Downtown Streetcar Project Opens Website, Seeks Feedback

7_10_09_streetcar.jpgA street car on Tornoto’s King Street. Photo: Kevinseanw/Flickr

Activist and blogger Eric Richardson, and indeed the whole Blogdowntown team so some extent, have been heavily involved in advocating for bringing streetcars back to Los Angeles on Broadway and beyond.  Thus, it’s little surprise that Richardson has the scoop on L.A. Streetcar Inc.’s new website designed to solicit feedback on potential routes for Los Angeles’ streetcars of the 21st Century:

For many Downtowners, 2014 just can’t get here fast enough.

That’s the projected opening date for a Downtown streetcar planned
to link South Park, Bunker Hill and the Historic Core. L.A. Streetcar
Inc. (LASI) today launched a new website full of information about the project and its current status.

Most importantly, the site includes maps for three conceptual alignments currently under consideration.

The non-profit LASI was set up in 2008 to spearhead the streetcar project, following a model established in other cities like Portland. In January, the board named Dennis Allen its Executive Director and he’s been hard at work on streetcar issues ever since.

What follows is an interview with Allen that touches on the choices behind the roots and other issues.  If you’re not familar with Blogdowntown and have some thoughts on the streetcar, please feel free to leave comments there as well as here.  The folks at L.A.S.I. are familar with Blogdowntown and will be mining the site for feedback.

  • DJB

    A streetcar or two in downtown may be acceptable for the novelty and sense of place. However, I generally don’t support replacing buses with trains unless they offer substantial advantages over buses, such as higher capacity, a cleaner source of energy, dedicated right-of-way, grade separation, etc.

    LA rejected its downtown streetcars in the 1920s partially because of traffic congestion. We would do well to heed the lesson of history and not neglect the importance of grade separated transit.

    Frankly, I think there are hundreds of more important transit projects in LA county. Broadway already bustles, (and is near the subway, the blue line, and countless buses) but for a different demographic, I would guess, than generally posts on this blog, or staffs planning offices.

  • Paul

    I think having this street car would be a good addition to downtown and all the urban development that is going on down there. I know if I were moving downtown this would be one of the selling points for me. I don’t think they should run San Francisco style F-line historic rail cars though. They should run super modern street cars like those in Portland and the ones I’ve ridden in France and have a few historic in reserve for special occasions. Like that one person said on Streetsblog, running old historic street cars will only equate to a Disney style ride. I also agree with DJB. Building and running this downtown street car should not be at the expense of scaled back bus service. It should augment the bus service already there and have improved bus service connecting to it. If this street car is built, it will be nothing but a boon for downtown.

  • Funny, I thought this would help buses if it would hurt cars.

    You guys are worried about transit throughput on our public streets and you’re whining about a street car messing things up?

    Why not focus on what is really destroying bus service in downtown: a monolithic engineering emphasis on private cars in downtown.

    Bring on the street cars and protected bus-only lanes.

  • W. K. Lis

    Toronto had been replacing their streetcars with heavy rail subways. Its downtown streetcars has been kept running, along with the addition of a couple of new streetcar lines on their own right-of-way. This has resulted in a downtown that does not have a lot of parking lots between office buildings or condo buildings, something that is very noticeable in other North American cities.

    Now it has started a project to replace its more suburban bus lines with a light rail network on their own right-of-ways. But to make sure those lines will be successful, a more higher density is needed. That means two, three, and more multi-story multi-use buildings, without the parking lots out front.

  • limit

    An expansion of the DASH system would be preferable.

    ubrayj02 your dislike of cars is wonderful!

  • Paul

    Of course curtailing car use and reengineering downtown LA streets for better non car use would be ideal. But we should not ignore the fact that what sometimes happens when a new service like a street car is put into place is that other transit modes like bus lines on adjacent or along the same streets are cut back or eliminated when they should not be. What my point is is that our transit planners and operations people at the LAMTA should look at the street car system along with the other parts of the transit system in a holistic manner, which is something the LAMTA until recently hasn’t been good at doing.

  • Wad

    Paul wrote:

    What my point is is that our transit planners and operations people at the LAMTA should look at the street car system along with the other parts of the transit system in a holistic manner, which is something the LAMTA until recently hasn’t been good at doing.

    Metro has virtually nothing to do with this project. The streetcar is mostly a private undertaking, and in all likelihood would be under the watch of the city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation for traffic impacts.

  • Wad

    Paul wrote:

    I don’t think they should run San Francisco style F-line historic rail cars though. They should run super modern street cars like those in Portland and the ones I’ve ridden in France and have a few historic in reserve for special occasions. Like that one person said on Streetsblog, running old historic street cars will only equate to a Disney style ride.

    These are contradictory arguments.

    F-Market & Wharves in San Francisco has an interesting story. It’s a toy that by accident became a crucial part of daily transit service. The F line is as fun as it is functional.

    It’s hard to separate how many people choose the streetcars because they simply want to head along Market Street or how many people specifically single out streetcars while letting buses run by. Whatever the reason, the streetcar is one of Muni’s busiest services.

    The Market Street example is also one that’s hard to replicate. It works because it relies on authentic historic cars — by definition, these are a small and diminishing supply. San Francisco needs several for its own revenue requirements, and it’s loath to give them up even if leasing old PCCs commanded a premium.

  • I doubt the Downtown street car would result in a replacement of buses, because aside from DASH, almost all the buses in Downtown are coming and going from somewhere else. Comparatively, the street car would be a system confined to Downtown LA.

    Important questions regarding traffic impacts, separate right-of-way, and who will pay the capital (and most importantly) operating cost and how need to be answered. A good comparison, though I doubt the study would do it, would be to compare the cost of expansion of DASH vs. the street-car project.

  • It would be great to expand both DASH and have a streetcar system downtown.

    A DASH expansion is unlikely to help with development and recentralization necessary downtown in the years ahead.

    Expanding the DASH system is a great idea.

    Unfortunately, Measure R doesn’t cover the cost of the Regional Connector project. It may not be “shovel ready”, but some stimulus funds earmarked for that would have been helpful.

  • Wad

    Damien Goodmon wrote:

    Important questions regarding traffic impacts, separate right-of-way, and who will pay the capital (and most importantly) operating cost and how need to be answered. A good comparison, though I doubt the study would do it, would be to compare the cost of expansion of DASH vs. the street-car project.

    This is something the streetcar coalition had better be prepared for. You think the Republicans are the “Party of No?” Wait until they go through the wet blankets that are LADOT, the Planning Commission, the City Council, the DWP and who knows how many other bureaucracies that will be sniffing out the streetcar proposal.

    The DASH expansion vs. streetcar question is like hand tools and power tools. They are both appropriate but only when used for the right job.

    DASH expansion is a quicker and easier solution, especially during nights and weekends when most of the fleet is idle. But, don’t forget that DASH is not “mass transit” in the eyes of the LADOT. DASH’s main purpose is to run super-frequent service so downtown workers don’t drive during the lunch hour.

    This is why the weekend service thins to about a dozen buses on three lines.

    The streetcar is more of a “far and wide” strategy. It has to be a “one time for all time” route that can draw massive ridership. One Portland streetcar would have the capacity of about 3 DASH buses, but you’d lose riders if they had to wait for a streetcar every 15 minutes.

    A streetcar has a lot going for it, and chances of its success are very good. It must be clear on who will ride, where it will go and what will it serve, and what are the most suitable conditions for a streetcar.

  • how does the downtown regional connector fit in with all this?

  • The DRC doesn’t really fit with this directly as one is a Metro project and this is a private project within the city of Los Angeles.

    They will indirectly all support each other because transit riders will use both.

    I would think that all Southern California politicians who’s districts contain the Gold, Blue and Expo Lines would get behind the DRC because even if it isn’t in their districts, it will improve the rail service that is in their district by reducing transfers downtown. But for some reason it is not considered the high priority it needs to be.

  • yah – it just seems that the Downtown Regional Connector will create 3 new stations (financial district, bunker hill and city hall) – it’s a great investment/project concept for many reasons – and I wonder if it alleviates some of the need the proposed street trolley is looking to address. and the Downtown Regional Connector is programmed with funding from Measure R – it just seems like a systems planning approach would be ideal for available funds for investements – would love to see broadway transit/bike/ped only

  • “But for some reason it is not considered the high priority it needs to be.”

    There is a anti-downtown and overall anti-L.A. bias in the region. That is why the preferred term is the Regional (not Downtown) Connector. I have said in a similar vein the folks pushing the Gold Line Foothill extebnsion should promote the connector as its existense would provide throughput that should make their projected ridership less anemic.

    Early on the streetcar folks promised to not touch transportation monies to fund it. More recently they have whined about not being allowed to do so. I see this mostly for tourism, have doubts about how viable it is given the massive auto traffic in downtown and see it receiving way too much attention/political mojo versus real projects like the Connector. But for those who are enthused, go for it…

  • it’s a great investment/project concept for many reasons – and I wonder if it alleviates some of the need the proposed street trolley is looking to address. and the Downtown Regional Connector is programmed with funding from Measure R

    —————-

    Measure R only partly funds the Regional Connector. In the same way Dana was stating on a another thread that no one on the Authority really has their primary eye on the welfare of the agency as a whole, as opposed to their parochial interests, the Regional Connector doesn’t benefit any one region enough to overcome the parochial interests involved to politically move it up the ladder at the moment. However, anyone with common sense concerned about the system as a whole would see it as a top priority.

    As for what these two projects are trying to address, mobility isn’t the only issue here. The streetcar is seen as a redevelopment tool more than a faster way to travel. It’s really the power tool vs. hand tool argument.

  • Marcotico

    During the Streetcar / Bringing Back Broadway open house, one of the attendees who worked on the Portland Streetcar said that the streetcar is really a pedestrian enhancement, and not a regional transit system. The purpose is to invigorate the streetlife, and allow pedestrians to move between various LA destinations in an easier fashion. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, Cologne, or Prague, after a few days you learn how to use the streetcars to get around the city as a whole, or to just jump on and off after a few stops to allow you as a pedestrian to cover more ground.

  • One of the advantage of streetcars over DASH expansion is that the streetcars will follow a predictable route that is easy to identify for infrequent transit users. One of the failure of DASH is that the people who will benefit the most from it (i.e. office workers in the high rise buildings) find it too intimidating to learn which bus to take and where the bus will take you… If you are not an expert transit user, Downtown LA is the one of the worst place to “try it out”. DASH may as well be a rocket to Mars for these people. Streetcars solves this (largely psychological) problem.

    Additionally, the planned connection with Broadway transit plaza with financial district and Southpark will really help bring Downtown together and eliminate the class (and racial) divide. Buses (DASH or not) will never be able to do that.

  • DJB

    Marcotico –
    Isn’t all transit a pedestrian/bike enhancement? I kind of feel like, since we have limited resources, it makes more sense to improve the regional public transit system than to duplicate functions of the existing transit system in a different format.

    We can already move around downtown easily enough on transit, but there are lots of other trips in the region we can’t yet make conveniently on transit.

  • “I kind of feel like, since we have limited resources, it makes more sense to improve the regional public transit system than to duplicate functions of the existing transit system in a different format.”

    ————

    But this isn’t just about moving people around. They do not have “duplicate” functions. This is why bus service alone doesn’t cut it. It’s also about development and redevelopment of an area that needs to be part of recentrification in the days ahead. Somehow “development” became a dirty word over the last few decades because it was done so poorly and with a dependence and reinforcement of an unsustainable car culture.

    There is going to be development because Los Angeles County is going to continue to grow in population. It is important to have as much of that development happen in transit friendly ways as possible.

    Also, the pools of money for the regional public transit system and this local transit system are two different pools of money, as limited as they both are.

  • “But for some reason it is not considered the high priority it needs to be.”

    Sooner people begin understanding that 90% of support for rail transit expansion in this city has nothing to do with rail transit and all those other statements spewed by elected officials at groundbreakings, public events, etc. and actually has everything to do with development, the clearer a lot of things become, including why the DTC has limited political support.

  • One of the advantage of streetcars over DASH expansion is that the streetcars will follow a predictable route that is easy to identify for infrequent transit users. One of the failure of DASH is that the people who will benefit the most from it (i.e. office workers in the high rise buildings) find it too intimidating to learn which bus to take and where the bus will take you… If you are not an expert transit user, Downtown LA is the one of the worst place to “try it out”.

    I am an “expert transit user” and still I can’t figure out how transit downtown works, especially DASH.

    Though I don’t doubt your point regarding tracks being a better indicator, the DASH problem is easily solved by posting maps on the polls at a DASH bus stops. We have them on most DASH stops in my community, and I see no reason they couldn’t be implemented downtown.

    It’s also about development and redevelopment of an area that needs to be part of recentrification in the days ahead.

    Dan,

    What you will quickly find when evaluating the whole “street car drive development” meme, is that a lot of government subsidies are involved to encourage development, and the street car is just one of them, and especially in areas that already have extensive transit options, the same subsidies can be used in the same areas, regardless of whether there is an inch of street-car track being laid. And if the question is where in LA are government subsidies least needed to encourage development, Downtown is near the top of the list.

    Speaking of subsidies, the $64,000 question is who is going to pay the system’s operating costs? Is it going to be the BID (taking necessary money away from police patrols and other issues). Is it going to be the CRA? Or even worse will it be LADOT? Because absent some government subsidy, this is going to be a $5 tourist trolley.

    As with everything rail transit, the devil is in the details.

  • I can’t believe I agree with Damien on something. Streetcar is OK if it is paid for with private funds, and I’d be inclined to even give the streetcar a free franchise right on the roadway and waive taxes on its equipment. But any additional subsidy just takes away the need for better transit and pedestrian improvements elsewhere in the city.

  • Wad

    Bzcat wrote:

    One of the failure of DASH is that the people who will benefit the most from it (i.e. office workers in the high rise buildings) find it too intimidating to learn which bus to take and where the bus will take you…

    So DASH is responsible for society’s lack of common sense?

    REALLY?!

    So downtown workers cannot ask a DASH driver where the bus goes? Find a map in the schedule racks that are usually well-stocked? Read the back of the buses that have the phone number and the URL to the Web site? Ask one of the purple downtown patrol people? Ask a colleague or a building security guard?

    Did any of this even cross the persons’ minds?

    If reading maps or asking for information has become beyond the capabilities of society, we’ve got a whole mess of other problems to solve before we even consider streetcars.

  • DJB

    Dan –
    I am a huge fan of dense, mixed-use, Jane Jacobsy development. But isn’t downtown LA already really dense, mixed-use, and well served by transit?

    There are so many areas that are held back partially because the transit service there is poor. While I realize that this is kind of a chicken and egg issue (density supports transit, transit supports density), I still feel like, there are areas that would benefit more from the expenditure of transit money, even if that money is being spent by LADOT and not Metro.

  • DJB

    Granted, Downtown LA is skewed towards office and retail, and needs more residential uses. It just seems like this imbalance is already being corrected, and is merely on hold because of the recession’s effects on real estate development. I think a more pressing issue for downtown is making sure that the new residential development isn’t only accessible to the affluent, in a region that has a pitiful lack of affordable housing.

    We need modest affordable flats more than we need yuppie condos, and we need both more than we need streetcars with no speed benefits to replace existing bus lines in downtown LA.

  • As I heard in a lecture at UCLA, Los Angeles has a little bit of everything. Unlike 20 years ago when there was only car culture and buses, we now have examples of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, rapid buses, express buses, commuter buses, local buses and circulator buses.

    This streetcar if nothing else will be an experiment. If it works well, it will catch on in other places. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

    I do not think this is our highest transit priority by any means. But, let’s see what happens and what we can learn from it. If we get Portland streetcar benefits, great. If we get Seattle monorail non-benefits, we’ll we’ve learned something.

    I would certainly agree with the idea that the Regional Connector is a much higher priority, not just for downtown, but for the region as a whole.

  • Bruce

    First: The history lesson to be learned from the past (say, 1920s), is not necessarily that Angelenos chose cars over streetcars. It’s that planners, in a city whose very sprawl was created by the far-flung streetcar system, were unable or unwilling to provide a viable alternative to the automobile. The car became king almost by default. So we need to revisit that which we ignored 70 years ago: streetcars, lightrail, subways, busways, bikeways…all of it.

    Second: Rail adds a certain “permanence” to any transportation route. Businesses, shops, restaurants and residences locate near stations in much the way they locate at freeway exits. They don’t locate (with any permanence) at bus stops or on bus routes because those are too easy to change. Buses follow people; people follow trains.

    Third: Let’s not discount the tourist. I just spent a long weekend in Portland. Flew in and out, had a great hotel, ate at wonderful restaurants, toured some parks and squares, went shopping – and did it all without a car. Granted, LA is far larger than Portland but tourist staying in downtown LA can already travel to LA Live/Convention Center, Hollywood, Universal City, Pasadena’s Old Town, Long Beach and the Queen Mary, on Merorail. A downtown trolley will only add to those options. Baby steps, yes. But it all adds up.

  • Wad

    Bruce wrote:

    First: The history lesson to be learned from the past (say, 1920s), is not necessarily that Angelenos chose cars over streetcars. It’s that planners, in a city whose very sprawl was created by the far-flung streetcar system, were unable or unwilling to provide a viable alternative to the automobile.

    Look at the history clearly, Bruce.

    You know why the streetcars disappeared? It wasn’t cabalism. There wasn’t a grand conspiracy by car companies. It wasn’t planners ineptitudes.

    The people responsible for L.A.’s fate were the people themselves. L.A. was the western outpost of the people from where pundits now call “Middle America” or “Flyover Country.”

    These emigres from the prairies and the backwoods of America simply turned L.A. into their own South Africa. You had millions of people essentially believing they were in a small town, and they squinted hard enough to make Southern California look like Peoria or Paducah. They really wanted to stop urbanism, and did so for many years, until urbanism was like a dam that they could no longer contain.

    They’ve now surrendered L.A. to those of us who want to build a thoroughly urban city. They’re now the rest of the Sun Belt’s problem.

  • cph

    I posted most of my feelings over at http://la.streetsblog.org/2009/06/09/council-tips-its-hand-on-transit-priorities/

    At least its not public money. I have a vision of the Feds paying for 300 “downtown streetcars” while ignoring the regional transit links needed to get around metropolitan areas.

    The maps show a lot of one-way looping, which, if you’ve ever had to use a bus on such a route, is annoying. I don’t care much for the one-way travel on Broadway, which is currently a 2-way street. (One direction gets dumped on Hill, which is nice, or Main, which is up-and-coming, but neither have much to do with Broadway except paralleling it.)

  • Rail adds a certain “permanence” to any transportation route. Businesses, shops, restaurants and residences locate near stations in much the way they locate at freeway exits. They don’t locate (with any permanence) at bus stops or on bus routes because those are too easy to change. Buses follow people; people follow trains.

    I continually find it interesting how this whole L.A. dialogue regarding “permanence” is touted despite the fact that we have a Blue Line which has been running for 19 years and has produced NONE of these said benefits.

    The development, the restaurants, the residences locate where there is market demand. And where there is NOT market-demand, the government creates it with development subsidies. Subsidies that can be provided with or without a subway, light rail or trolley, i.e. Downtown Culver City, Santa Monica Promenade, West Hollywood, etc.

    It’s a terrible distraction from the primary purpose of these lines (transportation), and allows MANY good-natured people to forget or diminish that purpose by focusing on things that are simply unsupported.

  • Wad

    Damien Goodmon wrote:

    I continually find it interesting how this whole L.A. dialogue regarding “permanence” is touted despite the fact that we have a Blue Line which has been running for 19 years and has produced NONE of these said benefits.

    Which parts of the Blue Line?

    If it’s the right of way section between Washington and Rosa Parks, it is tied to what was the predominantly African-American population near the station. This is not unique to L.A., as the situation is the same in Cleveland, St. Louis, Oakland, Miami and other places around the country where rail lines did not bring in any transformative businesses or development to black areas.

    Because the issue is fundamentally about race, most people here feel very uncomfortable about even discussing it. If it does, it will likely devolve into “you people …” factions.

    Still, out of the entire line, keep in mind that it is Compton that leveraged the best use out of its station. It has the civic center, which includes a post office and a courthouse that brings in people throughout the South Bay and Long Beach areas; it has the transit center, which includes Greyhound service; it also has the two large shopping centers that provide a place to shop, jobs and much-needed sales tax revenue. Compton, in particular, set aside much of its commercial land for industrial warehouses that take up large swaths of land and provide few jobs.

    Long Beach, though, dropped the ball repeatedly with leveraging development. It had seen its seedy Navy-town downtown revive shortly after the Blue Line arrive, yet the city put all of its efforts to first revive Pine Avenue (parallel to the stations) then to the south waterfront (out of reach except for the Passport bus).

    Then came the Wrigley “transit oriented development” next to the Willow station. The only thing transit-oriented is the parking garage for commuters; the actual shopping center was designed as a suburban strip mall with a huge moat of parking separating the shops from Willow Street. Also, Blue Line riders have no idea what kinds of stores are in this shopping center, since everything is oriented to the parking lot and train-facing signage is poor.

    I can also recall an interview I conducted with a pair of architects who helped establish a CSUDH exhibit on a once-prominent fellow Long Beach architect. They pointed out that Long Beach Boulevard is a diamond in the rough that could be the city’s signature street … if it hadn’t been for the city. They told of plans they had for a developer who had wanted to build Baltimore-Washington-style townhouses with ground-floor retail on the used-car hovel between Willow and PCH. The neighborhood ran the developer out of town and the planning board duly poured water on those plans.

    There’s a very strong anti-gentrification, anti-development movement around the Blue Line in Long Beach, and that’s also why the city is loath to leverage development on the Boulevard.

    Downtown L.A. had been a late-comer to development, and only Staples Center really factored the Blue Line in to its location. Nothing else did, so anything else cropping up there is coincidental.

  • steve pickens

    You are all correct about the LA Broadway streetcar- it is a good idea as a circulator perhaps connecting Union Station and existing light rail , commuter and heavy rail lines through downtown LA. IT should not be viewed as robbing transit dollars from othre projects.

    LA’s own transportation history has the Yellow Cars serving mostly inner LA as a circulator of sorts and the Red Cars as a a more regional suburban operaton.

    SO its probably not wasted dollars.

    Biggest problem seems to be nimbyism on various light rail projects and poor compromises such as the Orange Bus Line- which cost big money, do not provide the same benefits as rail and as a concept almost everywhere else is being discarded as an alternative to rail. Only the oil fueled conservative “think tanks” are in support. They love to foment dissent and stall worthy projects

  • vasya

    …. if i will be the mayor of this nice city , i will dump all streetcar into the lake Ontario , and only Queens Quay will leave streetcar street for historic purpose !!!!!!!!

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