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