City of Angels

So apparently movies aren’t actually made in Hollywood. I know. It's fine, we are going to get through this earth shattering news together I promise.

I actually had a healthy support network to deal with the shock, because I was welcomed to Los Angeles Union Station by some of the lovely members of RailPAC (who were huge in helping to organize my tour of LA), WTS Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority (aka Metro). Every Amtrak passenger should be so lucky!

The movies, it turns out, are actually made up in Burbank. I know this because, just as soon as I finished with the welcome party at Union Station, I turned right around and hopped on the Metrolink to Burbank. There, I met up with Councilman Bob Frutos, representatives from Burbank planning, and Walk Bike Burbank. We took a look around the super 1950’s, almost Disney-esque station and its brand new bike storage facilities, before heading out on a bike tour of downtown. The station thematically worked well because the very next place we headed was Disney studios, which actually looks a little more like Fort Knox than where Mickey Mouse should live. To tour Burbank without touring the studios (of which we eventually saw several), it was explained to me, would be impossible because the industry is so tightly woven into the history of the city. 

After taking a look around the studios and unfortunately running into neither Ellen nor Stevie Wonder (we stopped outside his recording studio!!), we rode over to visit the insanely cool offices of Pure Cycles. If you’ve seen the movie “The Intern,” these offices are like the cool bike dude version of that, all ping pong tables and co-work spaces; I was totally jealous. And yet these offices might actually be the least cool thing about Pure Cycles, given how cool their story is. Started by a bunch of high school friends, they manufacture great bikes at affordable prices and the founders are only in their mid-twenties. I swear, meeting all these really amazing young people is giving me some kind of complex. For me, though, the most exciting thing was the fact that they are active in the Burbank bicycle advocacy community.

Pure Cycles offices are also conveniently located next to Burbank's best bicycle infrastructure, the Chandler Bike Path. Running just over 2 miles along converted railroad track, it serves as a major tool for commuters and recreation seekers alike. Unfortunately as wonderful as the bike path was, the rest of Burbank's bike infrastructure necessitated us frequently getting off our bikes and walking them. This experience is, of course, not unique to Burbank -- but it was markedly more noticeable than in many of the other communities I have visited. 

I made it back to Los Angeles by way of the LA Metro, though I was sad to leave Burbank behind. The timing of my LA visit couldn’t have been more perfect because my Metro-led bike tour happened to coincide with the installation day of their newly minted bike share program.

The tour kicked off inside L.A. Union Station, providing a glimpse into the way passenger rail and in-city systems interact. The station is interesting because, for a train station, it was built very late, completed in 1939. It blends together Mission and Art Deco architectural styles, and is undergoing a gradual restoration process allowing once again for the use of all of its spaces.

From there we headed to the arts district which, much like many other trendy up and coming neighborhoods, has a lot of converted warehouse loft spaces. Unlike its parallel neighborhoods in some of the other cities I’ve gone to though, it houses a thorough mix of art galleries, trendy bike shops and heavyweight businesses like Tesla. It was also really cool because we got to see the active installation of two different bike share stations here. I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch a project with such a long timeline (5 years in the making) finally happen, but I can only say I felt pretty privileged to be standing there with the people who made it happen. 

From the arts district we rode through Little Tokyo, over to the Bradbury Building (its where they filmed Blade Runner), and finally to lunch at the Grand Central Market. It was so much to see and absorb in a very limited amount of time but I think that’s what was so wonderful about this city; the tour really made clear how much access you have to downtown LA when you arrive in Union Station. To have a bike with you and never have to deal with automobile traffic only broadens that access.

After the tour of downtown LA I hopped on the Gold Line with another really helpful Metro employee to make one last stop, the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop. Now there are three very important people here: the owner Joseph, his amazing daughter, and (the real star) their dog Rosie. I would highly recommend going there for anything bike related, but their tour of the LA river confluence was really not to be missed. Standing at the base of that giant concrete snake, Joseph pointed out a hundred years of infrastructure history that could be peeled back from our vantage point. It was incredibly cool and opened my eyes to an entirely different way to look at transit, and our urban histories in general. I told him he should write a book, but -- with a business to run and a family -- the guy keeps pretty busy.

Because Joseph is so busy our tour was short, but sweet. Before I knew it, I was hustling back onto the Gold Line to get back downtown. Finished with my official schedule for the day, with 3 hours to spare, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I hopped on board the new Expo Line and headed for the Santa Monica Pier, just a 40 minute ride from downtown. The train ride was largely above ground, making it not only a painless ride but really beautiful one as well. It was also a uniquely fun train trip because you’re mainly competing for space with boogie boards... which, um, doesn't really happen in DC :)

After Stevie got the chance to dip a tire in the Pacific, I headed back to Union Station to catch my train out of town. So there it is: a crazy whirlwind of no movie star sightings, two very different cities, and zero time spent in traffic. It was absolutely not how I pictured my first visit to LA -- and to me it was thoroughly perfect.