Opinion column by Joe Mathews:
Our eyes met on a Saturday evening in Los Angeles. I wanted to go home. He wanted to take me there.
Could we find our way to each other?
We were only 30 yards apart. But we were separated by Crenshaw Boulevard — and by the madness of Southern California transit.
The object of my gaze was a Metro train driver on the Expo Line, or E Line, which runs from Santa Monica to LA. The driver’s dark features and beard gave him an air of mystery. His eastbound train was approaching the station on the west side of Crenshaw, a major LA thoroughfare.
I stood on the east side of Crenshaw, across four lanes of cars from the station, with my 9-year-old son. We had just ridden the new Crenshaw Line — or K Line — which opened earlier this fall, and which originates at that intersection of Crenshaw and the Expo Line. The new line will eventually go to LAX.
We took the escalator up from the underground K train, expecting to make what Metro calls an “easy transfer” to the Expo Line, since its tracks are just steps from the K Line exit.
Instead, we were confronted with a head-scratching reminder that LA likes to make things hard.
When LA Metro created the Expo Line in 2012, it did not build a single station stop at Crenshaw and Expo. It created two. The first, for trains heading west towards Santa Monica, was on the east side of Crenshaw, where my son and I were standing. The other stop, for eastbound trains, was across the street.
This isn’t unusual. Other stops on the Expo Line — at Vermont Avenue, at Western Avenue — have a similar set-up, with space-saving platforms on opposite sides of a thoroughfare.
But the Expo stop at Crenshaw should have been designed differently, because LA Metro had long been planning to connect Expo Line with a future Crenshaw line right there.
Metro had options for creating links. It could have built a pedestrian walkway over Crenshaw. It could have built entrances to the Crenshaw/K Line on both sides of Crenshaw, so that passengers could transfer without crossing the street. I, for one, would have liked to see a grand train station built over the entire intersection, putting the two intersecting lines under one roof.
Metro did none of that. Connections would have been costly and time-consuming to approve and construct. But the failure to connect has consequences: LA Metro is forcing passengers to brave Crenshaw, and its traffic, to transfer between the K and eastbound Expo Lines.
Across this unnecessary divide, the Expo Line driver and I encountered each other.
The crosswalk signal was red, as the driver’s approached the east-bound station. If the light didn’t change, my son and I would miss it.
Then my eyes met the driver’s. A minute went by, the crosswalk light remaining red. The driver, holding my gaze, generously kept the train in the station, doors open. But after another minute went by, he gave me an apologetic look, and moved the train a few feet forward, up to Crenshaw.
We knew then that we would miss the train — but the moment wasn’t over. Now the driver was stuck, unable to cross Crenshaw himself.