Column: Daily commute is awful — but there’s hope – Pasadena Star-News

The following column appeared in the Pasadena Star-News on May 14, 2014.

Column: Daily commute is awful — but there’s hope – Pasadena Star-News

By Joe Mathews

May 14, 2014

If you want to know why this column isn’t better, I’ve got an excuse for you: I have a killer Southern California commute.

Since I started driving from my South Pasadena home to my Santa Monica office by way of Arcadia (which isn’t on the way) and back, I’ve spent between three and four hours a day commuting.

Studies show that long commutes take a toll, and that’s borne out by my own health and habits: I’m more tired but still find it harder to fall asleep. I exercise less and spend less time with my kids. I’ve gained 10 pounds in a year when I needed to lose 20.

But in an odd way, my awful commute leaves me hopeful. Because every day, as I make my long, slow drive — first nine miles east to my kids’ preschool, then a U-turn and 34 miles west across most of Central L.A. to the offices of Zócalo Public Square, where I’m a columnist and editor — I get to see the daily progress of Los Angeles’ transportation transformation. Along my miserable drive, there are many signs that my commute will get better and healthier — very soon.

It’s important to stipulate that while many Californians hate our long commutes, such commutes are sometimes the by-product of love.

I love living in a strong community with great schools that is less than two miles from the Pasadena house where I grew up. I love my kids’ preschool in Arcadia, the closest Jewish school preschool to us. And I love my job, even though it is in a gridlocked section of Santa Monica. I feel very comfortable in all three places — it’s just shuttling between them that’s uncomfortable.

But all this travel does hold glimmers of promise.

I start by strapping my two older boys, 5 and 3, into their car seats in the back of the Prius (a godsend for gas savings), and head north to pick up the 210 Freeway East.

The boys love this leg of the trip, because they can see the Metro Gold Line trains running down the middle of the freeway to the edge of East Pasadena. There the construction begins. The Gold Line is being extended all the way to Azusa, one of five new rail projects underway in L.A.; every day, I watch workers lay more track down the middle of the freeway.

The 11.5-mile extension is supposed to be completed by September 2015.

Once I’ve dropped the boys off, I cut south through El Monte to pick up the 10 West. I pass the beautiful new El Monte Station, a point of convergence for a dizzying array of bus systems, trolleys and shuttles. There are new express buses that could get me to downtown L.A. in just a few minutes if that were my destination. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The 10 is usually jammed. But that’s not a problem for me. I have a transponder that allows me to use the Metro ExpressLanes, the controversial “Lexus lanes” that charge drivers anywhere from 25 cents to $1.40 a mile, depending on the time of day.

Most days, I pay and save more than 20 minutes.

I ride the lanes all the way to their conclusion downtown at Alameda. From there, I get back on the 10 and battle the merciless traffic to Santa Monica.

When I get off the 10 in Santa Monica, I have to cross through the construction of the Expo Line, which is being extended from Culver City to a spot on Colorado Avenue, six blocks from my office.

It’s around 10 a.m. when I arrive at the office; I leave the house a few minutes after 8. In the late afternoon, I repeat the journey, in reverse.

It’s brutal, but I can see a better commute ahead of me. By early 2016, I may be able to walk to a Gold Line train — near my house or after preschool drop-off — and ride to work. If the trains are reliable and on time, I’ll save gas and have more hours to devote to serving you, reader.

Look for me — I’ll be the guy writing this column on the train.

Joe Mathews wrote this column for Zocalo Public Square.

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