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Need for speed not a priority for metro planners


Slow poke

East LA celebrated the opening of the of the Gold Line extension on November 15th with a celebration that included mariachis, free rides for all and an official visit from the mayor. While bringing this line into service is a commendable step in creating a more integrated transport network to the area, the line already lacked an instrumental component for success upon its inception: speed.

Out of all the facts in all the articles written about this new light rail service, one sticks out. According to Metro’s official blog, the average speed of the train is a mere 13.9 miles per hour. The Gold Line was already the slowest train this correspondent has ever ridden (bring some Dostoevsky if you want to get from Pasadena to Union Station, you will have plenty of time to read) and it seems no effort was made to cut travel times with the extension. The speed is on par with local buses which should be embarrassing when the stop and go conditions of bus rides are factored in.

Here is a small list of comparisons to demonstrate how slow the Gold Line is:

  • Sprinter Usain Bolt hits a top speed of 27.45 when in full stride (2x the Gold Line’s speed).
  • Lance Armstrong can ride his bike over 40 mph (3x the Gold Line's speed).
  • In competition with other trains and not people running or biking, the gulf is incredibly wide. The Berlin S-Bahn can hit 62 mph en route (more than 4x as fast as the Gold Line).

Due to this speed issue, the Gold Line extension will be regarded as pretty unspectacular, furthering public lukewarm feelings towards mass transit. A row was started when longtime Eastside politician Gloria Molina called the line substandard a few weeks back, citing safety issues. Representative Molina was quoted as saying, "We all struggled so hard to get this into our community now, at the end of the day, I feel like I'm being shortchanged on the issues of integrity, safety and confidence."

She does have a point that cost cutting took precedence over quality and the city tried to do this on the cheap by building the line as a light rail system instead of a subway. The short term saving will eventually lost in the millions of minutes riders lose annually in transit. Wasting people’s time wastes people’s productivity. The maxim of time is money should be taken into consideration. Less travel time = higher ridership. Trains need to equal or beat travel times set by cars in order to be an attractive proposition. In order to do so they need to be much faster.

All eyes should now be on the Westside Expo Line which is set to begin construction in 2010. Angelenos need to demand not just a train, but a fast train up to world standards. The speed issues needs to be addressed and resolved for mass transit to flourish in LA.

[photo by fredcamino]


  • Aaron 5 years ago

    It only takes 20 minutes to get from end to end. What's the big deal? It's faster than driving on surface streets most days. If the whole thing were a subway, we'd have it completed to Soto Street instead of Atlantic and it would cost twice as much.

    Transit is hardly ever faster than driving. That's not the point of transit.

  • Alex Kasperavicius 5 years ago

    If you go to the Expo line's web site you'll see that speed isn't really being considered either. It will be S L O W. Not only that, Santa Monica keeps making changes that will slow the line down even further.

    This is insanity. The thing has a right of way - go!. As a citizen I am getting not only annoyed at the slow pace of travel and he slow projected pace of the Expo line, I'm getting incensed at the amount of public money being spent on dubious art projects, ridiculously lavish stations, and community landscaping. WHY? San Francisco paints a square for a station - that's it! No art, no trees - but the trains are fast and get up and going quickly. Why don't we?

  • John Stach 5 years ago

    Transit is only slow in Los Angeles. Everywhere else in the world it's faster than driving - and easier 'cause you don't have to park. I think LA is just corrupt and it's beginning to show. Why is it taking so long?

  • Chris 5 years ago

    Actually, buses in that area are scheduled at about a 10 mph average speed. I should know as I used to be a Metro scheduler. Also, the Gold Line and the Orange Line are currently operating more slowly than they are capable of due in my mind to excessive concerns about safety. Why should an Orange Line bus slow down to 5 mph at every corner just in case someone driving a car decides to drive through a red light?