Today is day six of the wet. Rivers are flowing through streets, hills are melting, and the parking lot for the Rite Aid near my house is ankle-deep. On a usual rainy winter day in Los Angeles, I don my trusty raincoat and head out on the bicycle. There’s something about this storm, though. The rain seems wetter. The water droplets seem thicker. Socks and pants and coats are taking longer to dry, and the rain lasts all day long, into the night, and returns the next day. When it gets like this, I take the bus. I’m thankful for the heated transport, the riders who show stoic kindness to one another, and the drivers who are careful not to splash puddles onto waiting passengers.
Whenever I take the bus, I’m also reminded of the sorry state of public transit in our city. There are creature comforts that are missing (shelters at most bus stops and things like that), but I’m talking about something more basic: access to public transportation — the frequency of buses and the number of bus lines that run after 8pm. The Metro line that gets me most easily to work runs through my neighborhood about once every 1-3 hours on weekdays. That’s not a typo. Some days (and not just Sunday), I would have to wait three hours to catch a bus home. It gets considerably worse if I leave work after 7pm, 8pm, or 9pm, and if I teach a class that ends at 10pm, I’m taking myself home with my feet. This (not any notion of sportiness or illusion of being cool) is why I ride a bicycle most of the time.
This is the car-centric city of Los Angeles, I know, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because Angelinos have some innate drive to drive or an unnatural lust for cars. I think it’s caused by decades of bad public transit. Until we have regular and reliable transit options throughout the day, public transit will continue to be something used as a last resort — something that separates those who can afford cars from those who cannot. We will continue to need unions for bus riders (which is so weird, when you think about it), and we will continue to have to fight for public transportation not because of all the reasons it’s great (there are many) but because access to reliable transportation is a basic need.