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Transportation and Mobility

LA Metro Says It's Turning Down The Volume On Classical Music At Westlake-MacArthur Park Station

A sign has the Metro logo in black above a red section with the words Westlake/MacArthur Park. Buildings and an escalator are visible beyond.
Classical music plays throughout the Westlake-MacArthur station, as part of a pilot program intended to make LA's metro system feel safer.
(GTD Aquitaine
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
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Los Angeles Metro officials said Friday they've turned down the classical music that has been playing at Westlake/MacArthur Park Station.

"Since this is a pilot, we have adjusted the level of music. We have listened to the community and what they have said, and so we are looking for that right level of music in order to make it do what it was intended to do," Gina Osborn told LAist. Osborn, who is Metro's Chief Safety and Security Officer, spoke LAist's public affairs show AirTalk — which airs on 89.3 FM.

The music at the station had drawn criticism from some riders and community members who were concerned the volume could be damaging to people's ears. One Twitter user posted this video in late March, adding that the music gave the station a "Clockwork Orange" feel:

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Metro says the music is just one part of a pilot program that the agency says is intended to improve safety and rider comfort in the public transit system. Just this year, there have been 22 overdose-related deaths on Metro buses and trains, and Metro has reported that in 2022 the system saw a 24% increase in serious crimes. But people are divided on whether the lights and music are a practical way of addressing this crisis — or a humane one.

Safety, and the feeling of safety

Osborn says that the music and brighter platform lighting are meant to deter loitering and vandalism, particularly in darker corners of the station where people sometimes engage in illegal activities.

Additionally, Osborn says Metro has:

  • Closed off an underused entrance
  • Brought in Metro Ambassadors — a new program of unarmed helpers to assist riders
  • Increased security and custodial staff
  • Added better closed-circuit cameras
  • Improved airflow to get rid of odors

And, there’s a new partnership with the L.A. County Department of Health Services, which will bring a mobile health clinic to the station a couple of times a month.

“This entire effort is aimed at turning the Westlake/MacArthur Park Station into a space Metro riders can use for its intended purpose, which is to access the public transit system,” Osborn says.

Osborn says it’s important both for the transit system to not just be safe, but for it to feel safe.

“When you walk into one of our stations and it's clean and there's no loitering and people are there for the purpose of transportation, you're gonna feel that feeling of safety,” Osborn says. “We have our Metro Transit ambassadors who are connecting with people and asking them, ‘Can we help you? Can we help you buy a TAP card? Can we help you find your way?’ When you walk into something like that, you're going to feel safer.”

Treating the symptoms, not the problem

Scarlett De Leon, who is the campaigns director for Alliance for Community Transit LA (ACT-LA), says that while LA Metro’s more layered language and approach to safety is a good step, the loud music sent a message to unhoused people that they are not wanted at the station.

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Eugene Handy, who is unhoused, agrees.

“The classical music, in my opinion, is meant to drive the undesirables out,” Handy told LAist producer Arantza Peña Popo.

But others LAist spoke to said the music didn't bother them at all.

"I mean, I think everyone likes this type of music. Everyone can relate. I think it's very chill," rider Al Torre told LAist's Julia Paskin who visited the station on Thursday.

ACT-LA's De Leon says transit stations should feel welcoming, because they are public spaces that people use every day. Care-based solutions, she says, will do more to solve the root of the problem.

So far, Metro's Osborn says, the pilot program has been effective. In a statement shared with LAist, Metro said early results show that incidents of graffiti, vandalism, loitering and trash/clean-up incidents have decreased by more than 50%.

Osborn says the future of safety on L.A. transit will depend on several factors, including better mental health care services for unhoused individuals and changes in the environment that could make women feel safer, like populated stations with vendors and performers.

De Leon says the transit system is simply a reflection of Los Angeles, which is simultaneously facing a housing crisis and a public health crisis.

“I want us to really focus on how we are gonna move beyond that,” De Leon says. “Because, as history has taught us, we have been here before and we cannot police our way out of this.”

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Metro Classical Music 04.07.2023
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