As Metro Tries to Grow Rail Service, Controversies Grow with Them

8_19_09_Metro.jpgImage: Metro via Blogdowntown

Three potential Metro rail projects have been in the news recently, and two of them are being dogged by controversy as another continues to cruise during its early phases.

The controversy that might be newest to long-time readers is the objections of Little Tokyo residents to  the proposed Regional Connector.  Residents are up in arms over the impact that the project will have on their community regardless of whether it is built at-grade or below-grade.  The Local Blog, Little Tokyo Unblogged explains the opposition in a harshly worded editorial entitled Metro Regional Disconnect:

And here we are today, being asked to take yet another “one for the
team,” so some hypothetical riders in the future can travel from Long
Beach to Pasadena and not have to pay a transfer fare of $1.25 or have
to transfer from one train to another–something millions of people do
in public transit-oriented cities throughout the world every day. Or,
as someone at the meeting pointed out, is Little Tokyo being asked to
sacrifice in order to “fix” a gap in Metro’s original vision of
“seamless travel “ that ineptitude or lack of foresight created?

One
entire block and maybe 20-30 family-owned businesses, who are already
hanging on by a fingernail thanks to the current economy. So people
don’t have to transfer trains? Buy a transfer ticket? To fix something
that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place?

A second concern over the impact of construction, which is estimated to take up to four years would have on their community regardless of whether the trains are built at-grade.  Little Tokyo blogger Rafu Shimpo explains the concerns:

“It’s quite devastating what could happen over four years (of the
construction),” said Akemi Kikumura Yano, CEO of the Japanese American
National Museum, which hosted the event.

“Possible massive disruption, in terms of access, not only to the
Japanese American National Museum, but to Little Tokyo in general, I
think that is a major concern for us… How are we going to survive?” she
said, during the Q&A portion of the meeting.

It sounds like an ugly fight is brewing with Metro and rail activists taking on the Little Tokyo community.  Hopefully Metro can find a way to work with the community as the Connector is viewed by many as the most important part of Metro’s expansion plans.

The other controversial rail project is Phase II of the Expo Line.  Having survived attempts to derail the project in South L.A., so far; Expo now faces challenges to the second Phase of the project.  However, this time the opposition isn’t coming from Cheviot Hills, it’s coming from Santa Monica.

Over the last two weeks, a series of articles and opinion pieces from Santa Monica based news papers shows that residents there are readyying for a fight over the location of the rail yard that would house the light rail trains when they aren’t on the tracks.  The two main arguments are that the yards will be bad for Santa Monica College, and that because of the yard’s proximity to lower-income housing, that the yard’s construction and operation are an environmental justice violation.

The last rail line that’s been in the news is the Westside Subway, aka the Subway to the Sea.  A series of informational meetings were held in August, and thus far the controversy over this project has been a funding one that is confined to funding squabbles at the Metro Board level.  Streetsblog contributer Alexander Friedman was at the West Hollywood meeting and was thrilled that Metro seems to be embracing a design that would have the Subway run through West Hollywood and the Wilshire District.

It looks like not just the public, but – the MTA - are all in favor of the combined Wilshire with Santa Monica Blvd lines!

This is great news, as both corridors are promising as far as success and high ridership.

Jody Litvak also provided an in-depth report about Construction of subway, including length of times and – how specifically construction is done. This is encouraging, as – for the first time MTA staff was getting into the details of construction itself! – not just planning….

Practically every single person spoke in favor of the combined option (Alternative 11), i.e. construction of both Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvd lines. Indeed, it does make sense to  construct the two, as – both lines
will complement each other, drawing crowds from all over the city, and
building both lines will provide an imcomparibly better connectivity
throughout the city.

In short, August was a big month for three very different rail projects that are going in three different directions.  How the projects move forward could very well depend on how Metro is able to work with the community.