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Los Angeles Has Big Transit Ambitions, But Which Project Comes First?

Los Angeles Rapid Transit Proposals

» The Mayor’s prioritization of a subway beneath Wilshire Boulevard meets opposition from congressmen representing areas east and south of downtown.

With the passage of Measure R last November, Los Angeles bought itself a massive expansion of its rapid transit network. The system, which currently consists of three light rail lines and two heavy rail corridors, is already being expanded in two directions. Over the next thirty years, new services are planned for virtually everywhere in the 10 million-person county. But Metro, the region’s transit provider, will have to determine which projects to prioritize as it competes for federal funding — and the fight is already underway.

Though the county will be able to rely on billions of dollars in sales tax revenue over the next few decades, benefits will have to spread out — Metro’s list of projects won’t be done until 2040 at the earliest. In August, City of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who heads the Metro board, suggested that he wanted to push forward the completion of the “subway to the sea” in ten years. The extension of the heavy rail Purple Line envisioned for the city’s west side would serve the region’s most densely populated neighborhood and dramatically reduce commute times for people heading to the traffic-congested area. But the mammoth cost of the west side subway project will overwhelm Metro’s finances, forcing it to devote far fewer funds to the region’s other transit proposals.

Metro’s board will vote this week on its long-term, $300 billion plan, which would accelerate planning and construction on the project. It would also prioritize the completion of the Regional Connector, which will connect the Blue and Expo lines to the Gold Line with a new downtown link. Both would be submitted to the New Starts evaluation process to attempt to win a federal contribution; Metro has judged them most likely to fit the FTA’s strenuous cost-effectiveness ratings. Said Mayor Villaraigosa: “The MTA board unanimously adopted its federal transit priorities last month, and on the merits the subway and regional connector have the greatest potential to earn federal support.”

Unsurprisingly, politicians representing areas of the region far from downtown and the prosperous west side are crying fowl. Fourteen congressmen, including both Democrats and Republicans, signed a letter asking Metro to move forward on three other projects, including the Foothills Line Extension to Montclair, an East L.A. corridor into El Monte, and the Crenshaw transit corridor in southwest Los Angeles. The letter argues that while the Foothills corridor is almost ready for construction work, the Regional Connector and west side subway are five years from ground breaking. As the letter puts it, “We are very concerned that Los Angeles County is not positioning itself well to receive its fair share of New Starts funding in the near- and long-term.” To them, the domination of the west side subway would create an unfair situation for the rest of the region and deprive the county of its deserved federal revenue.

But Los Angeles will have difficulty applying for five New Starts projects simultaneously, and it’s unclear whether Metro will be capable of handling construction work on so many programs at the same time. In addition, while the corridors mentioned by politicians from east and south Los Angeles may fill out the network, as demonstrated in the map above, they are not likely to get high marks from federal officials because they serve sprawled-out, auto-oriented areas, unlike the two projects Mr. Villaraigosa is promoting.

Nonetheless, Metro may have no choice but to demonstrate its interest in all parts of the region; in order to receive federal funds, it needs support from legislators in Washington. The City of Los Angeles, which would stand to benefit most from the subway and Connector projects, only represents about a third of the County’s residents — there are plenty of people who will feel excluded if they are the only projects built. Nonetheless, the region’s sales tax revenue isn’t strong enough to cover the local share of project costs. At some point, one area of the region is going to have to get more funds than another. Yet while the west side subway may be the best investment from the perspective of improved transit, it may not be the wisest choice from the political angle.

The broader implication of this political and financial choice is that Los Angeles cannot immediately become the transit city implied in the drawing above — it will take decades for the region to assemble the funding for the construction of such a huge network. To some extent, that’s why Mayor Villaraigosa’s excitement about the subway to the sea makes sense: his plan would reinforce public transportation connections in an area that’s already dense enough to take full advantage of the system. Other routes prized by legislators from areas to the east and south would be far less effective in doing the same. Estimates for the Crenshaw corridor of only 13,000 to 17,000 daily riders, for instance, are indicative of its current limitations; most of the areas affected would hardly be considered walkable or “livable.”

That said, Los Angeles’ massive ambitions are necessary to prime the region for a more sustainable future. It’s high time that the area stop being referred to as the capital of sprawl, and big plans are the first step towards recovery.

Update, 23 October: The Board of Los Angeles Metro has approved a $300 billion, 30-year plan that prioritizes the Westside Subway and the Regional Connector. An amendment will force Metro to operate the Foothills Gold Line extension by 2013, four years before originally planned… as long as area officials are able to find the funds to fast-track the project’s construction.

56 replies on “Los Angeles Has Big Transit Ambitions, But Which Project Comes First?”

That map is wonderful and makes my heart sing.

The two most important projects are the Westside Subway extension (heavy rail) and the downtown Regional Connector (light-rail).

Of course it is only natural for every area is going to think that their project is the most important one.

It’s incredibly important to remember that the Gold line extensions and the Crenshaw line do not meet federal guidelines for funding on a cost/ridership basis. That’s why metro didn’t bother to apply for funds, and it’s why we’re going to have to pay for those lines without matching federal funds, making them 2x-8x more expensive for angelinos than they would otherwise appear.

Politicians from all over LA county should remember that it is their constituents that will benefit the most from the subway and Downtown connector… not just residents in the Westside. The job growth is in Westside and that is where people in San Gabriel Valley and South LA currently spending hours on the freeway to commute. So while it may be reflex for politicians to support projects in their district, they would shortchange the people they represent if this somehow results in delays to the subway and Downtown connector, which will be most significant. The Gold line extension and Crenshaw line will not have much utility if there is no Downtown connector and subway extension to the Westside.

This map would be great, especially when high speed rail is added. I am interested what the other counties in Southern California are planning, specifically Orange County. OCTA has invested in Metrolink expansion but has there been any further discussion of a light rail system since the CenterLine proposal was nixed?

I love that map! Does anyone know what the status is on the Airport Express between LAX and Union Station? I thought metro was considering it for the Harbor Subdivision, but it seemed like it was only an alternative, not a compliment, to light rail or busway.

I totally agree with others on funding priority. The Westside is obviously suited for transit because of the built environment and poor auto access for many dense employment centers.

Mayor Villaraigosa, thanks for fighting so hard, but it seems that insanity disguised as the ‘voice of reason’ is winning out.

It’s so horribly sad we can’t FINALLY build the most crucial public transportation pieces allowing LA to rejoin the list of world cities that efficiently move a lion’s share of its working commuters, students, and tourists. 
We certainly have legions of the willing, but by not building it WHERE WE NEED IT & WHEN WE NEED IT, we stand to lose all confidence and overwhelming public support, as our citizens gear up for another ‘Too Little, Too Late’ disappointment.

Seems NO ONE has gotten the memo that EFFICIENCY for working commuters, students, & tourists increases economic activity, which=$$$$$$!
Without building the following ASAP, completing EIR/EIS, securing funding and STOPPING THE BICKERING, we are wasting our time on the FOLLY of rebuilding a comprehensive regional transportation network, dismantled when the Pacific Electric Railway was destroyed:

1) Subway from Union Station ALL THE WAY to Santa Monica down Wilshire.

2) West Hollywood Spur from Hollywood/Highland to Purple Line on Wilshire (Pink Line)

3) RE-PRIORITIZATION of Light Rail down the 405 from Valley to West LA (it’s insanely ridiculous that there’s nothing in the works now)

4) Fast-tracking Downtown Regional Connector so all lines are properly linked and transfers are minimized, maximizing trip speed and efficiency

Sure, other lines (Gold Line Ext. to the SGV and beyond, Crenshaw Line) are extremely vital, but this intense ‘Regionalism’ and ‘Districtism’ is so darn provincial and shortsighted, I don’t even know what to say. It’s really pathetic.
Without serving the MOST DENSE TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE corridors on Westside, All Along Wilshire, and from Valley to Westside, from which ALL people in LA and beyond will benefit, any other rail plan is unacceptable. I use the term ‘plan’ loosely because the joke here is that there’s really no plan at all! Pieces are built in completely non-integrated fashion. This is why we always need to go back later and try to fix stupid stuff like completing a Green Line link to LAX and finally building a regional connector, which should have been integrated from the start.

LA County politicians, and Reps in Washington, wake up and take a look around at other world cities! They work together to get things DONE, they work on 5-10 yr FAST TRACKS and build world class INTEGRATED systems. This glacial pace, lack of strategic integration and foresight is why L.A. remains a DOOMED. It’s time to WAKE UP!

(Of course no one on the MTA Board, In Washington, or anywhere else is going to read this and listen to my plea, because it just makes TOO MUCH SENSE!).Sad. Sad. Sad. I thought America was capable of greater achievement than this public works devolution. We used to be so pragmatic and can-do, once the envy of the world in this department. Look how far we’ve fallen! 
It’s time to GET UP.

AndyDuncan, if L.A. builds these lines without federal support, they can use the investment at a later date as their local contribution credit for a line that does meet the standards. Portland did this in conjunction with Bechtel for their Airport Line. Bechtel got to develop property on the line and subsidized the construction. Portland & Oregon paid their half that they’d normally would, and when they did their next project the FTA covered 80%.

This plan as shown on the map is a great working plan, and their ought to be less bickering over which gets built first. The Highway Network of Los Angeles wasn’t built by the radial or bypass that was needed most. It was built by what could be constructed in the network first. It’s fair though, to say that’s not the way the feds do things, but Rep. Oberstar will change that.

nice map. its good to see a map of actual lines actually proposed or somewhat mentioned in official publications.

LA could have a very impressive rail/busway system… lots of lines with lots of connectivity. i love how crenshaw and the harbor subdivision provide crosstown service and link all together all the lines radiating out of downtown.

that said, i have to agree about subway to the sea and downtown connector as the priority lines. and the downtown connector needs to be underground and as high capacity and fast as possible. downtown should not be the weakest link in the LRT ‘chain’ with a cheaply built downtown connector.

with CA HSR and an increase in regional commuter rail service, IMO union station will need to be much more of a hub for the light rail lines, moreso that just being on a single LRT line, the Pasadena line. (I do realize the subway also goes to Union Station). Its a shame the eastside LRT gold line was built as light rail and not as a subway extension as planned. then all the light rail lines could run into union station and the east side would have direct service into union station.

If i might make a suggestion to your map, since the service plans are also shown on a map with mixed light rail, heavy rail, etc., perhaps coloring all the light rail the same to show where the rail in lain, or being lain, and doing the same with heavy rail could make it a bit more readable?

This plan could work a lot better with better connectivity outside downtown; two additions that come to mind are extending the pink line east to meet with the gold line, and extending the dark green line serving UCLA south to meet with the Expo line.

This would be even better if there were more lines serving South LA and East LA…

From what I have read the Wilshire subway could have one of the heaviest riderships of any mass transit line in the country. This is no Dallas or Portland light rail line, this is another Lexington Avenue Line, that is to say, a hugely important and indispensable line that may transform the transportation system and the city along with it.

Federal money will be no problem for this line, even if the Reps from other areas of LA County are upset they’re little projects were pushed off a decade. The federal DOT will find some way to throw money there. I’m thinking it can get more federal money than the Second Avenue Subway has currently gotten, and probably more, considering the lack of mass transit options on Wilshire compared to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Another Lexington Line? That line carries 800,000 people per day on a four-line trunk. Even assuming 400,000 for the two-track Wilshire Line means it’d have more ridership than the entire LACMTA gets today.

Does anyone know if the MTA has investigated connecting the Green Line Norwalk station to the Metrolink Norwalk station? Seems like a logical multi-modal connection.

No, it doesn’t. If you add up the number of boardings at each station served by the 4, 5, and 6, you get 800,000 per weekday.

Look, Wilshire isn’t Manhattan. Just to give you an idea how different it is: Manhattan has 140 census tracts, totaling 1 million people, that are denser than the densest LA County tract, which averages 92,000/mi^2. On the Upper East Side the average is 120,000/mi^2.

You could make a case that Wilshire deserves more federal funding because a mile of subway in New York costs the same as 7 miles in LA, so as long as Wilshire can get more than one seventh the ridership of SAS it’d be a better investment.

The second avenue subway is a miserable investment if your metric is dollars per new transit rider. The $17 billion project is expected to attract a whopping new 11,400 daily riders (the rest of the project’s riders already use the subway or buses). The huge cost of the project combined with the project’s lack of benefits other than a marginal time savings for its riders led to the project being given a “Medium-Low” cost effectiveness rating. There are literally dozens of places in the U.S. where the federal government’s transit money would have been better spent.

And to think for many years I have lambasted LA as a giant suburb rather than a city. It is very clear that LA regrets this and wants to improve. In 10 years I hope to make my first visit to LA and see a transit lover’s paradise.

The Second Avenue Subway isn’t intended to attract new riders; it’s mostly intended to relieve what is unhealthy congestion on the 6 train. The 6 trains often are so crowded they have to skip stations during rush hours. I was an unlucky victim of this once (if you want a REAL subway boondoggle, look at the 7 line extension; a ring line around Brooklyn and Queens using the old NYCRR line would attract far more riders and be far cheaper).

Building heavy rail in Los Angeles should cost less than a fifth of what the Second Avenue Subway would cost. The streets are wider and there is much less density, but LA is a city that needs heavy rail, especially in the northwest (and increasingly in the northeast as well), and it would connect to built up neighborhoods with high density such as Westwood. Light Rail lines should be built to accomodate a shift to heavy rail if capacity becomes strained (if you recall, a lot of these LRT numbers are actually extremely conservative when given to the FTA for federal approval and ridership exceeds them more often than not).

That being said, I’m glad this network looks more like a “net” intended to get people all around the city without having to go through one or two transfer stations downtown. Most European systems have this “net” effect.

Yes, building a subway in LA should cost less than a fifth of what SAS is costing – to some extent because LA is slightly cheaper than other high-wage cities, and to a large extent because NY is several times more expensive.

The net effect in LA is good, but it’s important to make sure the transfers work well. This means not just from one light rail line to another, but also to Metrolink, ideally cross-platform. It’s also important to serve multiple central neighborhoods, even at the expense of outlying areas. There’s no reason for Metro to serve Santa Ana at this stage, as the map suggests; an electrified, routed-through-LAUS Metrolink should be enough.

“Here are some more optimistic maps:

(Near the bottom)”


Wow, those maps are amazing. I love the London style graphics.

If you ever have a chance to go to the London Transport Museum, which is a transit lovers dream, they have a special exhibit of transit maps and how the London transit map evolved. It’s not to “scale”, but it is easy to navigate and read.

WOW! That’s impressive. Finally, the Hub City is turning around from it’s urban-sprawl. This is very ambitious and I love the future thinking. From what I read, a subway and the downtown connector would be much better since it said the area was so dense. I’m glad they’re doing heavy rail and not automatically reverting to Light Rail.

Why? It actually serves more parts of LA BETTER than even the NYC subway (blame the lack of connectivity within the outer boroughs).

@ 16. Walter Sobchak actually said
“… the Wilshire subway could [be] another Lexington Avenue Line, that is to say, a hugely important and indispensable line that may transform [L.A.] transportation system…”

Yes, far beyond however the numbers compare with any line in NYC, the Subway to the Sea will be hugely important for how L.A. thinks of itself. The city of suburbs needs at least one high-volume line connecting many popular destinations to make an impact.

Low-volume light rail through the ghetto to Long Beach or through the foothills to Pasadena will not change how transportation in L.A. is viewed by residents, visitors, or politicians.

A high-volume subway line down Wilshire Blvd. to Beverly Hills, Century City, U.C.L.A., and Santa Monica will become indispensable. That line will “transform” L.A.’s public transportation system, as Walter Sobchak suggests. I’m glad Mayor Villagairosa has the vision to push ahead with it.

On MetroRiderLA, I ran a series of posts where I took Census Bureau data to measure not only population density, but also five factors that would trend favorably to heightened transit use.

Those factors are: transit share of work trips, walking share of work trips, renter-occupied units, individuals below poverty level and households with access to no or 1 vehicle.

To further gauge the level of transit usage, I have also included frequency tables for existing bus services. The subway runs parallel to several of L.A.’s busiest bus corridors.

Clicking on a zip code will lead to the census tract, block group and block within a half-mile of each station, with the maps precisely centered around likely future station locations.

Here is the link for the segment from west of the 405 freeway to Santa Monica:

It has the links for all the other subway segments. MOSs refer to the segments that will open: 1 to Fairfax Avenue, 2 to Century City, 3 to Westwood and west of I-405, 4 the West Hollywood Pink Line, and 5 the segment to the sea.

“I am interested what the other counties in Southern California are planning, specifically Orange County. OCTA has invested in Metrolink expansion but has there been any further discussion of a light rail system since the CenterLine proposal was nixed?”

Haha, no.

Bus service is slated to be cut to 1975 levels in March 2010. While they do that they are not nixing any freeway projects, like widening the 91 freeway or the 405 at the 605 interchange.

There is some talk of rapid bus routes being implemented in Orange County, but the plan keeps getting neutered and delayed.

“Other routes prized by legislators from areas to the east and south would be far less effective in doing the same. Estimates for the Crenshaw corridor of only 13,000 to 17,000 daily riders, for instance, are indicative of its current limitations; most of the areas affected would hardly be considered walkable or “livable.” Sounds a little biased to me. The Eastside is tired of being trashed. These are the people who alctually use transit.

The Eastside is tired of being trashed. These are the people who alctually use transit.

Yeah, but those people aren’t white, and don’t live in neighborhoods where planners believe they can create gentrification. We’re talking about an area where, when students do well on standardized tests, the ETS launches a fraud investigation. This isn’t exactly the government’s favored quarter.

If current trends continue, many Westside jobs will be Downtown or elsewhere by the time the Westside subway opens. I live on the Eastside and have been to the Westside maybe half a dozen times in my life. I go Downtown a lot more often. I’m sure that’s a half dozen times more than most Westsiders have been on the Eastside (or anywhere else, except maybe the studios in Burbank). Who’d want to go to an “unliveable” area ? I support the Westside subway, but other areas of town matter just as much for regional connectivity.

I’d say what’s more important is that nowhere on the LA subway fantasy map is there any proposal for a full east-west line; there’s only the east-to-downtown-to-east Gold Line and the downtown-to-west Purple Line. This is not how competent transit agencies plan their systems. Are West Siders so insecure about themselves that they want to make East Siders transfer and cripple Metro doing so?

Alon –
It should be pointed out that the Regional Connector will allow Expo Line trains to continue east along the East Gold Line Extension (currently under construction) and Blue Line trains to continue northeast along the Pasadena Gold Line. — I didn’t include that on the map because decisions about specific routings are not yet determined. That said, it will be possible.

Even a Regional Connector from the Gold Line to the Expo Line is suboptimal. Ideally, you want your busiest trunk line, i.e. the Red/Purple Line, to be the main through route. Forcing people to transfer downtown is bad especially for very busy lines, as it clogs the transfer stations and constrains capacity.

In LA’s case, it would also have less convenient transfers. The Regional Connector would make it harder to get from the Gold Line to some downtown stations, such as Civic Center, and require people who transfer from the future southeast leg to the Purple Line to spend more time on surface streets instead of in a subway.

Alon, the Regional Connector goes right through the Civic Center, duplicating the Red/Purple Line service. And as Yonan mentioned ideally the Regional connector will have one of the lines in the North or East (Pasadena Gold or East LA Gold) link with a line to the South or West (Expo or Blue Line) into a through route.

Also the corridors we’re talking about that are LRT are Light Rail for a reason, heavy rail would be a large waste of resources that would be better for extending the Heavy Rail lets say down Whittier Blvd or connecting County USC hospital and CSULA.

I will also add that the Regional Connector will enable this service through the Civic Center with one trip and no transfers. Other transfers will occur along other lines such as with a south Crenshaw Corridor having a connection with Expo Line and hopefully Wilshire Purple Line to improve the network and add more destinations that can be reached within the network.

The Regional Connector doesn’t seem to have Civic Center stop – it would stop at Main, Disney Hall, and Flower/4th, and, for people coming from the southeast, bypass Union Station.

The reason these lines are light rail is, officially, lack of resources. But in reality, the East Side is dense and has a large number of people who don’t own cars, making it ideal for subway investment. The problem is that in LA, service quality is proportional to neighborhood wealth. The West Side gets subways, South Central and the East Side get street-running light rail.

Alon, may I ask where do you live? Because if you lived in LA you’d understand that the Disney Hall stop would be the western end of the Civic Center, Main Street is at the eastern end of the Civic Center area, because the Civic Center area spans a number of blocks, its not just one stop on a metro map.

So what if these corridors were elevated lines tying into the subway, will you use the same argument? Are you having the same argument when Westlake/MacArthur Park station is at the core of very dense transit dependancy and also has a greater job concentration at its stop, what about Koreatown? What about East Hollywood? You seem to forget the North East area and posh Pasadena and South Pasadena has light rail, should those lines been subway for equity as well?

However what is missing from this conversation is that job concentration along the Wilshire Corridor. When you factor outside of Downtown LA in Westwood, Century City, Koreatown-Mid Wilshire, Beverly Hills and you see they hold the top 5 of the regions jobs and overlay that with one of the busiest bus services in region along Wilshire Corridor, where patrons are travelling longer distances on Wilshire buses to reach destinations along the corridor, you see the need for a subway.

I’m not saying Wilshire doesn’t need a subway. I’m saying that the official fantasy map is too West Side-centric, with unimportant extensions like Crenshaw but no basic east-west trunk line. And, I’m sorry, but there’s no good reason to through-run the Gold Line with the Expo Line instead of the more centrally located Purple Line.

Just because West LA has the biggest job concentration doesn’t mean East LA shouldn’t get subways. On the contrary: this makes having a transfer-free ride from the east to the west more important, since commuting patterns would crush-load Union Station if everyone had to transfer there. Besides which, cities have built subways through high-density residential areas all the time, to let the people there get to the jobs in the commercial areas: Paris, London, Moscow, New York.

(For the record: I live in New York)

There’s plenty of reasons to load it through Expo and leaving the Wilshire Subway as it is, but like I pointed out in a previous post, what will stop an eastern extension of the Subway towards East LA and along Whittier Blvd? Certainly if the East LA LRT goes over capacity that is still on the table. Much like it could be in any other transit system.

Given that you’re basing your comments on a map- and somewhat ignoring Yonan’s comments {comment #36} that the map doesn’t show what routes the Regional Connector would create within that corridor- rather than actual what is on the street in the city in question, which makes a big difference in the perspective. Also it shows that with the comment of ‘unimportant extensions like Crenshaw’ shows how you’re actually contradicting yourself on it being too Westside centric, omitting to realize that Crenshaw Corridor is one of those lines that will serve South Los Angeles and feed into the Wilshire Corridor

Because the East LA area is so transit dependant, it will need more than one transit line to serve the need, right? Also the crush loading at Union Station isn’t a problem because of the Metrolink service, building the Regional Connector would now move this transfer for Eastside patrons from Union Station closer to Downtown and with a quicker and easier transfer at 7th Street/Metro Center station.that would take care of the crush loading issue at the terminal station.

No, Metrolink service if anything makes transferring at LAUS worse (at least, it would if its ridership were above the tens of thousands).

Moving the transfer will just force Gold Line riders to spend more time on the surface…

The Crenshaw extension still leaves East LA out to dry; if anything, it forcibly tries to move the center of LA’s transit from downtown to West LA, shoehorning everything into the downtown-to-sea Purple Line.

As for what will stop an eastward extension of the subway: LA isn’t even proposing it – it wanted to twenty years ago, but ran out of money and went for just light rail, with no possibility of upgrade.


Please look at the Regional Connector posts on this very site and you will see that the option for the Regional Connector that is preferred and has the potential for Federal Funding is the underground option so more time on the surface will not be the case. I actually remember you posting there. So this is why the Regional Connector is an important project for what I’ve mentioned.

Also I live in LA so I know a lot more of my city and how it operates and functions and we are not Manhattan and NYC where everything functions at a central point and runs mostly in a dominate peak direction, it instead moves along a spine that connects other centers and two or three major centers (Westwood/Century City, Hollywood, Downtown) and it moves in all directions.

Given that we’re trying to compete with other cities to receive scarse Federal funding maybe the strategy of having things terminate and run through a core subway will be the very thing that will get support for more extensions and services. We don’t have the luxury of having an extensive network of tunnels and elevated bridges built over a century ago without Union labor.

“The second avenue subway is a miserable investment if your metric is dollars per new transit rider”

Wrong metric. It’s there to relieve dangerous overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue Line — and to give the people currently commuting by bus (also overcrowded!) a route of reasonable speed. For those purposes it does pretty damn well.

Although it is costing more than it ought to.

Agreed. Having been there last in 2004. Having to get to a Yankee Game on the #4 at rush hour in that sardine can called the Lexington Subway. They need that line desperately!

“The $17 billion project is expected to attract a whopping new 11,400 daily riders (the rest … already use the subway or buses). ”

And I just don’t believe that number of added riders applies to the full $17 Billion plus project. That might be the number of new riders estimated for Phase 1, where population is very dense and the use of public transportation is high. If that’s the Phase 1 estimate, it may turn out to be another example of a low-ball figure due to the hostile methodology imposed on transit funding applications.

Then Phase 2, from 96th St north to 125th St., will run through an area with many low and mid-level buildings, and lots of vacant lots. It also has many, many lots occupied by what the real estate industry calls “taxpayers” — one-story retail on land being held for future development.

When the SAS is extended north, and this area becomes the “Upper Upper East Side”, scores of high-rise apartment buildings will spring up along the avenues. From the new residents alone there’ll be 10,000 new transit riders.

Phase 3 may come along after the East Side Access project starts bringing Long Island Rail Road riders into a new station beneath Grand Central Terminal. With the new route adding capacity, and freeing up capacity at Penn Station, it seems quite possible to me that ridership on the LIRR could soar by more than 11,400, with most of those ultimately transferring to the new SAS line.

Woody: Second Avenue is quite far from Grand Central, and rather peripheral to the densest areas of employment in Midtown. Why wouldn’t most ESA riders take the Lexington lines instead?

Woody: ESA is scheduled to open in 2012 or so, 5-6 years before even Phase 1 of SAS is scheduled to open. So no, Phase 3 won’t be there to take the load off of ESA.

Anon256: Second Avenue is closer to the densest areas of residence on the East Side. In fact, the Upper East Side’s center of population is on Second Avenue somewhere in the high 70s or low 80s, due to the importance of Second and Third Avenue El when the area first developed; the Lexington Line serves a lower-density area.

ESA riders will take the 4/5/6, but many residents of the Upper East Side will switch to SAS, which will not only serve East Midtown faster but also serve the West Side through the Q.

anon256 — The new station for East Side Access trains will be deep under Third Avenue iirc. Most LIRR riders will probably walk to jobs in the nearby office buildings surrounding Grand Central., or hop on a bus for a few stops.

But the LIRR riders actually will be only a block or so from a Second Ave connection, depending on how the elevators and escalators are placed.

One day many LIRR riders may be heading far downtown to Wall Street area jobs. In this way the SAS may eventually divert riders from the West Side subways serving Wall Street. They will need more room when the added passengers start coming into Jersey Transit’s own deep station under 34th St near Sixth Ave.

I’m with Alan that Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the SAS are really something for the sweet by and by. But if or when, they could stimulate more riders on the LIRR.

I really didn’t mean to get into that issue however. I was just trying to round up assorted reasons why I’m skeptical of the claim that the full $17 Billion SAS line would only draw 11,400 new transit users.

BTW Everything Alon said about Upper East Side population concentration is true. But let me add a couple of things. Both Fifth Ave and Park Ave (a.k.a. 4th Ave) are lined with pre-World War II apartment buildings. The spacious, high-ceilinged apartments typically are occupied by the VERY rich, often Mr and Mrs and a live-in servant or two, and thus lower population density. Zoning limits the height of new buildings, and current valuations also limit redevelopment.

Then the El came down and beginning after World War II, tall and taller apartment buildings began to line Third, Second, First Ave, and even York and East End. They are typically much taller than those on Fifth and Park, and their residents are the working rich — very high-income professionals — in smaller apartments, or shared bedrooms, and thus considerably higher density. Two-bedroom apartments and four or more stewardesses sharing was once the stereotype. And public transportation in this section actually includes three or four guys in pinstripes sharing a cab to Wall Street.

I’m as distressed as anyone at the cost and delays of the SAS. But I still think it is well worth doing. And it will attract a lot more than 11,400 new transit riders, for sure.

Woody: I agree with your and Alon’s points, but do note that the East Side Access terminal will be under Park Avenue (as shown in and ).

Regardless, the NY Second Avenue Subway and LA Westside Subway are the most important and worthwhile transport projects in the US currently. I just hope their costs and timelines can be kept under control.

Oh, the Westside Subway can probably keep its costs under control. In Los Angeles, the fully-underground Red Line cost about $290 million per route-km, in 2009 dollars. This is on a par with normal tunneling costs in urban areas.

This subway project seems to go in with the grandfather in idea in that if a tunneling or major bridge project wasn’t done in the early 1900’s or before the 1940’s it would never get buit and to build it now would be in the tens of billons so it can’t be built do to the fact it was grandfathered in between this golden age of rail before the 1940’s. Think of how much value one of those old hunderd year old rail tunnels under the East River or the Pennsyvinia eletric catenary masts or LA’s vast streetcar system would cost if we had to build them all from scrach starting in the year 2000. We are very lucky to be grandfathered in with these 100 year old to 70 year old rail projects. It could be very possible that a lot of these subway tunnels could be around in 200 years easly if nothing major happens to the cities or soicity.

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