Los Angeles

Expo Line, Not Yet Completed, Prepares for Extension to Santa Monica

Expo Line Phase IILos Angeles is intent on bringing rapid transit to the sea, and won’t wait for the subway to see it happen

The Exposition Construction Authority‘s board has voted for the locally preferred alignment for an extension of the Expo line from Culver City to Santa Monica along the existing Exposition Boulevard right-of-way to Colorado Avenue, where it will continue as a street-running light rail service to 4th Street. The vote clears the way for Los Angeles Metro to begin applying for federal New Start funds for the project. Construction might begin as early as next year, with service proposed for 2015.

The line to Santa Monica will be the continuation of the Expo Line, which is currently under construction, with a planned opening in 2010. That service will provide commuters with a connection between downtown L.A. and Culver City, via Exposition Boulevard. If plans for a downtown connector come through, the Expo Line would eventually connect to Union Station and East L.A. Once completed, travel time between downtown’s 7th Street/Metro Center (where transfers to Red, Purple, and Blue Lines would take place) and Santa Monica would take about 45 minutes.

The Expo Authority’s decision took in a number of possibilities for the line’s route – a number of community organizers argued that it would make more sense to extend trans along Venice and Sepulveda Boulevards (the other potential route shown in the map above) rather than along the existing railroad right-of-way. But the board’s decision was well-reasoned: the chosen route will cost 1/3 less ($1 billion vs. $1.5 billion), have a travel time that is 3/4 as long (15 minutes vs. 20 minutes), and attract slightly higher ridership (64,000 daily vs. 62,000 for the whole line).

Though everyone in Los Angeles is still waiting for a Wilshire subway – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s famous “subway to the sea” that would potentially transport customers between downtown and Santa Monica in 20 minutes – that project is years from even the design phase. And with deep boring necessary for construction, it will take far longer to build than the surface-level Expo Line. Seeing the Expo project move forward into its second phase before the first is even completed is good news.

Image above: Expo LRT phase 2 potential routes, from Friends4Expo

4 replies on “Expo Line, Not Yet Completed, Prepares for Extension to Santa Monica”

Thank goodness this is decided. Now build it.

No bus/rail hybrid. While we need a strong bus system, buses are not the solution to keeping Los Angeles mobile in an ever-dense Los Angeles.

Its counter-productive to take ideological stances against one or another mode of transportation. Instead, the Metro should treat the situation opportunistically and deploy bus or trains according to which serves demand best, recognizing that demand may shift in the future. This is why it would be advantageous to construct grade-separated corridors with rail sunken into driving surface.

Lets say, you live in Inglewood and work in Santa Monica (not an unusual commute). Intermodal capability might allow you to board a rapid bus at La Cienega and Slauson that enters the expo line at Jefferson and goes express to Santa Monica. (Not dissimilar to the Big Blue Bus 10 express that picks up throughout Santa Monica and then goes downtown.)

For a little investment you could at least build in this capacity. Buses have a bad rap as transit for the poor, but they hold the advantage of flexibility over sexier fixed rail modes. Once the middle classes start riding buses again post-peak oil, this stigma will begin to disappear. Lets stop fetishizing certain modes and look for holistic solutions. More here.


One criticism I have of your plan — and I am a frequent user of Metro buses and trains — is that it is a design solution that causes engineering problems.

I don’t have an ideological bias toward the plan, but here’s the problem in making it work. By channeling so many vehicles on a particular guideway, you introduce too many choke points that make the overall system unreliable.

If you want to see a real world example of your plan implemented, look at San Francisco’s Muni Metro or Boston’s Green Line. These are all trains, but the branches are flexible and offer very bus-like services.

This is also why service is notoriously unreliable. In San Francisco, Muni Metro lines share a common tunnel underneath Market Street. They then exit to surface street running to West San Francisco.

On the streets, Muni Metro trains act like buses. They have stops every few blocks — and they are bus stops, not train platforms.They also take the characteristics of buses.

Then you get into the Market Street tunnel. Because of the unreliability of the street running, the trains cannot operate smoothly in the tunnels. Trains bunch — a lot.

You have the effect of introducing a snag on one part of one line to the whole system.

With buses and rail, you are adding the characteristics of not only different lines, but different speeds. Every bus and train in the network will be unreliable.

Also, it is not something resolved by better planning or management. It has little to do with competency. It has a lot to do with the chaos of operations. Just as chaos theory can be summed up as a butterfly’s fluttering causing a hurricane in a distant part of the world, you have a lot of small but chaotic elements that compound to unreliable service (a red light, a passenger boarding slowly, vehicles bunching, etc.).

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