This spring, two light-rail lines in Los Angeles County were extended: the Expo Line, which ended in Culver City, now continues west to Santa Monica, and the Gold Line, which had terminated in Pasadena, comes east to Azusa.
The twin lines don’t connect directly, but for the first time in more than a half-century, it became possible to take trains from the inland to the ocean.
I hadn’t done so yet, just a couple of rides on the new Gold Line, but my chance came last week when a friend proposed meeting for dinner in Santa Monica on a weeknight.
I could have driven, but the trains would let me beat rush-hour traffic while giving both lines a workout as I rode them from stem to stern, from the suburbs to the sea.
With permission, I left work early to make my 6:30 p.m. dinner appointment, driving to Azusa and parking in the garage by the Azusa Pacific University station.
At the platform, rather than a day pass for $7, my usual approach, I realized there was an even cheaper option.
A single-ride fare includes free transfers within two hours. Could I really get to Santa Monica for $1.75? We would see.
The train was almost empty when it left Azusa at 4:10 p.m. but gradually filled as we passed through downtown Azusa, Irwindale, Duarte, Monrovia and Arcadia, the five other new stations, and the older ones from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles.
From my window seat, I saw a street market with food trucks at South Pasadena’s Mission Street stop, which looked enticing, and two well-done murals, one after the other, in Highland Park right by the tracks. Even when you’ve taken a route a few times, you notice things you never saw before, or things change.
At 5 p.m., we pulled into Union Station.
Any preconception that “everybody” drives in L.A. can be exploded by a walk through Union Station. I was on the escalator heading down when a mass of people who had exited the subway flooded into view below. My field of vision suddenly encompassed a hundred people, all tightly packed and moving toward the escalator.
My free transfer opened the subway turnstiles and I rode the Red Line three stops to Seventh Street, where the Expo Line picks up.
My transfer worked again and, at 5:24 p.m., I boarded the Expo Line, which begins underground but soon surfaces and runs at street level.
The train was standing room only, and when three people with bicycles boarded amid the scrum, the doors kept opening and closing, opening and closing until the cyclists could maneuver the back wheels inside.
By the time we got to USC, enough people exited that I could claim a seat and relax. The train runs at street level, mostly, but at times on an elevated track, and below grade in the new section near Cheviot Hills, through a leafy area known as the Westwood Greenway.
I understand why congested portions of L.A. need their trains underground and out of the way, but the Gold and Expo lines show off the reason people flock to Southern California: the sun. We have a great view; why not show it off?
After dipping below the 405 Freeway, the train pulls into Santa Monica, with stops at Bergamot Station, 17th Street and finally downtown, at Fourth and Colorado, where I arrived at 6:11 p.m., my 40-mile journey completed for a mere $1.75.
The street improvements aren’t quite finished, but for people leaving the train, the streets are partially blocked from traffic, strings of lights cross the street overhead and there’s now crisscrossing pedestrian paths, three welcoming touches.
And a blue and gold pattern in the pavement has a hypnotic effect, as if the ground were undulating like ocean waves. This might not be so delightful if you were weaving down the sidewalk on a bender, but for the rest of us, it’s dazzling.
There was no time to see the ocean or the Third Street Promenade, both in the opposite direction from the restaurant. I walked a half-mile there, strolling inside at 6:28 for the 6:30 reservation and beating my friend by a few minutes. (The meal, at Cassia, was excellent, by the way.)
It had taken two hours to get to Santa Monica from Azusa, probably not much different than if I had driven.
Driving home after dinner, though, might have taken 75 to 90 minutes. Instead, I left on foot at 8:30, boarded the train at 8:55, arrived at Seventh Street at 9:40, boarded the Gold Line at 10:15, got to Azusa at 11:05 and pulled into my driveway at 11:30 — three hours after leaving the restaurant.
That was tiring. On the bright side, my round trip cost $3.50, or 50 cents less than my friend paid to park. At about 70 cents per hour of travel, I got my money’s worth.
In a cute coincidence, the next day, the Claremont Courier printed a reader-submitted haiku by Laura Burt that read as follows: “Claremont to the beach/Union to Red to Expo/Heaven not to drive.”
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, leaving you shortchanged. Contact email@example.com or 909-483-9339, go to insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.