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Light at the End of the Freeway

Who says LA is doomed to perpetual freeway crawl and sprawl?  Yesterday's article in the Natural Resources Defense Council's onearth opens a hopeful window onto the city's transportation future, with major new extensions of the Metro Rail network and 1,680 miles of bikeways slated for the coming decades.

On a visit to LA last month, I got an overwhelming sense (it's hard not to) of car travel's still-tenacious grip on the city, but I also enjoyed a foretaste of what rail transit can bring to the freeway metropolis.  Staying with friends in Studio City, on the far side of the Hollywood Hills from downtown LA, I was determined to give Metro Rail's Red Line a try.  After all, its Universal City stop was just a mile from their home, and its Metro Center station was only a block or two from my midday meetings at City Hall and the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP).  When I told my host, he laughed.  "No one takes the train downtown," he said.  I put my foot down when he suggested that I reserve two parking spaces -- one at City Hall and another at the LADWP, just four blocks away!

I ended up taking a bus downtown from my first meeting in Beverly Hills -- a slow, jarring ride to be sure -- but Metro Rail's Purple Line will someday make this a seamless journey.  And I was later rewarded by a sleek 20-minute glide back to Universal City on the Red Line.  As we passed quietly beneath the Hollywood Hills, I thought smugly of the snarling, multi-lane traffic overhead.

The Southern California Association of Governments last year approved a stunning $525 billion for transportation over the next 25 years, with nearly half to be spent on public transportation.  Those funds should go a long way toward loosening Angelinos' grip around the steering wheel.