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After Measure R, Los Angeles Transit Plans Advance... Slowly

Back in November, Los Angeles voters passed by a more than two-thirds majority Measure R, which provides another 1/2-cent sales tax for transportation in Los Angeles County. Unlike previous tax measures, which we discussed in a previous post, Measure R allows future funding to go to subway construction, notably to the much-discussed “Subway to the Sea,” which is a proposal to expand the existing Metro Purple and Red Line to Santa Monica from the Wilshire/Western and Hollywood/Highland Stations, respectively, via Beverly Hills and Westwood. The passage of Measure R was a strong sign from L.A.’s voters that they wanted to change the tenor of mobility in their region and radically improve public transportation.

Yesterday came a report from Metro (PDF) that proposed a construction timeline for the Subway to the Sea, as well as a host of other projects in Los Angeles that will be funded by the $40 billion that Measure R will likely raise by 2040. The problem is, even with Measure R, Metro claims that there isn’t enough money to fund the subway all the way to Santa Monica, and even the 10-mile extension to Westwood wouldn’t be completed until 2032. This is, to say the least, quite a disappointment for those who were excited about the prospect for this subway line.

And in fact, the Subway to the Sea’s biggest booster, City of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (also the chair of the Metro board), calls the timeline quite unacceptable. His argument is bolstered by the fact that Metro recognizes that the extension all the way to Santa Monica could be completed in five to ten years if it were prioritized. But Metro planners have pushed it behind in this report. A great debate, then, seems likely to come soon over which corridors are most important to L.A.’s citizens and which ones may have to be lost to the sands of time.

We here at the transport politic tend to consider the Subway to the Sea to be L.A.’s best bet in terms of expansion, so we’re of course a bit dismayed by this news. The subway extension will be the highest ridership line on the entire West Coast, and it will serve L.A.’s most populous districts outside of Downtown, including areas with large numbers of students – Santa Monica and Westwood – and areas with huge numbers of businesses, along the Miracle Mile. While we support all these transit expansions in L.A. county, focusing on the subway would ironically be the most efficient way to radically alter the city’s transportation landscape, even though it would concentrate most of the resources in one corridor. The truth, however, is that that one corridor – along Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards – is the lifeline of the entire region and sincerely deserves good transit service.

Here’s the timeline of all the projects to be funded by Measure R:

  • 2013 – Orange Line North-South Extensions - BRT lines running on the Canoga Corridor and another corridor in East San Fernando Valley, extending the existing Orange Line busway
  • 2015 – Expo Line Phase II, Culver City to Santa Monica – this is the LRT extension of the line currently under construction from Downtown to Culver City – it comes at significantly lower cost than a subway expansion
  • 2015 – Wilshire Boulevard Bus Lane – this is an interim BRT solution from Downtown to Santa Monica that will not have nearly the capacity necessary to provide service to this incredibly dense area
  • 2017 – Gold Line Foothill Extension – this is an extension of the LRT Gold Line from Pasadena, east
  • 2018 – Green Line to LAX Extension – will finally bring LRT rapid transit service to the area’s major airport
  • 2018 – Regional Connector – downtown LRT extension connecting Metro Blue and Expo lines at Metro Center to the Gold Line at Union Station
  • 2019 – Purple Line Extension Phase I - brings the subway to La Cienega along Wilshire
  • 2026 – Purple Line Extension Phase II - brings the subway to Century City
  • 2029 – Crenshaw Boulevard Transit – LRT line from LAX to Miracle Mile
  • 2032 – Purple Line Extension Phase III – brings the subway to Westwood/I-405
  • 2035 – Green Line Extension – Extends the Green Line LRT south to Redondo Beach
  • 2038 – Westside/San Fernando Valley Transit – LRT or BRT service along the I-405 Freeway

Keep in mind that while this is an incredibly long timeline, the overall cost of these projects, with federal and state contributiions, is likely to reach $100 billion total, which is by far the most ambitious rapid transit program in the United States. It’s also one that’s merited for the country’s most populous county. Now, if we can only make that Subway to the Sea happen a little bit quicker…

8 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Interurbans

    The overall list looks pretty good and is not a bait and switch program which seams to happen all too often with transit money. The only big red flag other than the long time lines is the first project on the list. Let the busses run on Canoga Ave if this route is so important. The Orange is a failure by any standards. It takes twice as long for the full trip than if it were a LRT line, the busses are small and very uncomfortable to ride, the line can not even get close to carrying the capacity the line requires. Let’s not throw good money after bad to extend this failed service and use the money to start to upgrade this line to a LRT line which it should have been from the start.

  • Jonathan Trachtman

    These timelines are unbelievably long.

    In my opinion, the problem is not the dedicated public servants at MTA or the aggressive lobbying for Subway to the Sea by the Mayor, but to be honest I just can’t figure out why people who do this stuff day in and day out with passion and purpose seem to be setting the bar that low. I know we certainly have had historically low expectations and systemically low prioritization/funding of public transport on local, regional, and national levels, which seems to ‘beat transit boosters down.’

    And at first glance, the current cratering of the economy appears incredibly daunting.

    HOWEVER:
    1. Obama’s team is going to support Measure R, Prop 1A etc…regarding transit, thru the large stimulus package. In theory, this should allow for more aggressive timelines.
    2. Aren’t we able to get ANY buy in from the private sector on
    investment/partnerships to fast track these projects?

    These timetables are not only a regional embarassment, they are a national disgrace.

    While we proceed at a tortoise’s pace, the rest of the world is
    creating the first rate infrastructure that will position them as more efficient and globally competitive

    We sent humans 240,000 miles to the moon, taking them from orbit to the moon in less than a decade.
    –25 years to push 15 miles from Downtown LA to the Sea? Or should I say, 25 years to push only TEN miles to Westwood/405?—

    Wow, have
    we devolved or what?

    I hope that in some way I can participate in helping improve this lameand unacceptable state of affairs.

    We are better than that as a region and as a nation.

    Jonathan Trachtman
    Los Angeles

  • One of my main concerns has been for a while the future of the proposed subway system that would ease the transportation issue for many residents between these destinations, – destinations being generally a reach from downtown to the Pacific Rim. I am glad that you have answered my concerns and laid out there a detailed plan concerning the construction and timeframe of this development. However, what you consider being one of the most ambitious plan in the US history seems to me being the least prioritized project. I can not really comprehend why it would take an approximate 25 years (according to the timeframe you have provided) to build a 10 mile subway system. Considering that Metro with the mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the chairman on the board has acknowledged the project timeframe as unacceptable. (show link) Metro is stating that this delay is due to a low prioritization when it comes to transport policy. While I understand the complications that come with costly projects such as this, I recognize that the current economy might setback this project. However, I might be fair in arguing that now is a good time for building and developing. This project would create many new jobs within a sector that is already bleeding. Furthermore, as money has been heavily invested in downtown, it seems only fair to fill downtown with people so that businesses can thrive and generate revenues to the city. It is apparent that the various developing projects aiming to give the city a facelift will not fully function without people to give it the spree of energy and pulse. This is without doubt something that a mass transit system can change. You mentioned the costly side of it being that it would be very hard to finish this project earlier due to insufficient funds. You considered the help from the business community and I totally concur with you and strongly believe that as we are in this tough economy, we are also moving towards a time where efficiency and effectiveness are strongly emphasized. Being that these are the magic words in the current economy, we should look into the great advantages with public-private partner ships. This would create more business and at the same time provide the funds required to get this project on and going with more efficiency. Surely, I also believe that an adequate portion of the stimulus plan should go towards this project being that it will help to ease and stimulate the economy for many reasons, which I mentioned above. – Firstly it will create more jobs in crucial sectors, secondly it will, indisputably give the people of these areas an easier access to downtown. This will bolster the economy and help businesses to thrive. Thirdly, these businesses will generate tax to the city which can later be used to pay of the debt of this subway system. Lastly, we will have a sustainable mass transit system that will generate revenues while setting the tone for future similar projects. The only problem is yet to stand in the way – the low prioritization that is based on the wrong assumption- that we do not really need to prioritize this project neither now or in the future!

  • Jason the student

    FORGET THE SUBWAY TO THE SEA the 720, 920, and bevy of mass transit services in that area make it ridiculously convenient to get to anywhere in Santa Monica from anywhere in or around Downtown LA. what bothers me is that there is a MAJOR need for better mass transit in the San Fernando Valley! Yes, the Orange Line has been a huge success, even though it NEEDS to be an LRT, I should know I take it damn near every day, and I look forward to its Northward expansion, but what we really need is a 405 and or Sepulveda train, NOT IN 29 years (by which time I’ll be “Jason the guy going through a mid-life crisis”), NOW. If the green line were to extend to Sepulveda then you could have a train follow more or less the route of the 761 from Ventura BLVD (which needs its own LTR because the orange line is too far in many spots to be a viable option), to Skirball center/ AJU, to the Getty Center, to WESTWOOD which would meet with the purple line (eventually) on down to LAX. THAT would SERIOUSLY help the congestion of the 405. It takes WAY too long to get from the San Fernando Valley to the rest of the routes without such a route, there is a HUGE market for mass transit here, if MTA would just TAP IT already.

  • Whitney

    It seems a lot of the focus here is on getting to Santa Monica from Downtown, but few people are mentioning getting to Downtown, and the east side of Los Angeles in general, from Santa Monica, which can take hours on a bus, especially during rush hour. I’m not sure if anyone has bothered to take notice of the I-10 Eastbound freeway from about 3pm until about 7pm on any given weekday, but it holds a strong likeness to a parking lot. Not to mention how bad it gets on the weekends during beach season. I used to commute from Santa Monica to Downtown LA via car and back and didn’t have near the issues that the people commuting in the other direction were having. There are buses that take almost two hours to get from Santa Monica in to the West Hollywood/Hollywood area. That is a span of less than 10 miles. Not to mention that Santa Monica and the surrounding areas have a high student population, which also means fewer vehicle owners. The same goes for the area around UCLA. A system like this will allow them to greatly increase the radius in which they can work without having a car and will also massively decrease the travel time for students without vehicles who don’t live close to their schools. Considering the fact that quite a few people who live in beach cities are without vehicles, this will allow them to travel all over LA, spend their money all over LA, and also work all over LA, all the while maintaining their current minimal effect on the environment.

  • Foothills extension? Oh, god.

  • This project would create many new jobs within a sector that is already bleeding. Furthermore, as money has been heavily invested in downtown, it seems only fair to fill downtown with people so that businesses can thrive and generate revenues to the city. It is apparent that the various developing projects aiming to give the city a facelift will not fully function without people to give it the spree of energy and pulse. This is without doubt something that a mass transit system can change.

  • Austin Harding

    have people forgotten about orange county? when i see empty strips of lot on google maps where the old lines used to run through, i ask myself, why cant they use the old vacant rail way land to build heavy rail lines from LA to Santa Ana or Anaheim, or garden grove? LA is divided. its a sea of towns with no center. we need heavy rail lines to connect the outskirts of the LA region. each city can have their own local city-wide transportation systems, with each city having a central station connecting to downtown, which in turn would connect the high speed bullet rails from SD to LA to SF and even state to state like from LA to LV. also where freeways are far apart are where they are needed. the proposed black line would go from LA following Whittier blvd till it ends on harbor. or a line essentially running along Valley blvd from DTLA all the way to Pomona, passing 3 university’s along the way. the land where the old lines used to run on are now being converted to walkways or simply parking lots. there is a vacant strip of land (undeveloped 90% of the way) running from DTLA to Santa Ana! they just have to start building the track! i wonder if LA is doomed from the start because the corruption runs so deep. when one looks at other city’s, in Europe most especially, you see that LA light rail proposals, even if the deadlines were tomorrow, its still nothing compared to what other city’s have established. one just has to travel to Europe to fully appreciate public rail transportation. the roads are nearly empty, and one can travel very nearly ANYWHERE without a car, even to rural farmland areas. this country has lost its vigor. with so few projects being implemented, and even the projects that are being implemented, we have no plans of fully integrating the country’s public transport, which as of now is at best a loose connection of local transport with little to no regard for regional scale interconnection. only a few state wide interconnection rail transport is the best as of now that we have to offer systems that connect Americans with each other. we have become a land and people divided, and with zero state to state rail transport systems i see that changing very little to nearly never.

    by the way, nobody can even fathom what a nation wide state to state interconnected rail system would have for Americas tourism. economy’s would flourish overnight from the ease of accessibility that foreigners could use to travel through

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