Looking at Metro’s new rail expansion plans, codenamed the “Long Range Transportation Plan,” it’s stunning, but altogether likely, that the city of Los Angeles is finally shaking hands with reality. Anyone who’s ever ridden our paltry trains wonders why anyone else is crazy enough to ride along with them, what with the poor parking, minimal stops and terrible connections.

Anyone who’s ever ridden our buses knows why there are people who will take the trains. Public transportation has long been the bottom-line indicator of wealth and status in our Angeleno society: If you have money, you have a car, and the city has bent to the will of those with wallets.

In their 25-year look ahead, Metro lays out an ambitious plan to try and correct some of the auto-crazed foibles that have crippled this city. As an added benefit, a functioning and encompassing rail system would finally allow L.A. to enter the ranks of the world’s elite cities – New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo – and lay claim to its oft-sought title as Capital of the Pacific Rim.

And this is to say nothing of the immediate air quality and quality-of-life gains that could be seen from Day One of a widespread commuter rail network. I understand L.A.’s sprawl is an intense disadvantage compared to many of these densely packed cities, but it isn’t an excuse to have fallen behind.

Of course, L.A. has benefited from Metrolink trains for some time now, whose connections with Union Station and the Red and Gold lines are commendable, if teasing to anyone who doesn’t work in the immediate vicinity of Flower and 7th. Traveling to Universal City or Pasadena is possible but arduous, with many stations bizarrely located (Universal City Station is at the bottom of an enormous, back-breaking hill, and Allen Station near Pasadena City College is stuck smack in the middle of the freeway) or totally dependent upon unreliable buses.

I rode every line of Metro Rail as a freshman, from downtown to Pasadena and Hollywood, from Pico to Long Beach, and never touched them again once my 1987 Volvo station wagon wheels came into the picture. But I have high hopes for the future.

Look at the extensions map, the possibilities in the works for the population of 2030. The Eastside Extension on the Gold Line will run through Little Tokyo to East L.A. and Atlantic Station in a few short years. The Exposition light rail line will zip from 7th and Metro Center past USC to Culver City.

That’s a workable commute for USC students out east – avoiding a truly nasty drive on the 10 West and catching a few extra minutes of study or sleep on the train. And it’s not forever in coming: the Mid-City line (including USC) will be completed by 2010.

Still lazing about in the longer-term, amorphous dream-phase are extensions to Santa Monica and a Green Line that at long last reaches LAX. Imagine being able to avoid the nastiness that is Santa Monica parking, to jet out of sweltering downtown for a nice day on the beach. You could pack a swimsuit in your briefcase or backpack. Imagine no longer being at the mercy of those God-awful shared-ride vans, preposterous shuttles and criminally insane taxi drivers to get to the airport.

This is a city that I want to live in—one that finally lives up to some of the great potential that people saw in a warm, palm-treed city out West.

Though many of these extensions are years or decades away from fruition, they depend on our ballots and public opinion polls. It’s high time that Angelenos think of the future as much as they obsess over the now.