Getting Around

Los Angeles can be a bewilderingly difficult place to get around. For one thing, it is immense, stretching from the Pacific in the west all the way to the San Gabriel Mountains in the east. And, unlike most cities, there is no true ‘centre’ around which everything else seems to revolve. On the other hand, there is so much to see and do in so many of those far-flung spots that it’s worth braving the freeway system – or becoming very familiar with Google maps – to get there.

It wasn’t always this way. For years, Los Angeles boasted one of the most extensive railway and streetcar systems in the country. These ‘Red Cars’ and ‘Yellow Cars’ connected urban, suburban and exurban areas, stretching from Santa Monica east to Pasadena and south to Orange County. The extensive system grew throughout the second world war, when workers poured into the area following the jobs created by the war effort. Soon thereafter, though, a consortium of three companies invested in the growth of the automobile industry. General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires started buying up streetcar lines all over the US, dismantling them and replacing them with buses. This marked the beginning of the end of light rail service in the greater Los Angeles region, which limped on until the last streetcar made a final run in 1963. Ironically, the average speed on today’s freeways is about the same as the slowest running time of the Red Line connecting Santa Monica and Hollywood: 13mph. Today, the landscape is crisscrossed with freeways, which have become so integral to the lives of Angelenos that they are generally referred to with definite articles. Calling the main east-west artery I-10, as you would anywhere else, is to mark yourself immediately as a newcomer. Natives always say ‘the 10’.

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