Sunday, March 6, 2016

First Impressions of the Gold Line Foothill Extension

Old Town Monrovia is definitely worth a visit, even though the walk from the Monrovia Gold Line station is a bit long.

It's official.  I've ridden the Gold Line Foothill Extension!  Well, almost all of it.  I would have ridden it all if a truck hadn't crashed into part of it early this morning, one day after it opened, shutting the line down between Allen and Arcadia Stations.  Although the line opened yesterday, I rode it today, since I've learned that opening day on a new LA County rail line, with its free rides and pent up excitement, tends to be a crowded, unpleasant experience.  Today, there were plenty of seats, and I was happy to pay my fare and contribute financially to an agency that is rolling out rail lines at an impressive rate.

There is a lot that I don't know about the cities of Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa, through which this light rail extension runs, so I won't pretend to be able to give a comprehensive overview of the area.  I started at Arcadia, parked in a free parking structure and got on one of Metro's new light rail cars.  These cars were pretty nice, my favorite feature being a digital display that is set up to provide information about the ride to passengers.  I rode the line to the end and checked out Downtown Azusa, Monrovia and Arcadia on the way back.

Downtown Azusa is neat, but frankly a little weak as a downtown.  It has shops with good pedestrian orientation, some neat historic buildings and a park.  The two-story Target (Target over parking) is kind of noteworthy, since it's rare for big-box stores use land efficiently like that.  However, there seemed to be a lot of vacant lots and parking lots that sucked pedestrian vitality out of the area.  The vacant lot just north of the station had a banner proclaiming a new mixed-use development would be coming soon.  Hopefully with the Gold Line, this area could see some additional investment.  It seems to have a lot of potential.

Old Town Monrovia I had already been to a few times, but I wanted to see how bad the walk from the Monrovia Station to Old Town is.  Turns out the walk leaves a lot to be desired.  At 1.3 km (0.8 mile), uphill, it's doable, but hardly convenient.  Still, Old Town Monrovia is worth it.  It's an excellent example of a suburban downtown: dense, mixed use, pedestrian-friendly streets, vibrant, interesting, and thoroughly charming.  As if to make up for the disconnect between the station and what is probably the most interesting part of Monrovia, the City of Monrovia appears to have put a lot of effort into the Monrovia Station area, essentially making it into a park which includes children's play equipment, benches, picnic tables, a stage, restrooms, native plants and bioswales, and drinking fountains that serve people, water bottles and dogs!  Still, it's a far cry from the "transit village" it claims to be.  There is vacant land adjacent to the station that I have high hopes for though.

Arcadia's Downtown was also not the most vibrant I've seen.  Perhaps it's not fair to judge it on a Sunday, but it felt pretty cut up by parking lots near the station (although it does seem to be stronger along Huntington Drive).  A lot of infill potential here too methinks.

The overall impression I get from the line that it would be great if you lived in the San Gabriel Valley and were travelling towards Pasadena or Downtown Los Angeles.  It seems to be designed with this orientation in mind, since every station has parking, but only a few have anything approaching walkable urbanism.  I don't get the sense that there's a lot out near the new stations to attract people towards the San Gabriel Valley.  That's too bad, but it's something that I think can change over time.  I look forward to exploring the area more, but I think I understand why there's more excitement around the Expo Line Extension, which opens this May, and has a really strong terminus at Downtown Santa Monica.  Having solid destinations is important at every station on a transit line.  You may be able to drive to a train station, but when you get to your destination, there has to be something there, or it's not worth the ride.

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