A Tale of Two Transit Stations

subtitled: Terrorists Should Take Note to Board Metro at Suburban Stations

Until recently, Los Angeles’s Metro rail system was relatively welcoming and open. Riders purchased tickets and boarded trains without passing through any gates/turnstiles. My understanding is that it was designed this way in the late 80’s to be friendly to handicapped users.  It was also conducive for general system convenience, bicyclists, parents with strollers, large crowds moving through stations more quickly, etc.

In an effort to block terrorists, cut security personnel costs, and curb fare evasion, Metro spent $60million last year installing new turnstiles. I think that this project was wrongheaded and counter-productive. I am not alone; opposition to the gates was one of the few issues that united pro-rail and pro-bus transportation advocates, who generally don’t get along. The gates began appearing last summer, and, as far as I can tell, since about the beginning of 2010, they’re now installed at all Metro Rail stations.

One major frustration I have with these gates is that they end up being very anti-bike. At many stations that I use (for examples: Metro Red Line’s Civic Center and Wilshire/Vermont Stations) the project’s designers (in what may be a cost-cutting move?) have assumed that bicyclists will only use one station portal. Many stations have just one portal, but probably around half have at least two portals – generally one toward the front of the train, one toward the rear. So… to get through the non-chosen portal, one either has to lift up one’s bike over a narrow turnstile – or to go through a gate that warns something like “alarm will sound.” Advice to my fellow cyclists: use the supposedly-alarmed gate – no alarm goes off. In fact, the gate at Wilshire Vermont is generally propped open because so many terrorists er, bicyclists go through it. (To open the gate from the outside, just reach between the bars and push the red latch bar thingie towards yourself.) 

All that is background for one more insulting juxtaposition I came across a couple weeks ago.

Below is a photo of the new turnstiles at the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. This is where I board most frequently in the eco-village neighborhood.

Metro Red Line Elevator Entrance at Wilshire/Vermont Station

You can see that it resembles a cage – a sort of cattle pen or low-rise jail yard. Not inviting. It also channels foot traffic; folks getting off the nation’s busiest bus lines on Wilshire and Vermont, if they’re on wheelchair or have a bike or stroller, have to go about 10′ out of our way to board here. If one’s not familar with the cattle pen, she/he might end up approaching it from the wrong side and have to walk three times that extra to get around to the actual entrance. And note: this is the favored bike entrance – the other has narrow turnstiles that one would need to lift one’s bike over.

In April, I visited a school in Lawndale. I made the multi-modal trip via bus, rail, and bike. I disembarked from the Metro Green Line at its furthest terminus – the Marine Avenue Station in Redondo Beach. Perhaps not quite suburban, but certainly among the most suburban locations (likely among the whitest and most upper class, too) served by Metro Rail. Here’s what the turnstile looks like there:

Turnstiles at the Metro Green Line Marine Station elevator entrance

There’s no fence. Perhaps it was omitted as a concession to the terrorist lobby? Perhaps I am completely wrong and it’s still being installed? It doesn’t look like a prison or a cattle pen. If a rider already has a pass, then there’s no need to walk out of the way. It’s easy to approach from and depart in any direction unimpeded.  It’s a piece of cake to get one’s bike through the vast open spaces – no need to lift it over any gates.

These are separate and unequal treatments, installed by an agency with a history of civil rights violations (see the Bus Riders Union’s civil rights lawsuit, where in 1996 Metro agreed to remedy racial biases in the way it provides transportation.) I certainly wouldn’t advocate for making suburban stations resemble a prison just because the ones in my neighborhood do. It’s nonetheless frustrating to see that Metro has installed these ill-advised turnstiles in ways that further discourages transit system usage in the place where it’s most needed and used. 

8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Transit Stations

  1. that’s new. visitors have always marvelled at the LA train stations. no turnstiles. they always said”Indeed USA is a wealthy country that trusts its people to do the right thing.” I guess they won’t be saying that anymore.

  2. I ride via Wilshire/Vermont, and your notes are spot on.

    The other main hub for my commute, North Hollywood, is bad news too! I’m lucky I have a light bike I can lift over turnstiles because when its peak hours, its impossible to either a) go against the rush through the gates or b) go against the rush and through the cattle pen down the elevator.

    In fact, the turnstiles have almost led to this stampede-like feeling for all riders, even those on foot.

  3. The cages around elevators (NoHo redline) make no sense at all, it’s nearly impossible for bikes and strollers to get into the elevator.

    How does a cage around an elevator stop a terrorist?

  4. The turn styles would make sense IF you had to insert your ticket into them in order to make them rotate open so you could board the train, but you don’t, they just sit there in the way.

  5. I agree with all of the points above – as a commuter who takes his bike on the train often I find the lack of bike access very obnoxious, and I did like the open feel of the stations pre-turnstile.

    However, the one thing I do like about turnstiles is that it does prevent casual fare evasion. I always feel bad for the grandpas or poor people who are getting fined for not having tickets, who are not the type of folks to jump turnstiles. What I mean to say is that the lack of turnstiles and infrequent fare inspection means that people who otherwise wouldn’t break the law (or are just confused or tourists) are tempted to, which can lead to bad financial or criminal consequences once fare inspection does happen.

    Of course, this isn’t a valid point until they actually activate the turnstiles, as Gina pointed out above. I believe the plan is to have the turnstiles open based on having a ticket once they figure out the TAP mess. But right now its just a bunch of obstructions in front of getting to your train.

  6. @Bobby – I can’t believe you’re siding with Metro on this… y’know – yer either fer us or aginst us! I think that the many negatives of the obstructions far outweigh the rare fare evasion issues that you mention. I suspect that fencing off our stations will result in significantly less fare evasion.

    @Space – Yes – it’s a very irritating point when I and my bike are delayed as we need to go counter to the direction of flows that are funneled into the cattle pen… er I mean turnstile.

    @Gina – it’s clear that you’re a terrorist! (kidding of course)

  7. Pingback: Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines

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