I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles in November 2015 for the theatrical premiere of APEX: The Story of the Hypercar. Between glad-handing well-wishers and brainstorming the evolution of the brand at the Soho House, I had the opportunity to visit the (then under construction) Expo Line. Though I had long benefited from the convenience of mass transit in New York City and now Dubai, the existence of a public transportation network connecting Los Angeles to Santa Monica stands out as a milestone of mankind's progress in creating rational means of transporting human beings from Point A to Point B.
Los Angeles is a particular curiosity given its population and urban design. This City of Angels is called home by nearly four million people, including some of the most influential celebrities, politicians and lawmakers on Earth. Yet city and county planners eschewed the dense, high-rise based design of such cultural epicenters as London and New York in favor of extreme urban sprawl. In my limited experience, this leads to the feeling of siloed suburbia: a collection of loose communities, each with its own identity and cultural center, without cohesion or a common identity.
Here, more so than anywhere else I have visited, traffic and congestion defines the pace of life. Commuting to work, buying groceries, visiting the beach and other ordinary activities are controlled by prevailing traffic patterns. Even within a given traffic context, Los Angeles has a particular means of allocating traffic lanes. Whereas the Western World generally deems traffic in the innermost lanes to be the most expedient, Los Angeles prefers to randomize the model to keep the driver on his or her toes.
This is why public transportation so important to Los Angeles' future. Much has been made in the press about the Hyperloop and its potential to connect the communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles in similar (not to mention speedier) fashion than the connections enjoyed by the Northeastern communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. Yet it is the local public transportation efforts - Expo Line included - which will have the greatest influence on Los Angeles' evolution.
Case in point: Congestion. Construction of the Hyperloop would speed ground access to commuters between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yet it would do little to address the mind-numbing traffic patterns within Los Angeles proper. If anything, increasing the bandwidth between hubs will attract even more regional commuters. 24x7 surge pricing anyone?
Improved public transportation infrastructure has the potential to bring Los Angeles closer to its heavenly ideal. Not only would traffic congestion abate, but the proximate nature of public commuters would encourage communal integration. As visitors to other major cities of the world can attest - New York, London, Paris and Rome among them - the ability to engage with all walks of life within the transit lines is an experience (sometimes harrowing, sometimes enlightening, never boring) all its own.
I therefore applaud Los Angeles County Metro for bringing us the Expo Line and encourage others to place the achievements of public transportation on the same pedestal as those of private innovators. The zeitgeist of tech suggests a more autonomous, environmentally-conscious future. Yet it will be improvements in public transportation that will align the transportation industry with broader cultural trends toward more connected, intelligent and efficient societies.
Nick B. is a guest contributor to APEX. He is a journeyman adventure junky with a passion for technology, ethics and culture. He currently resides in New York City with his wife, two kids and two dogs.