Los Angeles Metro officials said Friday they have turned off classical music playing at the Westlake/MacArthur Park station.
“Since this is a pilot project, we adjusted the music level. We listened to the community and what they said, and so we’re looking for the right level of music to do what it’s meant to do,” Gina Osborne told LAist. Osborne, who is Metro’s chief safety and security officer, spoke on LAist’s public affairs show AirTalk — which airs on 89.3 FM.
The music at the station drew criticism from some riders and community members who were concerned that the volume could damage people’s ears. One Twitter user posted this video in late March, adding that the music gave the station a “Clockwork Orange” feel:
I had to see the Westlake/MacArthur Park station for myself. Playing high-energy classical music really brings out the feeling of a clockwork orange. The station was being cleaned and I saw the ambassadors. pic.twitter.com/Rvm7598QZQ
— [email protected] (@calwatch) March 23, 2023
Metro says the music is just one part of a pilot program the agency says aims to improve the safety and comfort of passengers on the public transit system. There have been 22 overdose-related deaths on Metro buses and trains this year alone, and Metro reported that in 2022, the system saw a 24 percent increase in serious crimes. But people are divided over whether lights and music are a practical way to deal with this crisis – or a humane one.
Security and a sense of safety
Osborne says the music and brighter lighting on the platform is designed to deter loitering and vandalism, particularly in the station’s darker corners where people sometimes engage in illegal activities.
In addition, Osborn says Metro has:
- An underused entrance is closed
- Introduced Metro Ambassadors, a new program of unarmed assistants to help riders
- Increased security and custodial staff
- Added better closed loop cameras
- Improved airflow to get rid of odors
And there’s a new partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services that will bring a mobile health clinic to the station several times a month.
“This whole effort is about making the Westlake/MacArthur Park station a space that subway riders can use for its intended purpose, which is access to the public transit system,” Osborne says.
Osborne says it’s important not only for the transit system to be safe, but also for it to feel safe.
“When you walk into one of our stations and it’s clean and there’s no buzz and people are there for transportation, you’ll feel that sense of safety,” Osborne says. “We have our Metro Transit ambassadors reaching out to 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 this, you’ll feel more secure.
Treat the symptoms, not the problem
Scarlett De Leon, who is the director of campaigns for the 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 sends a message to homeless people that they are not wanted at the station.
Eugene Handy, unhoused, agrees.
“Classical music, I think, is meant to drive out the undesirables,” Handy told LAist producer Aranza Peña Popo.
But others LAist spoke to said the music didn’t bother them at all.
“I mean, I think everybody likes that type of music. Anyone can relate. I think it’s very cool,” rider Al Torre told LAist’s Julia Paskin, who visited the station Thursday.
ACT-LA’s De Leon says transit stations need to feel welcoming because they’re public spaces that people use every day. Care-based solutions, she says, will do more to address 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 graffiti, vandalism, loitering and littering/cleanup incidents are down by more than 50%.
Osborne says the future of transit safety in Los Angeles will depend on several factors, including better mental health services for homeless people and changes to the environment that could make women feel safer, like the overcrowded stations with vendors and performers.
De Leon says the transit system is simply a reflection of Los Angeles, which is facing both a housing crisis and a public health crisis.
“I want us to really focus on how we’re going to move beyond this,” De Leon says. “Because as history has taught us, we’ve been here before and we can’t control our way out of it.”
Listen to the conversation
Metro Classical music 04.07.2023
What questions do you have about Southern California?