Making Tracks for the Westside

In 2011, the newest Metro Rail line in Los Angeles will open. Running from downtown Los Angeles at 7th St/Metro Center station, to Culver City at Venice Blvd / Robertson Blvd, it will be the first new line to open since the Metro Gold Line in 2003. This bike ride was to follow that from Culver City to Santa Monica Blvd. I wanted to see what was left of the old Pacific Electric line, and photograph it. It also made for a nice bike ride. The Metro Expo Line (no color for it yet) was set to open this year, but numerous delays changed that.

The line west of Culver City, however, has been a bit more of a challenge. The section from Culver City to Sepulveda Blvd has been the most contentious of them all. A small group of people in the Cheviot Hills, where the rail line will run, have fought the construction of the line for so many reasons. None are valid reasons, as they are just plain silly from the start. One of their biggest complaints, as seen in the sign pictured, is that kids and trains don’t mix. Now… to that I agree. They don’t. Kids shouldn’t be playing on active tracks, much for the same reasons they shouldn’t on any one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It should be simple, teach the kids to not play in front of trains, but to hold up a major rail line for it? They take the stance of “build it right, or don’t build at all”. All or nothing is a rather poor way of doing things. Kind of sad really, but hey, the line will get built despite them.  Yeah!

Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
They don't mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.
They don’t mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.

Now, back to the bike ride! So, after doing a bit of research using Google Maps and Street View, I found free parking right near the old Helms Bakery. Perfect, right near where I wanted to start. After parking and getting the bike ready, it was time to go. The weather was fairly decent, though a bit on the cooler side near the beach. I started off heading to Venice Blvd, then onto Exposition Blvd. Just before National Blvd, I saw the first tracks of the day. The first thing I noticed was the bonds between the rail segments. These were original Pacific Electric tracks from the 1920’s. I took some photos, and moved on. Heading west from here, I went under the 10, then headed west through the Cheviot Hills area – remember them?  Well, ignoring them and their silly signs, this is the best section of the whole line, certainly the most scenic. About halfway through the big cut here, there is a pedestrian bridge. It makes a great place to get photos, and will be a good place to watch the trains in 2015.

West towards National Blvd.
West towards National Blvd.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920's.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920’s.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.

After that, the next major hurdle was Overland Ave. There were some remains of a crossing signal there, so I got some photos. The rails were cut at the crossing, but were still there on both sides. After Westwood Blvd, I got a different idea. There was plenty of dirt between the rails, and no plants. As railroad tracks usually have lots of thorns around them, I was a bit leery of doing this. I still did it anyway. After all, it is a cross bike, gotta ride dirt at some point! It was pretty smooth overall, with some muddy spots. Just beyond Military Ave, the tracks ended, for a while. The east switch for Home Junction still remained, but after that, no more tracks. At Sepulveda Blvd, only the guard rail for a crossing arm remained. From here west, there wasn’t as much to see. I was surprised to see the tracks still in place, along with the remains of the west switch for Home Junction, at the edge of a parking lot west of Sawtelle Blvd. They just paved right up to the north rail.

At Westwood Blvd.
At Westwood Blvd.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
Crossing at Military Ave.
Crossing at Military Ave.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.

After Pico Blvd, Exposition Blvd picked up again. This time, even less remained of the tracks. From what I could tell, they had been pulled up long ago. No trace remained at the road crossings, only the occasional crossing signal or pole remained. At Centinela Ave, it was time to go over to Olympic Blvd. This ride isn’t about the PE after all! Olympic Blvd is an old State Highway, former Route 26. West of Centinela, the roadway turns into a four lane divided roadway, complete with concrete. I had only driven the roadway before, so this would be a good opportunity to find a date stamp on the concrete.

1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.
1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.

Just after Cloverfield Blvd, I found two things I had been looking for. The rail line crossed Olympic here, with the rails still in place, and there was a date stamp in the concrete. The stamp was from 1948, a bit earlier than I had thought, as I saw a 1958 stamp in a curb just before Cloverfield Blvd. I continued down Olympic Blvd as far as Lincoln Ave. Why that far? Well, that intersection, or at least the modern equivalent (the 10 freeway has modified things around there), was the west end of US 66. US 66, the Mother Road, ending at such a bland location? Yes. It never ended at Ocean, never mind what the signs may say.  It always ended at the intersection of Lincoln Ave and Olympic Blvd. This intersection was formerly the junction of US 101A, SR-26, and US 66. The last two ended here, the first continued north to Malibu and Oxnard. After making some zigs and zags through central Santa Monica, I made it to Ocean Ave. Finally, the coast! It was a good place to take a break, enjoy the view from the cliffs, and figure out my next move.

At Barrington Ave.
At Barrington Ave.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
My bike at the Palisades.
My bike at the Palisades.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.

I decided it was time to take some photos. There was a plaque for Will Rogers, and a sign stating it ended here. As stated before, it didn’t. Once I had taken my photos of the Will Rogers Highway plaque, I headed on south.  It was time to hit Venice and see what remnants of the Pacific Electric I could find.  I followed Ocean Blvd down until I could connect to the beach path. It wasn’t a busy beach day, so taking the path wasn’t a bad idea. Before I got to the beach, I found some reminders of why I like to ride there – SURFERS! Yes, it is always a good day for a ride here.  The trouble with the path is sand. Lots of sand. It is a beach path after all! It wouldn’t be so much trouble, if it weren’t for the very sharp curvy nature of too many sections of the beach path. Seems to go out of its way to put curves in places there should be none. Just gotta take it slow. After I got as far south as central Venice, I left the path. As it turned out, I was right at Venice Blvd.

Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!

I took Pacific Avenue for a while, looking for traces of the PE. I found some, a building that had loops for hanging the overhead wire.  After a while, I moved over to Main St, and followed it to the south end of Santa Monica. I was searching for a train station, but did not find it. Next time perhaps, when I remember to bring the address! No matter, I headed back south, following 2nd St this time, which eventually turns into Electric Avenue (yes, I did rock down to…. Electric Avenue, but I didn’t take it higher.) This follows another PE line, with some tracks still extant. There were two small sections of track, at Broadway St and Westminster St. I got my photos, and headed onto Abbott Kinney Blvd, which has sharrows. I took it just for that reason.

After roaming through Venice, it was time to get back to the car. No rush, but I decided to take the shortest route – Venice Blvd. The roadway is wide, with overall decent paving, and bike lanes both directions. Winds, the seemingly slight downhill, and my energy at that point in the ride seemed to meet. I kept a decent pace down the road, averaging about 26 mph, sometimes up to 30 mph. Not bad, I thought, as I noticed I was keeping up with traffic. With that, the ride took less time than I had thought it might, and I got back to the car just shy of two hours later than I started. Overall, a fun ride. I saw most of what I set out to see, with few problems.  The future of Los Angeles, it seems, lies in its past. Where there were trains before, there will be again. Instead of building a city as they did, they’ll keep it moving.

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