L.A.’s Westside Subway is Practically Ready for Construction, But Its Completion Could be 25 Years Off

» The Wilshire Corridor metro extension’s final environmental impact statement is released.

Of the nation’s public transportation improvement projects, Los Angeles’ Westside Subway is one of the most important: It would offer an alternative option for tens of thousands of daily riders and speed travel times by up to 50% compared to existing transit trips. It would serve one of the nation’s densest and most jobs-rich urban corridors and in doing so take a major step forward towards making L.A. a place where getting around without a car is comfortable.

L.A. County’s transit provider, Metro, released the final environmental impact statement for the 8.9-mile Westside Subway project last week, providing the most up-to-date details on a multi-billion-dollar scheme that is expected to enter the construction phase next year. The project received a positive review by the Federal Transit Administration in the Obama Administration’s FY 2013 budget, and it is likely to receive a full-funding grant agreement from Washington later this year. Local revenue sources generated by taxes authorized over the years by voters will cover the majority of the project’s cost.

But questions about the project’s completion timeline remain unanswered: Will L.A. have to rely on conventional sources of financing, or be able to take advantage of federally-backed loans to speed construction?

In addition, the project’s specific plans for station construction suggest that there are opportunities to improve station layout and do more to develop land around certain stops.

(I) The Project’s Significance

Many of the rail expansion projects being built in the United States today serve corridors with rather limited existing bus service — there are few people who currently take the bus from downtown Washington to Tyson’s Corner or Dulles Airport, for instance, but a huge Metro extension is currently being built to connect the three, fundamentally to build a new market of transit riders.

L.A.’s westside, on the other hand, already has a very large base of transit users, and most of them are concentrated on the Wilshire Boulevard Corridor, which runs from downtown, through Beverly Hills, the Century City business district, and UCLA, before reaching Santa Monica. The three intermediary areas together contain about 150,000 jobs, about as many as downtown L.A. — and most of them are concentrated within a quarter mile of the street. The city’s famed congestion, especially severe in this area, has attracted people to transit: The local and express bus routes along the line — the 20 and 720 — carry about 60,000 daily riders.

It is no surprise, then, that the corridor has been a focus of L.A. transit investment proposals for decades. The Purple Line subway, which currently terminates at the Wilshire and Western station, was supposed to extend much further into the city when it was first designed, but the threat of gas explosions, a lack of adequate funding, and significant political opposition delayed that action. Yet the election of Antonio Villaraigosa to the mayoralty of L.A. City in 2005 altered the situation entirely, as he ran on a platform that explicitly endorsed the project’s completion and he later campaigned for a sales tax increase to pay for the project — 2008’s Measure R — passed by a large majority of voters. An alignment with seven new stations was selected by Metro in Fall 2010 after three years of studies, though final decisions on station locations were not announced until this week.

Estimates released by the agency point to the degree to which the subway will improve the performance of the transit system, whose service to the westside is currently plagued by traffic-induced delays. Trips from downtown’s Pershing Square to UCLA will decline from 55 to 25 minutes. Riders travelling from South L.A. will save 23 minutes on their journeys; those from east L.A. and Pasadena will save 29 minutes (see above image). These travel time savings are enormous — more than almost any other transit project in the country — and will attract a projected 49,300 daily riders to the line.

Though the subway’s completion will likely not reduce congestion on the highways (because automobile capacity, it seems, never ceases to be consumed), those who need to travel within the corridor will get a new, much faster travel option that is in many cases faster than that which is offered by private automobile, a remarkable achievement in the realm of public transit.

(II) Questions of Time

Because all of L.A. County’s voters approved the Measure R sales tax increase, it would have been unreasonable to focus all revenues in one corridor (and indeed, one suspects that such a plan would not have been approved). Thus the Westside Subway shares the stage with a blizzard of other transit projects being funded over the next twenty years, including the Regional Connector, Crenshaw Corridor, Exposition Line, Gold Line Extensions, South Bay Green Line Extension, and Orange Line Extensions, among others. The large quantity of funds being consumed to build these lines mean that under conventional financing techniques, the Westside Subway will not be completed to its proposed terminus at the V.A. Medical Center until 2036. Only the first phase — a 3.9-mile link to the intersection of Wilshire and La Cienega — would be done by 2020.

For Mayor Villaraigosa and much of the L.A. community, this timeline is unacceptable: To have to wait almost twenty-five years to see a long-planned project completed is scary. Yet the Westside Subway’s $4.4 billion cost (in 2011 terms) is too large for the county to raise money for in a short time period.

Thus L.A. proposed its 30/10 initiative — later renamed America Fast Forward — to use federal loan guarantees to reduce the cost of borrowing and essentially use tax revenues expected to be raised in the future to pay for projects today. This proposal, concretized in the expansion of TIFIA proposed by the U.S. Senate in its transportation reauthorization bill earlier this month, would make it possible for L.A. to build its full subway line by 2022, fourteen years ahead of schedule. Advancing the project’s completion would reduce year-of-expenditure costs for the project from $6.29 billion in the 2036 completion date scheme to $5.66 billion in the sped-up scheme. And it would do it without increasing the level of federal grant commitments to the project, just by reducing borrowing costs for the local agency. Because future residents of L.A. will benefit from transit expansion now, it does not seem unreasonable to use future revenues to pay for the project.

Yet there remains a possibility that the U.S. House, controlled by a GOP delegation that has opposed practically all legislation that Democrats have proposed, will decide not to pass the Senate’s bill and therefore prevent the expansion of the TIFIA program. This would put the timely completion of the Westside Subway in serious doubt.

(III) Station Location

Whatever the Westside Subway’s overall merits in terms of travel time improvements, there remain significant questions about how exactly the line will be constructed. After all, a well-designed transit project is not only one that moves people quickly from station to station but also one that cultivates dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

Though for the most part the project’s construction has been welcomed by affected neighborhoods, the Century City station — about halfway down the line — has undergone significant opposition because of the proposed alignment. Metro supports the construction of a stop under Constellation Avenue, in the heart of the Century City business district, compared to an alternative under Santa Monica Boulevard, about two blocks north. This is the reasonable choice as the latter alignment runs through an earthquake-prone zone, faces a golf course, has half as many jobs within a quarter mile (10,000 versus 20,000), and would see a third fewer daily boardings according to current estimates (5,500 versus 8,600). Though some locals have complained that the Constellation routing would run under Beverly Hills High School and therefore put students in danger, those concerns are hyperbolic considering precedent in other cities and the obvious advantages of that alignment.

Although most of the stations on the proposed line will have entrances at street intersections in relatively dense, urban areas,* the stop at the end of the line, at Westwood/V.A. Hospital, is an exception. The station exit as proposed would deposit people onto a series of winding paths just adjacent to a parking lot and a section of Wilshire Boulevard that is effectively an expressway (at the intersection with Bonsall), about 1,200 feet away from the entrance to the V.A. Medical Center (see above image). The situation is made worse by the parkland just adjacent to the stop and the impassable barrier of I-405 northeast of the stop. This is a pedestrian-hostile environment that will offer a disincentive to taking the train.

As Metro’s Steve Hymon notes, the V.A. Hospital stop will play an important role in serving the region’s veterans, but terminating the line there misses tens of thousands more people living further southwest along Wilshire in dense neighborhoods. They, too, should be provided improved transit service, but they will have to wait until 2036 or later to see another subway extension because of budget limitations. Many of them will likely want to drive to the station in order to take the subway because of the significant time savings offered, but Metro proposes no park-and-ride facilities there. Though bus connections will be important, the agency is effectively losing out on potential passengers by not providing for that need.

It would make sense for Metro to consider working with the V.A. Hospital to develop the parking lot directly abutting the stop into a high-density residential or office use, considering the significant demand likely to be spurred on by the completion of the subway.

* With stations spaced at about one station per mile, the argument could be made that these neighborhoods are not being served well enough, especially the community situated between the proposed UCLA and Century City stations, which would be about two miles apart.

See the project’s Final Environmental Impact StatementFinal Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary and Accelerated Financial Plan.

Images above: from L.A. Metro’s The Source and FEIS Executive Summary

95 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I don’t think your characterization of the Washington Silver Line is entirely accurate. The project does serve two major markets where bus ridership is now low – travel to jobs in Tysons Corner and to Dulles Airport. However, there is heavy peak-period bus ridership in the corridor from Reston and Herndon to the Orange Line at West Falls Church. Existing park-and-ride lots and garages (for a feeder bus!) will serve several future stations.

  • Matt

    Overall, this is a fantastic project absolutely critical to the city and region. The MTA made great decisions in regards to station placement, with the exception of the VA station, which is horrible as evidenced by your diagram. The VA wants the station, but they don’t want the public west of the VA to use the station. They also don’t want any future development here. Overall, this station is inaccessible to just about everyone and embarrassment to any sense of urban planning principles.

  • Donk

    Thanks for bringing up parking at the VA station. I was flabbergasted to see that they didn’t propose to include a parking structure there. This stop is at the intersection of the 405 and Wilshire, right next to the on-ramps and off-ramps on the west side of the freeway.

    Because this is the end of the line and adjacent to the 405, it seems they should build a mega parking structure here that connects directly to the on-ramps/off-ramps. They could build the structure in the middle of the SW cloverleaf of the interchange.

    This would keep people from getting off the freeway and driving east to the Westwood stop, clogging up traffic on Wilshire, and parking in Lot 36.

    The only reasons I can think of that this structure is not included are (1) because the expect people to use Lot 36 in Westwood, (2) because they are being cheap, or (3) because they want people to take buses to the VA stop. They could at least discuss the possibiltiy of a parking structure and connected on/off-ramps in the EIR.

    • Matt

      They can’t build parking here as the federal government/VA will not allow it. As I said before, the VA wants the station here, but they do not want the public on the VA grounds as much as is possible.

      • Donk

        Does the VA own the land in the SW cloverleaf? I don’t see why you can’t put a parking structure in there. Sure it wouldn’t be connected to anything, but would be fine as a park n ride.

  • Brent

    @Donk:

    To my knowledge, there are no park-and-ride structures being planned for the Westside extension. Beverly Hills has proposed one in hopes of enticing MTA to move the Century City stop to Santa Monica Blvd, but that proposal is still up in the air.

    Total trip time remains one of the conceptual problems I have with park-and-ride stops for the Westside extension. A person living, say, two miles or more from the nearest stop would probably be better off driving, given the hassels of getting to the station, parking, waiting for the train, etc. Those living closer than two miles are less likely to need parking, as they might walk or cycle.

    Is subway money better spent on the subway or on parking?

    • Donk

      True, but they built parking structures at La Cienega and Sierra Madre Villa. Why not here?

      If they are not going to include parking, then there is no point of having a station at the VA. They should scrap it or build it at Federal.

      And I don’t totally buy the total trip time argument. If I was trying to get into the middle of Wilshire during rush hour, I would probably drive down the 405 and park and take the subway. That is a pretty miserable drive.

      • Jerard

        The problem with that comes to the state (assembly) language that enabled Measure R to go to the (LA County) voters in the first place. The language has it as “Western Subway Extension to Westwood”.

        Physically having the subway at Wilshire/Federal now places this subway in Barrington/Brentwood area which would go against this language and have it more susceptible to lawsuits for construction impacts because legally this subway shouldn’t be built here yet.

        There are provisions in the Measure R package that enable for language and project changes however those need the following to happen; It can only happen for one project once a decade, needs 2/3rds approval of the LA County Metro Board and needs 2/3rd approval by the State Assembly that crafted the original language meaning this is an uphill battle for this piece of semantics.

        However there is a dedicated peak-hour bus only lane project that will operate on Wilshire from the City limits to the VA station that will link the corridor with the subway so that parking may not be as much of an issue.

        • Donk

          I don’t know – the definition of Westwood can be what you want it to be.

          And with your dedicated bus lane – sure that helps for traffic coming in from Santa Monica, but it doesn’t address traffic from the 405 – a much bigger artery and the source of most of the traffic on the Westside.

          • Jerard Wright

            Definition of Westwood can NOT be what we want it to be.

            This is a legal matter that has to do with how the Voter Measre was written and it has to stay true to that.

            Once this subway and funding within this measure goes beyond a terminus of Westwood, we’re in legal trouble in case a construction accident or dispute with the short term impacts of construction.

  • Adirondacker12800

    Charge them enough to pay off the garage, staff it, maintain it etc. High parking fees make taking the bus to the subway much more attractive.

  • Should they go for their preserved Century City station, and I see the advantages of it, it would be a major failing not to reroute the Santa Monica bus to serve the station – As I understand it, transfers from the Wiltshire rapid to the Santa Monica rapid are pretty important.

    Also, right now the purple line is so short that it makes sense to keep running the Wiltshire rapid, but I’d like to assume that it would be withdrawn on completion of the subway, replaced by really frequent bus service from Westwood/VA hospital station to Santa Monica. That would obviously be a major saving given the high operating costs per passenger of buses.

  • While from Western to La Brea there isn’t a great deal of density, the 2 mile gap between Western and La Brea stations seems problematic to me. Stations about a mile apart, which seems to be the general standard of the planned line, keep everyone on the Wiltshire corridor within a half-mile walk of a station, and as there’s persistent commerce and quite dense residential along Wiltshire, that makes sense.

    A station at Rossmore would be more or less halfway and would serve some tightly packed residences, apartment buildings and commercial premises, and very importantly connect with the north-south 210 bus, that to the north serves a lot of reasonable density in Hollywood and around Melrose Avenue, which would benefit very much from a link to the Wiltshire subway.

    So it seems like an bad call in the tradeoff of speed and coverage to add under a minute of journey time in exchange for a station at Rossmore. Stations add cost, of course, but then, making sure most able bodied passengers along Wiltshire can walk to the subway within ten minutes will reduce the number taking slow local buses that cost a whole lot to operate.

    • (This to say nothing of the possibility of the metro transfer facilitating taking the 710 Crenshaw rapid to Hollywood as per the 210, creating a very important, relatively fast north-south link).

    • It skips by Rossmore because influential Hancock Park residents don’t want a Metro Station on Wilshire. I’m okay with that because that’s less expense to reach I-405.

  • Neel

    Another issue to note is that the Westwood station is located about 0.4 miles from the entrance to UCLA and even further from the majority of the campus (0.8-1.5 miles). If the quarter-mile rubric for evaluating the suitability of each station alignment, why wasn’t a closer station studied/considered in the FEIR?

    • Bruin

      It would’ve been very difficult and expensive for Metro to acquire an adequate construction equipment storage site, as Westwood Village, the area immediately around UCLA, is already incredibly dense. More importantly, though, building the station closer to campus would’ve required tunneling under/near the veterans’ cemetery, and given current societal mores, that is clearly a political nonstarter.

    • Matt

      I think you can expect a UCLA station on campus with the Sepulveda Line, which is part of Measure R.

    • LAofAnaheim

      University stations do not attract great ridership compared to stations located at business districts. Wilshire/Westwood is surrounded by corporate buildings, whereas UCLA has most of their students living around the campus. Also, the campus is busy 180 days a year, compared to businesses/corporations where employees live further and work 270 days a year. It’s way more beneficial to build at Wilshire/Westwood than any closer to UCLA.

      • Donk

        Uh, wrong. UCLA is busy every work day of the year. Your argument only takes into account the students. What about the employees and visitors. You forgot about the medical center, the research facilities, all of the admin support, etc.

      • Donk

        You also forgot about summer school. The only weeks without students are spring break, the week after graduation, and two weeks during xmas.

      • University stations do not attract great ridership compared to stations located at business districts.

        What are you talking about?

        • Anon256

          On a tangentially-related note, why doesn’t the Singapore MRT serve NUS more directly? Was kind of annoying when I visited there in January, and it seems like it wouldn’t have been too hard to divert the circle line to come at least a bit closer. It seems like an awfully large destination to relegate to feeder bus service.

          (I was surprised in general by how sprawly NUS seemed compared even to many US campuses I am familiar with, and also that you haven’t commented more on this — though maybe it’s just that walking distances seem longer in Singapore weather.)

      • jim

        How many jobs are there at Wilshire/Westwood vs. on campus? I’m just asking because here the University of Pennsylvania is the largest employer in Philadelphia and is served by 2 regional rail stations, 5 underground streetcar stops and 3 subway stations. The University City Station is the 5th busiest station in the regional rail system. 5th after the Temple University Station (4th) and the 3 Center City stations. There is nothing around Temple to explain away the ridership at that station (the subway station on the other side of campus is also one of the busiest outside of Center City).

        I don’t know enough about either possible termini to say one way or the other – i’m just saying that it’s entirely possible that a University station could draw more riders than one centered on a cluster of office buildings.

        • FG

          Isn’t education a bigger part of Philly’s economy than LA’s? And of course, you have a 19th/early 20th century system in an 18th century city, with the Penn/Drexel complex (practically) on top of the main station and walkable to center city too, i.e. closer station spacing and more modes. You are right though, Penn/Drexel are together bigger than UCLA in student body and Temple is comparable to UCLA, so a UCLA station should have high ridership.

    • Although University Metro stations DO attract a lot of ridership, moving the Westwood Station north of Wilshire Blvd to LeConte Ave or Weyburn Ave closer to UCLA has the undesirable byproduct of moving it away from Westwood business district. For those who don’t know, Westwood business along Wilshire Blvd has several 20+ story, A-grade office buildings and the Hammer Museum. Thus, Westwood business district attracts many commuters from the greater LA.

      As a UCLA alum who caught the campus circulator bus many times at LeConte Ave next to UCLA Medical Center, I doubt that students would mind having that UCLA circulator bus extend 4 short blocks to a Metro Wilshire-Westwood station. When I attended, we simply preferred to have the UCLA circulator buses run more frequently.

      Both LA Metro and Santa Monica run regular bus transit up to UCLA campus at LeConte Ave (south side) and on Hilgard Ave (east side). With the Metro station at Wilshire-Westwood, those bus services can continue the same routes. People headed to Westwood Village, a dining and entertainment area fronting UCLA, can also walk 1-3 short blocks up Westwood Blvd.

      In total, fail to to see how moving the station up to LeConte Ave or Weyburn Ave (3/4ths the way towards UCLA Medical Center) improves the Cost Per Matron Mile by moving it away from Westwood business district. Perhaps even worse, there would be less room for parking and buses that will need to intersect with the Metro Station at Westwood Blvd.

  • James

    Ask the Chinese to build it. They could have the line finished in 3 years, tops. Also, why is that station entrance sitting in a Le Corbusierian urban parklet instead of being surrounded by TOD?

  • A $100B bullet train to San Francisco is an appealing idea, but a small fraction of that cost spent to improve transit within our cities would do a lot more for our economy.

    The big problem with this project is, it needs to go all the way to Santa Monica, for an alternative to sitting in traffic on the 10 FWY.

    We balk at a couple $B for this but we can always find another $B or two to widen a freeway. (Note how only the per mile cost of that project is given, and not the total cost.)

    • Chris Loos

      The Expo line- not the Purple line, will be the true alternative to the 10 freeway, as it passes through all the same communities. Phase I opens April 28 (minus the last station at Culver City which will open this summer), and Phase II will open in 2015, taking the line all the way to 4th St in Santa Monica.

      A 45-minute $1.50-ride from DTLA to the beach that bypasses all the traffic…what a gamechanger that will be.

      • Mike Jones

        Chris, I-10 was built to parallel Wilshire, not the other way round. It is irrelevant that the Expo Line follows I-10, who cares? The main corridor is Wilshire and when completed to Santa Monica will be the fastest route, using the higher capacity technology.

        • Chris Loos

          If you know of any plans to extend the Purple line to Santa Monica, its news to me. Even in their long range plans, Metro has the Purple line’s terminus set as the VA Hospital near the 405.

          So feel free to wait for that Purple line extension that you just invented. Me and the rest of Los Angeles will be happy to ride the Expo line to Santa Monica in 2015.

          • Nathanael

            The Purple Line has always been planned to extend to Santa Monica. Ask the City of Santa Monica. :-) They’ve already been trying to do station studies and whatnot. Metro’s schedule for that has always been “sometime in the far future”, of course, so maybe 2040 or 2050? Expo will be needed until then for sure.

    • George

      That’s because highway spending is an “investment”, whereas transit spending is a “subsidy”. LA needs a truly monumental expansion of its rail system to make it usable for most residents, something on the line of Mexico City/Chicago/DC in scope. As it stands, it doesn’t do the majority of residents much good.

      • Chris Loos

        LA is too spread out to ever have rail that blankets the entire city. There will always be residents that are not within a half-mile of a station. That being said, the city has already embarked on an ambitious rail expansion program- more so than any other city in the country currently is. I’m unfamiliar with Mexico City’s system, but LA’s system will certainly be larger than Chicago and DC’s when it’s completed.

        • Ken D.

          1/2 mile would probably not be doable, but I could see the city having everyone within 1 to 1 1/2 miles of a station by the mid 21st century.

        • Joshua

          Chris, Los Angeles used to have a train system that spread across the entire city. I was dismantled to make way for the freeways. It was at one time the most extensive urban rail system west of the Mississippi. There were trolley cars in almost every neighborhood as well as city to city transit from downtown LA to Long Beach and Santa Monica.

          • Nathanael

            Most of the Blue Line, Expo Line, Orange Lie, and parts of the Gold Line and Metrolink are actually on old Pacific Electric interurban streetcar rights-of-way.

    • You’e falling for the sucker play of denying California HSR funds in order to expand LA and SF Bay Area transit funding. Transit needs more funding instead of expanding freeways inside metro areas.

      Even at $98 billion, California HSR is a bargain compared to the only intercity alternative — spending $120-170 billion for California freeway and airport expansion for people traversing the state. See more insights at http://soulofamerica.com/interact/soulofamerica-travel-blog/interstate-hsr-network-part-7/

  • I’m pretty sure that the reason there is no station at Rossmore/Crenshaw is due to NIMBY sentiment from the neighborhood residents. Perhaps in 20 years they’ll be like the residents of Georgetown who now want the Washington Metro to serve them.

    Overall, people in LA are going to have to start taking the bus to the subway like people in every other city do. Until the Sepulveda Pass project is built there are incredibly frequent buses operated by UCLA that will transport you from campus to the Westwood Station. Very frequent bus routes operated by Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus go from Santa Monica to both the VA and the Westwood Station. I can’t remember if this is the case, but I hope that when Expo Line Phase II opens that Big Blue Bus #10 will be cancelled and the resources reinvested to improve the other lines.

    I agree with the VA station though – it’s hard to imagine it will have a lot of usage pushed so far back from everything but the hospital. It’s too bad the tunneling can’t continue just a bit westward to a station at Federal / Barrington.

    • Gil

      Would that same sentiment toward a Crenshaw station preclude an eventual northern extension of the Crenshaw line to the Purple line at this location? The Crenshaw corridor study area goes as far west as La Brea, which would be the next station where it could make a connection if it didn’t connect with Wilshire/Western instead. If attitudes don’t change they could be in for a bigger loss down the road.

  • Matthew

    “With stations spaced at about one station per mile, the argument could be made that these neighborhoods are not being served well enough, especially the community situated between the proposed UCLA and Century City stations, which would be about two miles apart.”

    Your posts are usually pretty reasonable, but it seems every time you write about LA, your lack of knowledge about the city really shows. Although there are some tall buildings between UCLA and Century City, this is an area called “Condo Canyon” that is primarily anti-transit. This population already lobbied heavily to get BRT lanes removed from planning for that section of Wilshire so they wouldn’t block traffic. Aside from that, there are mostly single family households without much ridership potential to justify the cost of a station.

    • jim

      Having no station at Rossmore might be fine for the people who live in the low density neighborhood around Wilshire/Rossmore but it’s not fine for the people who ride the 210 and want to connect to the train. Bus-to-rail transfers are as much a part of subway ridership as people walking to the station.

      • Matt

        You don’t design a subway to accomodate a bus line. The 210 can easily be adjusted so it hits the Wilshire/Western station on its route. No need to spend $200+ million on a station.

        • jim

          By that logic we could trim the line down to 3 or 4 stops, divert the buses and save a ton of money. Unfortunately that doesn’t drive ridership. A plethora of useful destinations and good connections drive ridership. You are right in that you don’t design a subway to accommodate a bus line. You design it as part of a whole system based around utility and intermodalism – especially when your bus system carries over a million passengers per day. You don’t go sending a bus a mile (6+ minutes) off its route (120x per day) to make the connection.

  • Kelly Stevens

    There is a “plan b” if the expanded TIFIA does not happen. Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation which could lead to another ballot measure designed to extend the half cent sales tax past its 30 expiration and allow bonding against future revenues. Unfortunately, it would, like the original measure R, need to win a supper majority vote (67%) here in LA County, after being passed by the State legislature (also with a supermajority?) and being signed by the governer. Plus, this fall there will be other tax hike measures on the ballot.

  • “…Beverly Hills, the Century City business district, and UCLA, before reaching Santa Monica. The three intermediary areas together contain about 150,000 jobs, about as many as downtown L.A.”

    These numbers are way off. Downtown LA has just shy of 500,000 jobs. The westside, as defined as north of the 10 freeway, west of Vermont, south of the Santa Monica Mountains, and bordered by the ocean has a total of 400,000 jobs. Numbers are at laedc.org.

    An even better reason to build this thing.

  • Frank

    “Ask the Chinese to build it. They could have the line finished in 3 years, tops.”

    The Chinese don’t have to deal with Environmental Impact Statements, Unions, 1000’s of special interest groups, NIMBYs, the highway lobby, etc. and have a unlimited pipeline of cheap labor from the countryside and money from Beijing.

    • Ken D.

      L.A. will probably never have a Beijing, Shanghai, or Tokyo level of rail service because land use patterns are very different here from China, and are also quite unlikely to change. We won’t be tearing down our single-family home subdivisions to put up office and apartment towers. We’re kind of stuck with the mid 20th century style of development that we have.

      That said, I think L.A. could develop 8-10 major corridors for rail service (as it is currently) and use feeder buses to fill in the gaps to the places rail can never work due to lack of density.

  • Mike Jones

    Chris, unless it has been explicitly rejected Santa Monica is the final destination of the Purple Line. I agree information is lacking as details have firmed up on the Westwood extension,but I don’t think LA will be ultimately happy if all it gets to Santa Monica is the Expo Line.

  • Wanderer

    I wonder about Condo Canyon. It’s not the way the world should work, but those affluent residents might be inclined to use a train when they wouldn’t use a bus. I’ve also always wondered why there’s no local bus service on Beverly Glen Blvd. South of Wilshire there are lots of (low rise) apartments on and around Beverly Glen–it seems like their residents might feed into a Beverly Glen station. Crenshaw/Rossmore is a lost opportunity too, but that area has always “prided” itself on being the one stretch of low density zoning along Wilshire, and neighborhood associations there publicly fought the proposed station.

  • Billy Bob

    What is with the constant citing of “federal loans”, the 30/10 plan?

    Cause I think you guys are LOONEY if you think that is ever gonna happen in this political climate.

    • Nathanael

      “This” political climate?

      Think “after November”.

      People HATE the Congressional Republicans for their jackassery.

  • Mike

    The “financing” discussion here is a bit vague, so maybe someone can clarify some details.

    The $4+ billion price tag is too much for LA County to finance. Why’s that? The bond markets wouldn’t go for such a large sales-tax-backed bond package? Or because forecast sales tax revenues actually aren’t sufficient to back such a bond?

    TIFIA guarantees would shave $0.5+ billion off YOE costs. Okay, much of this is simply due to spending sooner, rather than later. And some of it is due to lower interest rates that TIFIA would provide, compared to a straight muni issue. How much due to each?

    I guess it’s just not clear to me why the case is being made that this whole scheme hinges on TIFIA.

    • Yes, there is not a significant cost difference between the plans in terms of 2011 $, it’s only in the year-of-expenditure that there is a difference.

      Metro’s Accelerated Financial Plan provides some answers to your questions.

      Basically, the use of federal loans allows the county to take out long-term bonds that it would not be able to independently, and in doing so it reduces several risks that result from stretching out a construction process, like construction cost inflation. And it reduces financing costs significantly. It is possible for L.A. County to cover all of the local share of costs, but because of the other projects it is pursuing, that cannot be done in the short term because of agency limitations.

      In order to deal with that, the agency plans to apply for (and receive) a $641 million TIFIA loan, which is expected to have a 3.43% interest rate. This will be paid back by 18 years of Measure R sales tax revenues It also expects to receive $1.982 billion in QTIB (Qualified Transportation Improvement Bonds), which are supposed to have a federal subsidy equivalent to the interest rate (5.5% over 30 years). QTIB requires new legislation to pass; in order for LA Metro to get its fully proposed TIFIA amount, it would be easier if the TIFIA pot were expanded, as new legislation has allowed.

      I should also point out that the project will be funded 42% by federal New Starts grants, 52% by Measure R revenues, and 6% from other sources.

      • Mike

        Ah, QTIBs! Now I get it. Getting almost $2b of QTIBs (formerly known as QTCBs, or Qualified Tax Credit Bonds) would represent a huge federal subsidy to the project, which certainly would make a significant difference in delivering Metro’s ambitious program. But unless I’m mistaken, Barbara Boxer (D-Metro) didn’t manage (or perhaps even try?) to get QTIBs into the Senate’s transportation act. Which makes me suspect that it’s the longest of long shots.

      • Kelly Stevens

        Yonah, maybe I’m missing something, but the answer to Mike’s last question (“I guess it’s just not clear to me why the case is being made that this whole scheme hinges on TIFIA.”) is that LAMTA is not authorized to bond against future measure R revenues. It might also be true that it would be cheaper to borrow via a federal program. But as to why we are not issuing muni bonds to build the measure R projects sooner is that we would need a ballot measure that authorized selling bonds. Measure R did not do this. The the reason that the mayor and Assembly Member Mike Feuer are talking about another ballot measure is to let MTA to bond against measure R revenues and thus allow accelerated spending. Am I missing something?

        • Thanks for that clarification, Kelly. It is true that other agencies (notably MTA-NYCT) bond against future revenues. My understanding, however, was that Metro could as well, just that 30 years of revenues are not enough to pay for the high interest rates that Metro would pay if it were going it alone without federal loan aid. Feuer’s legislation would extend Measure R to 40 years and be able to pay for that. Am I wrong? I would appreciate getting this cleared up as much as anyone else reading, I’m sure!

          • Kelly Stevens

            You must be right. I was assuming that some sort of additional legislative authorization for bonding was necessary for the following reason. We have had two previous .05% sales tax increases before measure R. Those two were permanent. One would think that this would be enough to accelerate the Wilshire line (vs. all 12 of the 30/10 projects). There already is enough money to build the first third of the line in the next 10 years, so they would need to borrow just two-thirds of the total cost. I was assuming that the reason they won’t do this is that they can’t. If they can, why aren’t they. Though it would be great to accelerate all 12 measure R projects via either federal loans or a new ballot measure extending the measure R , why not at least borrow to finish such an important line? There must be some good reason why they won’t do this.

          • Mike

            The Measure R ordinance discusses that LAMTA already has statutory authority to bond against revenues (including not just sales tax but also fares!) and clearly anticipates that bonds may be sold against Measure R revenues.
            http://www.metro.net/measurer/images/ordinance.pdf

            • Kelly Stevens

              Thanks! Ya, I was reading the Final EIR’s finance section this morning. The need for AFF or a measure R extension must be the level of interest rates the Muni market would demand for the larger and longer term bonds needed for fast tracking the subway. With $108 Billion to $120 Billion in sales tax coming in over the next 30 years form prop A and C, and measure R, you’d think we could barrow the less than 5.5 Billion needed at reasonable rates. I guess not!

            • Mike

              Kelly, after reading Feuer’s new bill, it sounds to me like the deal is that Metro has simply over-committed revenues from its multiple sales tax measures (a problem made worse by the economic downturn, which has reduced projected revenues from these taxes), and Metro is not willing to scrap some parts of the expenditure plans in order to concentrate on getting Westside done. So the “solution” is to maintain all of the commitments, and to simply try to get more money: first from the federal government (through lucrative interest rate subsidies) and second through extending Measure R by 10 years and dedicating 100% of that incremental revenue to Westside.

              • Yes, I think that’s right. Basically, Measure R was only politically palatable if it promised investments throughout the county throughout the period of investment. As a result, concentrating all the resources on one project in the immediate term was never really an option.

    • SwissObserver

      What a pitty, this city definitly needs more money to build its public transport infrastructure…

      I might be totally naive, but is there no other way to add or divert money to speed upt this project? After all, this project greatly enhences the performance of an important transport axis – so the benefit is not limited to the riders of public transport.

      Is there no way to let road taxes/budgets/fuel taxes pay a part of it? Or isn’t there enough money anyway to keep roads and highways in a state of good repair? What about Californias direct democratic tools, can’t someone start an popular initiative?

      • Anon256

        Measure R was a popular initiative, to raise sales taxes to pay for more transit. As Yonah noted, this will provide about half the cost of the project, with the other half coming from federal grants (i.e. fuel taxes).

        Both of these sources are limited. Tax increases in California are difficult to pass as they require the support of 2/3 of voters (thanks to the malice of Proposition 13, which was voted into the state constitution in 1978 and has made sensible government all but impossible ever since). And as you noted, there isn’t enough fuel tax money to pay for road maintenance (and Congress has been unwilling to even raise fuel taxes with inflation) so in the current political climate it is difficult to divert much more to transit.

        The fact that infrastructure construction in the US costs much more than anywhere else in the world doesn’t help either.

      • Roger

        Endorsing new or increased taxes in the U.S. is generally a quick road to electoral defeat. Unlike Europe, we really, really hate taxes. We do like to buy things with tax money through, and therein lies the problem. The political climate of the U.S. currently is extremely hostile to these type of projects, even more so than it was 10 or 15 years ago, when it was already bad. I don’t see it changing in the near future.

      • Nathanael

        Prop 13, which needs to be repealed, makes it somewhere between difficult and impossible to simply “raise the money”.

        Why? Because Prop 13 requires supermajorities to raise taxes. If California were a normal state, a vote of the majority of the people would be enough to raise whatever tax LA chose to raise in order to pay for subways. You can get a majority. Getting supermajorities is more of a problem.

  • the only reason to put any train underground is to:
    1) make sure the project never happens, and
    2) keep cars the dominant mode of transport on the surface streets.

    it’s a catastrophic waste of money to be digging holes in the earth to run trains through. might as well light that money on fire. let’s get a little ‘surface subway’ going — keep the darn train at grade — get the project done 20 years sooner, animate the streets better, be better for walkability and bikeability, better for ‘eyes on the street’ safety, better in just about every single aspect of urbanism.

    • Anon256

      Like the slower-than-a-bus East LA Gold Line?

      Transit isn’t for decoration, it’s for getting large numbers of people where they are going quickly. It’s just not feasible for street-running transit to provide the speed and capacity that the Wilshire corridor needs. Surface-running can be a good way to save money in outlying and lower-density areas, but everywhere in the world, effective transit in dense urban corridors is grade-separated.

      • Nathanael

        Wilshire is already running an extraordinary number of buses, and they’re all full. It needs bus lanes, and it seems like it’s (mostly) getting them. But even adding at-grade trains wouldn’t help much. It needs grade-separated transit. Even with the grade-separated transit, there will STILL be full buses running every 5 minutes — Wilshire is just that busy.

    • I generally agree that light rail is generally a more agreeable proposition than a subway, because it a) saves funds such that transit can spread all over the city, b) takes capacity away from cars, and c) happens much, much faster.

      It’s instructive, however, that LA has a lot of light rail in the pipeline. Here is a city that doesn’t build subways unless it really, really needs to.

      But if there’s one place it does need to, it’s the Wiltshire corridor – about the strongest single transit corridor in the entire city, serving a number of dense suburban centres, which at peak times supports a local bus every 5 minutes and a limited stop bus every 5 minutes.

      Given that a lot more people will take a really fast subway than existing buses, and that sustainable growth is best located at existing dense centres and along existing dense corridors, it’s a fair bet that the future of the Wiltshire corridor will need the capacity that only a subway can easily deliver.

      • Andre L.

        Here, in point b), we can see pure bigotry. Treating cars as “the enemy” or drivers as smokers or drug users is a sure way to antagonize voters and push a mentality of social engineering and “us-the-good-doers-that-use-trains vs. you-people-all-evil-car-users” that harms everyone.

        • Anyway, cars are the enemy. The negative impacts of cars upon the city, the people who live in it and the climate are huge, and taking away capacity is a proven way of reducing the number of cars that use a route.

          I object to your taking me attitude towards cars and equating it to my attitude towards drivers. I do not think drivers need be treated as a class of people, the impacts upon whom are viewed as we might the impacts of a project upon non-white people or the mobility impaired.”Drivers” are people that happen to find that a car best suits their needs at a given time, and whether those people are drivers depends upon how good transit is and how bad driving is.

          While it is necessary to restrain the proliferation of car use in cities, equally I want people who are presently drivers to have superior alternatives. These things work together, as the more we take away car lanes without thinking twice, the more easily and quickly we can build fast transit all over a city.

          • calwatch

            That attitude is not what got Measure R passed, and demonizing drivers and their investments is not going to help bring better transit and more livable streets.

            • Anon256

              “That attitude is not what got Measure R passed, and demonizing drivers and their investments is not going to help bring better transit and more livable streets.” Depends on the context. Probably not in LA, but I think we could do with more of this in NYC (i.e. congestion pricing).

            • Nathanael

              Getting rid of car lanes makes traffic move better anyway. After one driving lane each way (plus parking lanes, turn lanes, etc.) you’re just wasting asphalt; widened roads get eaten up with weaving movements.

      • Nathanael

        Zoltan, a correction: at peak times, Wilshire runs a local bus every 5 minutes, a limited-stop bus every five minutes, *and an express bus every 10 minutes*, last I checked.

    • Joshua

      Er, or 3), because the existing built environment necessitates it (e.g., London, Paris, Barcelona, Tokyo, NYC, Washington DC, Boston, Moscow, Mexico City, Rome, Madrid, Shanghai, Montreal, etc.). There’s not always a nefarious reason for wanting more expensive infrastructure.

      • That said, the major streets of New York (other than downtown Manhattan) and DC, and many of those in London and Paris (I can’t speak for the other cities you list) are easily wide enough for a lane of light rail in the middle and general traffic on either side, were one willing to sacrifice car capacity to do it.

        The world’s first subway, indeed, was built under London’s Euston Road, which is a very wide and unpleasantly highway-like road, and was built because the heavy main line trains that originally ran through to the Euston Road subway would have been intolerable running on street.

        What subways do in those cities that light rail wouldn’t be able to do is provide the capacity of longer and wider trains than the street would accomodate, at a higher frequency than the street would accomodate.

        Subways are also generally faster than 30mph on-street running with agressive signal priority (not that this is a guarantee – cough, Baltimore, cough). That said, the speed gains are negated by the longer access time to the platforms.

        In short, few arguments stack up for the expense of subways, but really high capacity definitely does. It’s not unrealistic to suppose that Wiltshire in a few decades time will need the passenger capacity of a subway line in New York, Paris or London.

        • Anon256

          “Aggressive signal priority” is a reasonable option for suburban corridors, but there’s just not much you can do when much/most of the cross traffic is pedestrians. Once pedestrians are in the intersection, any transit vehicle that comes along is going to have to wait for them to finish crossing. Top speeds would be limited by the need to slow for jaywalkers at any rate.

          In the centre of a dense city, the surface is and should be for pedestrians first and foremost. Every other form of transport needs to slow down, we’re trying to walk here.

          Even in suburban corridors, stoplight-based signal priority in practise nearly always seems hopelessly compromised/insufficiently aggressive. If you’re serious about signal priority you should probably have crossing gates. I think that imagining crossing gates at every crossing on Second Ave or Utica Ave in NYC makes it clearer just how disruptive of pedestrian life reasonably fast surface transit would be.

          I agree that taking space away from cars would be a plus though.

  • Westside Subway Extension

    Even for capacity, neither a subway nor grade separation are absolutely necessary: at-grade signal pre-emption can work too.

    The reasons why LA is building the subway under Wilshire Boulevard are the following:

    1. The existing line under the eastern section of Wilshire is an electric third rail subway that does not have the clearance to be retrofitted with overhead wires.

    2. The line will veer off Wilshire to serve the dense Century City neighbhorhood; neither an at grade nor an elevated alignment would allow this.

    3. Between Beverly Hills and Westwood, there are several moderately steep hills and horizontal curves on Wilshire that would significantly reduce speeds if it were at grade.

    4. In general, at-grade on Wilshire would get opposition due to loss of traffic lanes, and elevation would get opposition due to “visual impacts.”

    While many would agree that the last reason is not pro-transit, most transit advocates would agree with the rationale of the first three.

    • Nathanael

      For the capacity WILSHIRE needs, grade-separation is a must.

      Really, look at the current collection of buses — they’re all packed to the gills. You can’t really add much more. Yeah, light rail could run somewhat longer trains — but you’d be running them so frequently that they’d be blocking intersections constantly; there’d be no time for cross traffic.

  • Andrew

    Wilshire absolutely has to be a subway because of the huge potential demand on this corridor, given the high population/employment density, overcrowded bus routes and severe traffic congestion problems on I-10. If the rest of the Los Angeles rail network is expanded sufficiently to create a feeder network I would also expect ridership to vastly exceed 49,300 a day. This is about the same as the much-maligned “Sheppard subway” in Toronto which goes through an area with lower densities than Wilshire. This ridership estimate seems ridiculously low to me.

    Also I would consider the fact that subway does not require removing car lanes to be a good thing. In an area like LA where many people have little choice but to drive if they are going to suburbs with poor or no transit, removing car lanes is likely to increase traffic congestion. This has been the effect of the controversial St. Clair streetcar project in Toronto, where the road has been reduced to 1 car lane each way in sections, and causing spillover traffic congestion on Eglinton Avenue. A subway creates extra capacity for transit riders underground while keeping car capacity above ground unchanged. Light rail may make sense in lower density areas due to its lower cost but removing car lanes is a negative not a positive and it should be carefully considered whether this tradeoff is acceptable.

    • I’m sure MTA sandbagged the patron forecast numbers. The under forecast the Hllywood Red Line. Anticipate 75-80K more commuters for the Purple Line (Westside) subway.

    • Nathanael

      Wilshire is still going to have massive bus service and needs bus lanes. Even though I strongly believe in reducing car lanes, I don’t think it would fit bus lanes AND streetcar lanes, not while retaining parking & loading.

  • Brandi

    So why did they cancel the connection structure for a potential pink line through west hollywood? Would seem like an excellent opportunity to make the system better in the future. That seems like a lack of foresight for a little cost.

    • It is currently expected that the more likely Metrorail project via West Hollywood is as part of a northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX line which would head up to Hollywood/Highland either via San Vicente and Santa Monica or via San Vicente and Fairfax

  • Matt,

    I would normally agree, except that LA’s bus lines very strictly follow the street grid. To change that would disrupt a lot of passengers making trips involving whichever grid street a bus runs along – to say nothing of simplicity and legibility.

    Think of it not as a station to connect with the 210, but as a station to serve a strong north-south arterial that supports bus service.

    • Matt

      Yes, I can see that argument. With Expo coming on, the 210 will hit that on its normal route and so the connection to the Purple Line is not as important at this point, so I think there is no reason to change its routing.

  • I couldn’t agree more with some of the comments. this project is needed and hopefully will reduce the amount of cars

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