|The Metro Red Line on Opening Day, January 30, 1993 (Note the "RTD" banner hanging on top and how shiny the trains were).|
January 2013: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, pagers and Los Angeles' NFL teams are no longer with us. People can print their own postage stamps on their computers. We have an African American sitting in the Oval Office now, starting his second term (Bill Clinton refuses to be irrelevant, though). And the Little Subway That Could now stretches 17 miles to Koreatown, Hollywood and North Hollywood, connects with four other rapid transit lines, runs 24 hours on New Year's Eve, stays open to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and last month logged in a record high 158,830 daily average ridership.
Yes, our Metro Red Line subway turns 20 years old today (Which means anyone who does the "L.A. has a subway?" thing now truly deserves an ass-kicking).
Unfortunately, unlike The Militant's 20-year-old vintage video of the Blue Line's opening he posted in 2010, the video he shot for the Red Line's Opening Day wasn't nearly as ceremonious. Just a bunch of people waiting in line and a few trains passing by. There was a VIP ribbon-cutting event the previous day, and a smaller ceremony that day, with free rides the rest of the weekend.
For those of you who were still in diapers back in '93 (or worse, still in the East Coast/Midwest, etc), The Militant will give you a glimpse of how things were back then. The Red Line only had five stations -- Union Station, Civic Center, Pershing Square, 7th Street/Metro Center and Westlake/Mac Arthur Park. That was it. 4.4 miles. The ride lasted all but seven minutes. It was only used by the folks Downtown, and that really meant the people that worked Downtown. No one really lived there yet. There were no bars and restaurants and ArtWalks. Could you imagine that?
|TAP what? This is an old-school Red Line ticket from '93!|
To make up for the 7-minute subterranean adventure, the RTD (Southern California Rapid Transit District, to you youngins/newbies, as Metro was known at the time) set the fare to all but 25 cents. You can connect to the Metro Blue Line, which was just a couple years old, and Metrolink, which was just a couple months old, and had only three lines going to Moorpark, Santa Clarita and Pomona, respectively.
The trippiest thing about the Red Line back then was its schedule: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ya rly. 7 p.m. Like The Militant said, there wasn't really a DTLA back then.
|The first Metro Red Line schedule, January 1993.|
Compared to today's timetable, it really wasn't much! Hopping on board a train (they were clean and shiny back then) at Union Station, you emerged at Mac Arthur Park 7 minutes later to a dredged-up lake across the street. Crews were busy at work building the second segment which would open up in 1996, adding the Wilshire/Vermont, Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Western stations to the line (there was no Purple Line then, and incidentally the Wilshire corridor segment -- which was to be re-reouted along Olympic en route to the Westside thanks to certain politicians, was originally going to be named the "Metro Orange Line"). The 25-cent one-way fare remained in effect until the second segment opened.
How did people react? The Los Angeles Times wrote articles about how riding in a subway was a strange new paradigm. Many people were leery of being in the tunnels during an earthquake (despite undamaged subways in other earthquake-prone cities like San Francisco, Mexico City and Tokyo) and others thought the whole thing was a $1.4 billion boondoggle and would never go anywhere.
But like the great El DeBarge once said, Time will reveal. A year later, the Northridge Earthquake caused only miniscule cosmetic damage and no structural harm. Within a few months, thousands of Downtown workers suddenly discovered that they were just 25 cents and a couple minutes away from the best pastrami in town, and injected new life into a once-floundering Westlake delicatessen, right across the street from the subway's western terminus. In 1994, The Red Line got its silver screen debut playing a supporting role to Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in the transit porno flick Speed. After the Wilshire segment opened in '96, The Red Line got its real Hollywood premiere in the summer of 1999 with five new stations along Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. And a year after that, the subway as designed was finally completed, speeding underneath the Santa Monica Mountains and reaching North Hollywood. People voted for more rail and more subways. Some politicians boasted having a Subway To The Sea as other electeds undid the Wilshire tunneling ban. Park N Ride lots in the Valley became full. The only haters were Libertarians and those yellow-shirted folks who blindly spout their "rail is racist" tirades. But subways are here to stay, yo.
Come 2023, our subway will be 30 years old - and will (hopefully) reach the Westside. Our first subway, the 1-mile trolley bypass tunnel built for the Pacific Electric, itself lasted 30 years. But this time it's for keeps.
If you can, wish our subway a "Happy Birtthday" by riding the Red Line today. It opened up people to new communities and new ways of travel. It even helped open up whole communities itself. It opened up even more possibilities in the city of many possibilities.
Go Metro, it's yo birthday...Happy 20th, Metro Red Line!