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The revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles – Part 2

This guest post is the second in a two part series from Darren Davis who is a Principal Transport Planner for Auckland Transport looking at the revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles. The first part which looks at the revival is here.

Los Angeles is by no means sitting on its laurels. At the height of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2008, 67% of Los Angeles County voters voted to tax themselves more by increasing the county sales tax by 0.5% for the next 40 years. 65% of this is dedicated to bus and rail capital projects and operations; 20% to roading and 15% to local projects (which can be public transport, roading, walking & cycling). This is allowing the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to get a whole new raft of rail projects off the ground much earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

Two rail extensions are already under construction. The 10.6 km second stage of the Expo Line, extending it from Culver City to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, is 50% built and due to open in late 2015. With this, it will be a 48 minute rail trip from Santa Monica to Downtown at any time, not subject to the wild fluctuations in travel time on the often intensely congested 10 Freeway. The Gold Line is also being extended 18.2 km east from Pasadena to Azusa in the San Gabriel Valley, is due for completion in 2016 and will provide an alternative to often congested 210 Freeway across the valley.

Santa Monica Pier

However, three projects currently in pre-construction are key enablers of a brighter transit future for Los Angeles, each for different reasons.

LA Metro future

The first is the Crenshaw/LAX light rail project which will serve a heavily transit dependent north south corridor in South Los Angeles and will link to the Expo Line at Expo/ Crenshaw and to the Green Line also at Crenshaw Boulevard. Significant effort is going into to targeting economic development and well-paying construction jobs so that the communities impacted by construction benefit from the project during construction and not just at the end when it opens. In addition, it will bring rail significantly closer to LAX and will allow for the Century/LAX Station to be integrated with a proposed LAX people mover. There is finally a real prospect of a more satisfactory rail connection to LAX than that provided by the Green Line. In addition, the Crenshaw Line will make the Green Line significantly more useful by further expanding its connectivity.

The second project is the long-awaited extension of the Purple Line in the densely developed Wilshire Boulevard corridor. After much lobbying, the ban on subway construction in the Wilshire Corridor was lifted and pre-construction activities are underway on extending the Purple Line further west. The first 6.2 km stage will serve the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Fairfax District to reach Beverly Hills with a second 4.2 km stage to the major employment hub of Century City and a final 4.6 km stage on to Westwood, home to the University of California Los Angeles and the Veterans Administration Hospital just west of the 405 Freeway. Wilshire Boulevard has 60,000 daily boardings, including the 720 Metro Rapid limited stops bus which runs articulated buses every 3-8 minutes during the day on weekdays; at least every 15 minutes evenings to 10pm; then every 20 minutes to 1.30am. However, buses are heavily impacted by the Westside’s chronic congestion. The first stage of a major project to implement 12.4 km of peak period bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard has been implemented with further stages over the year so that the Metro Rapid can more closely live up to its name. Even so, the Purple Line extension cannot come soon enough.

The third project is the Regional Connector, a 3 km underground light rail line in Downtown which will link the Blue and Expo lines, which end at the western side of Downtown to the two legs of the Gold Line which only reach the northeastern edge of Downtown. This will significantly improve penetration of Downtown by light rail; provide a second high frequency underground rail circulator in Downtown and will enable many more one-seat rides across Los Angeles, for example from East LA to the Westside or from Pasadena to Long Beach.

And if this isn’t enough, there are a bunch of other rail projects working their way through the planning and funding pipeline including an extension of the Green Line further into the South Bay; and further stages of the Gold Line deeper into the San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire and further into East LA.

While an enormous amount of activity is happening with public transport, a lot of good land-use planning is also occurring. LA Metro has effectively leveraged its land holdings to create Transit Oriented Developments at various of its stations, delivering a range of market-rate and affordable housing (e.g. Wilshire/Vermont Station) and creating trip attractors (e.g. Hollywood/ Highland Station) all of which generates more public transport patronage. In addition, LA Metro has purchased Union Station, a masterpiece of Spanish Revival architecture – and a hub for local, regional and long distance public transport used by 60,000 people a day – to make it work better for public transport, enhance its significant heritage features, generate transit oriented development and to improve its connectivity to the wider area.

Union Station

At the same time, Downtown Los Angeles is getting its mojo back big time. An Adaptive Reuse Ordinance led to a wave of converting heritage buildings in the historic core – which has an amazing collection of beaux-arts architecture – to residential and other uses leading to significant growth in residential population. This in turn has led to a major revival of retail activity, especially in Broadway, once LA’s theatre district but somewhat down of heel until recently when it has once again become the favoured locale for national and international retailers. And once again the only places for retail chain’s flagship stores are where they should be – Downtown. The development pressure from this revival means that many of Downtown’s ample supply of surface car parks are being converted into higher and better value intensive mixed-use.

Pershing Square

And a final good omen for Los Angeles is the gradual rediscovery of the pleasures of public life in a city that has traditionally feared the street and turned its back to it. Downtown redevelopments are finally embracing the interface with the public realm and New Year’s Eve 2013/2014 saw its first ever public celebration in Los Angeles, bringing 25,000 people to Downtown’s Grand Park, many of whom came by train (which was free from 9pm on New Year’s Eve until 2am on New Year’s Day and ran all night).

If you want to in learn more about Los Angeles rail development read: Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City by Ethan Elkind http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520278271

The author the above article is an employee of Auckland Transport, however, the views, or opinions expressed in that article are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Auckland Transport, its management or employees. Auckland Transport is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of the article.

19 comments to The revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles – Part 2

  • Fred

    So in the world’s most car centred city, 65% of a huge capex programme is dedicated to public transport.

    Heck where does that leave Auckland?

    • It leaves Auckland as an embarrassing dinosaur that is falling far behind even cities we were slightly ashamed to be compared to.

      AT/AC/NZTA need to realise that their transport “solutions” now place them in the minority in the developed world – they are the ones arguing for an out of date paradigm, not public transport/active mode advocates.

      • Jacques

        I get the feeling they’re just doing what they’ve always done instead of looking for better solutions to the problem of congestion. Ie they need a shake-up, new ideas and maybe new people too, people who realise that PT is going to be the way to go in the future and anything that delays this is counterproductive. Not people who think in terms of: how can we widen this street to avoid congestion here.

  • There is an interesting film coming out based in a future Los Angeles:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Her_(film)
    http://laist.com/2013/11/15/spike_jonzes_dystopic_vision_of_los.php

    One of its features is a wide reaching rail system that is an integral part of the film. One of the scenes shows the future Metro map and has become a subject of much debate and analysis online:

    http://gizmodo.com/a-map-of-the-futuristic-los-angeles-subway-from-spike-j-1499580805
    http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/01/heres_the_mindblowing_la_rail_map_of_the_future_from_her.php

    Maybe some enterprising Kiwi film maker can envisage an Auckland with the CFN map a reality!

  • George D

    I don’t get it. There are staff at Auckland Transport who understands thing, as demonstrated by this post. However the spending we see from Auckland Transport is overwhelmingly towards things that will worsen congestion, worsen environmental outcomes, cost far more, and take decades to come to full fruition.

    Auckland Transport are making Auckland worse. (You know those international ‘best city’ comparisons – they all state Auckland needs far better public transport to reach a higher spot.)

      • Jacques

        +1. They need a new person at the top. both AT and NZTA

        • Bryce P

          I actually think NZTA are doing a great job when we consider their masters. The Grafton Gulley bike path is an indication of this. AT however, requires a kick up the butt.

          • Greg N

            Disagree,

            While Grafton Gully *is* nice, its still just Lipstick on a Pig and 1 cycle path can’t undo the many years of poor decision making, wasteful spending and out and out road prioritisation above all else that has gone on by NZTA.

            Yes they have to do what their ministers tell them, but they also have to serve the long term interests of NZ Inc as a whole, not just serve the current government (or Minister) of the day.

            Look at the Basin Flyover proposal as a current example of the NZTA Leopard not changing its spots.

    • TheBigWheel

      To Darren Davis. Thank you for your post which I found interesting and inspiring. I have not visited LA since the 90s and the changes since then are obviously hugely positive.. and not at all predictable given where things were back then. Many people in LA, politically and organisationally, have shown strong and sustained leadership to effect the changes. Millions of people are now the beneficiaries of that leadership.

      To George D. I was thinking the same thing, that people at AT like Darren appear to “get it” and yet the organisation often seems not to.

      AT’s legal disclaimer, given the content of Darren’s post, which is absent of “Politics”, only underlines ATs timidity and failure of leadership at this time to grasp the reality of their situation and the changing times. Not what Auckland needs..

      And yet Darren’s clarity and factual reporting is plain in its message: Even In LA…

      Here’s an original quote from Lester Levy:

      “Leadership is about your disposition not your position in an organisation.”

      In writing the above post, Darren exemplifies this characteristic.

      Come on AT, get with the programme.

      • John Polkinghorne

        That’s a pretty standard disclaimer – you’d expect something like that from pretty much any public body, and a lot of private companies for that matter! But yes, I’d like to think that AT takes much the same points from LA that Darren does…

  • Interesting that they use colours to brand the lines but don’t extend that to the train themselves… the Gold Line Trains are, well, silver.

    Great mix of street, separated, and elevated Right of Ways…

    • Greg N

      I noticed that, but maybe they run trains from different lines on routes, so having a Gold line train (in Gold) on a Red or Blue Line service might confuse people (like having a MteroLink or Waka Pacific bus turn up for a North Shore bus route here).

      I also noticed the safety messages along the trains warning drivers to look and not run red lights or go around signal arms (presumably to avoid being hit by a train coming through or blocking it).
      Probably not worth doing for our EMUs but a future light rail service maybe.

  • mark c.

    I’ve lived in the LA area since 1992 and been a using public transit since 2001 not because I have to, but because I like it. There’s definitely room for improvement but seeing how much the system has grown from 2001 to now is pretty amazing. And all the projects under construction right now will further make the system even more useful. I voted for the measure r tax increase and I see what they’re doing with my money and I’m very glad for it. I wouldn’t think twice voting for an extension of that tax if it means more rail projects will be built sooner.

    • Franz

      Measure J almost passed…with 66% of the vote. The last three projects mentioned here (Purple Line, Regional Connector and Crenshaw line) would have been completed alot earlier had it passed. It didn;t pass because of the two thirds majority rule of tax increases, even if its half a cent.

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