When Los Angeles' vast street car system was systematically dismantled in the 1940s and 50s, the city lost one of the largest networks of its kind. The end of streetcar began a drift towards a more disconnected, automobile-centric city, one where the business and population density resulting from transit oriented development was slowly destroyed in favor of a vast network of surface parking lots connected by freeways.
In Highland Park, the building of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the closure of the street cars dealt a blow to the character and prosperity of the neighborhood. In the 1980s, though, plans were hatched to re-connect Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena with a light rail system that would follow the same route as the city's first street car line at the turn of the last century.
Initially conceived as an extension of the Long Beach Blue line, right of way for the route had been purchased by the Metro Transit Authority in 1993 when Amtrak ceased operations on what was formerly the Atchinson, Topka, and Santa Fe Railway's main link from San Bernadino to Los Angeles. After the MTA restored and retrofitted the historic 1896 Santa Fe Rail Bridge over the Arroyo Seco Parkway, it would became the first leg of the line to be constructed.
Construction began in 1994 (with 0.5 % of its budget set aside for public art projects along the route) but massive cost overruns halted the project in 1995. A State Senate bill led to the creation of the independent Pasadena Blue Line Authority, dedicated solely to the completion of the light rail line. With PBLA at the helm, the project moved along at a brisk pace, only briefly halting when local critics voiced concerns regarding the safety of at-grade crossings - not to mention a bit of unspoken worry over their property values. One Mt. Washington resident called it a matter of "life and death," citing the safety of children.
The Gold Line, as it was now called, finished on time and under budget, with artists contributing site-specific designs and installations for the stations, including John Valadez's "The First Artists in Southern California" at Pasadena's Memorial Park station. MTA began operations in July 2003. During the first 6 months of operation, ridership was estimated to be between 12,000 and 18,000 trips per day. In mid-2011, now including the Eastside Extension, it hit a record high at over 42,000 riders per day.
Now connecting the areas between East L.A. and Pasadena, the Gold Line has created a shared experience among the residents of varied areas, emphasizing the need for residents to coexist in public spaces, regardless of income or race. With plans for the Foothill Extension underway, the Gold Line will connect the city more than ever.
Above, 1st District city councilman Ed Reyes describes the planning efforts, motives, and civic benefit of the Metro Gold Line in Highland Park; Highland Park Heritage Trust preservationist Nicole Possert illustrates the Gold Line's assets to the community in context with the corridor's historic transportation function. Slideshow depicts the development of the Gold Line from its construction to operation.