Well, as the media said time and time again, rail finally returned to Santa Monica Friday, May 20th, at 12 PM PST for the first time since 1953, when the red streetcars were discontinued. This time, it's a sleek new light rail line called the Expo line (its name coming from the boulevard it parallels, exposition boulevard to be exact) that has just opened a 6.6 mile extension from Culver City (where the original terminus was) all the way to Downtown Santa Monica, just four short walkable blocks to the Santa Monica Pier and the pacific ocean. While LA Metro has opened several rail and bus lines previously (The Noho to Pasadena Express and the Azusa Gold Line extension most recently), This Expo Line extension to Santa Monica is widely recognized as a 'game changer' in LA public transit. People who normally commute by car and look down at public transportation were getting just as excited about the new line as longtime transit riders. I of course, had to experience this new way of traveling to Santa Monica without a car for myself.
What did I think of the extension in general? It's a huge step forward in getting non-metro riders interested in trying out rail service. Thousands of people already frequent downtown Santa Monica and the adjacent Pier, along with the other thousands that either commute or live in the area, and the Expo Line is a great alternative to sitting in traffic. Granted, the line isn't the fastest with the two end portions in Downtown LA and Downtown Santa Monica running in the middle of the street, causing slowdowns at stoplights, but it serves its main purpose of giving commuters another way to reach an already bustling community. Aside from the line's new terminus, there are some other station areas that our worth exploring: The Westwood/Rancho Park station comes to mind. It's barely a half-mile from Pico Blvd, where the Westfield Mall and a nice arrangement of shops/eateries are located. I personally liked a new pub I found called "Gulp," which has a great selection of beers and burgers. For future explorations, I'll be using this line mostly to rollerblade at the Venice Beach to Will Rogers State Beach bike path without having to pay $10 for parking, but I'll also be trying out new areas by other stations such as Westwood/Rancho Park, and Expo/Bundy. This line extension was a long time coming, and it's only the beginning, with the Crenshaw Line being the next new rail line set to open in 2019. This line (with the help of and elevated airport terminal tram), will finally connect Metro rail to one of the nations busiest airports. Combine that with the building of the purple line extension to Westwood and UCLA, and the long-awaited Sepulveda Pass/405 freeway rail project, and Los Angeles stands a good chance of transforming its "car-culture" stigma.