales in the morning rush hour traffic. With all the traffic lights, it's a slow ride, but it takes about 50-60 minutes, so I'm averaging between 6.5-7.8 miles per hour. In West Los Angeles, velocities this high are known to cause Cerenkov radiation. I could go a lot faster if drivers would actually look at the road instead of staring blankly into space while driving their Range Rovers in the bike lane, parking in the crosswalk or on driving on the sidewalk to get around busses (yes, really). It would be certain death for a cyclist if all of this mayhem weren't happening at the speed one can push a loaded dumpster up a hill.
There is just one problem, though. When you're not riding it, a bicycle is miserable thing to carry. You may as well be traveling with an Alexander Calder sculpture.
So, I bought a folding bicycle :
This is a Brompton M6R. It folds up really, really tiny, and has little wheels on the bottom to roll it like a suitcase when it's folded up.
Surprisingly, the small wheels don't seem to make much of a difference with stability. The only difference, really, is that it takes a lot less torque to turn the front wheel, even at speed. This makes it feel "twitchy" at first, but the sensation goes away after about twenty seconds of riding. The Bromptons also have really strong breaks. You have to be careful not to pitch yourself over the handlebars.
Compared to my road bike, the Brompton is almost alarmingly responsive. This makes it ideal for crowded situations -- it's easy to avoid unexpected obstacles, squeeze through narrow spaces, and stop suddenly. When it's folded up, it's nice to be able to walk down the train platform without goring people with the pedals or stabbing them with the quick release levers.
The Brompton has two main disadvantages. First, it's a little on the heavy side. I didn't shell out for the titanium version, so it weighs in at 23 pounds. This turns out not to matter very much, except when lugging it up long flights of stairs. The second disadvantage is that I must answer a never-ending stream of questions about it.
I will write a more detailed review of the bicycle itself in a few weeks.
I miss the train. It was quiet (except, inexplicably, for the tunnel leaving 7th Street), fast, and comfortable. I was always able to find a seat, even during peak hours. The stations are nice. I got a lot of reading done, and the scenery is interesting. If anything, my opinion of Angelenos has improved considerably from the random sample I encountered.
Now that I've been released from the jury, my trips to UCLA in West Los Angeles are by car. The train doesn't go here, and the buses from Downtown are slow, infrequent and astonishingly crowded. My most recent ride on the 720 bus featured a fifteen minute interval smashed face-to-face into the enormous pot belly of a 400-pound black man, who didn't seem to enjoy the experience any more than I did. No amount of shuffling and begging ones pardon were sufficient to disengage skin contact. The only solution was to stare out of opposite windows and wait for the rumbling glacier of sweat, flesh and steel to reach its destination. Riding the bus sucks.
West LA needs to get with the program, or it's going to become a slum. All the interesting new development in Los Angeles is happening Downtown, and the new zoning changes are only going to accelerate that. Running the Red Line down the Wilshire corridor to Ocean Boulevard is only a start. The proposal to turn Pico and Olympic into paired one-way streets is utterly idiotic, but understandable given that people in West LA would probably chew off their leg before allowing a even a single precious lane to be sacrificed for a light rail project.