With apologies to Abdul Salaam El Razzac, who said a version of my title in the movie “Pretty Woman”, I thought this article was a pretty interesting and, at times, depressing and scary look at transit in Los Angeles. Check out these passages; the premise is that the guy will get around in LA for a week using only transit and see how it goes. This is obviously potent material for the argument about how transit succeeds or fails, in large measure, based on how land gets used.
My grand scheme hit its first speed bump after the first hour. I’d taken the bus from West Hollywood, where I was staying, to a bus stop near the Getty Villa, but as I approached the steep driveway leading up to the museum, two stern-looking security guards stopped me. Walking up the driveway would have taken no more than five minutes, but the guards said I had to wait while they radioed for a shuttle. The result was that in this wealthy, beachfront community of movie stars, I arrived unceremoniously at the Getty in the back seat of a four-door pickup truck.
On a couple of my days, I spent more than four hours sitting on buses and trains, feeling I was doing a lot more newspaper reading than sightseeing.
I did meet one Angeleno who prefers public transit to a car—a movie producer who lives in West Hollywood next door to my friend’s house, where I was staying, and he agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a preconceived idea that if you take the bus, you’re a failure,” he said. He ticked off things he likes about the bus. “I can read, I can get up to date on my iPhone, I can watch videos on my iPod. There’s a lot that can be done with someone else driving.” He warned me repeatedly not to reveal his name. “In the entertainment business, if they knew I took the bus they’d never talk to me,” he said, explaining that he hires a car and driver when going to a studio.
One of L.A.’s best-known public-transportation enthusiasts is Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate, who now teaches public policy three months a year at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When I tell people in L.A. that I take the bus to the airport, they have no idea what I’m talking about,” Mr. Dukakis said in a telephone interview. “Freeways were a choice we made nationally,” he added. “But people are starting to ask, ‘What are we doing?’It’s clear public opinion is changing, but once you have these urban development patterns based on highways, it’s pretty tough.”
Michael Brein, a Honolulu psychologist and writer, has written 14 guides on how to tour U.S. and European cities by public transit; his latest is about Los Angeles, where he visited more than 200 attractions (the guide is available by download at michaelbrein.com). “I did the whole shebang by public transit,” he brags. His advice: “Visit L.A. a section at a time,” spending the whole day in one area before moving to the next.
My five-day L.A. adventure ended up costing less than $30 in public-transportation fares. My final stop was in Pasadena to see the Huntington Library and Gardens, a vast estate with a European painting collection housed in an old mansion and acres of botanical gardens. By this point, I expected to be used to taking public transit. But I hadn’t dreamed of an itinerary like this: a bus to Hollywood to catch the subway, the subway to Union Station, the Yellow Line light rail line to Pasadena, a local Pasadena bus and then a mile-long walk to the Huntington. When I was ready to leave, the sun was baking hot, and the driver of a lone taxicab at the entrance offered to take me to the Gold Line station for the outrageous sum of $10. I hopped in without a second thought.