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.

  • The yard for the Expo Line is being proposed in a neighborhood with home prices ranging from half a million to a million dollars.

  • Evan

    “Little Tokyo blogger Rafu Shimpo explains the concerns”

    Rafu Shimpo is a daily LA Japanese-American newspaper. Note that the link is authored by Nao Gunji.

  • DJB

    Construction impacts are frustrating (and can be minimized with thoughtful collaborative planning), but Little Tokyo as a whole will benefit in the long run from having better transit. Is it really wise to torpedo a project that will endure for decades (if not centuries) because of construction impacts that will last for a few years?

    As far as the Expo Line goes, it’s incredibly ironic that a rail yard is seen as a nuisance and an environmental justice issue while parking lots for cars (which are ubiquitous throughout the city) are seen as a community asset.

  • Well from what I saw in BH the Gold Line construction seemed to have run some people out of business, with the economy going to hell I don’t know if many of those smaller businesses could survive the construction. The streets are too small and now that people want the lines to connect so they can just take Little Tokyo? Every time people in LA get an idea they just go into communities of color and just bulldoze through them and then pr their way into making it seem as if we’re preventing progress.

    I have yet to see any of this kind of bs go down in a upper middle class white neighborhood, those neighborhoods just write a few blog posts and next month the problem is solved.

    South Pasadena has stopped progress for years with the 710 when freeways was our thing and no one ever seemed to have a big problem with that.

    And personally what I think this is about is clearing out skidrow, this, the Broadway Street Car, Little Tokyo is just some “friendly fire” but it’s not South Pasadena or Santa Monica so Metro thinks it can get away with just killing the only part of downtown that for years smelled pleasant and looked nice, I think that right there should give Little Tokyo some brownie points. Little Tokyo is the soul of downtown.

    Browne

  • David Galvan

    @Browne:

    What white upper middle class neighborhood should MTA route the downtown regional connector through instead? The project is about connecting the gold to the blue and the expo to the gold east. There really isn’t all that much leeway, and no community is going to like the impacts of construction while it is happening. You’re right that the richer, whiter, more influential communities usually have more clout when it comes to complaining, but the negative impacts of construction will frustrate people regardless of what community it is in. It’s a necessary evil that can be minimized but not avoided. It’s not like MTA hates little tokyo or anything. Look at the maps. . . where else are they going to route it?

  • The Westside is going to have to deal with construction impacts if the Purple Line extension ever gets going. Just because it’s underground doesn’t mean you’re immune from impacts. If they have to do on-street construction staging, hoo-boy.

  • Matt

    The Regional Connector is about a lot more than having people avoid a transfer. Actually, the Little Tokyo blog got it wrong in that example, as someone going from Pasadena to points south of the Convention Center would have to transfer twice now under the current system. The Connector will open up access to a different part of Downtown (Bunker Hill). From what I understand, the only real property to be taken is an Office Depot, not any historic part of the neighborhood.

    They don’t want to deal with the construction, but unfortunately, everyone has to deal with that and has had to in the past. Pretty much all the areas where rail has gone in LA has improved in the years after its opening. Remember what that section of the Wilshire District and Hollywood were like before the Red Line for example?

    On Expo, I’m not sure I understand what is so bad about the maintenance yard. These are electric running trains so there wouldn’t be refueling. I imagine they would be washing the trains and cleaning them and performing some rehab work every once in a while. Since this area is zoned industrial I could think of many other uses that could be a lot worse here if this falls through. Maybe I am missing something?

  • No David they shouldn’t go through any neighborhood just because of the race and socio economic class, but for some reason Metro obviously seems to use that to determine whose feelings they are going to consider and whose feelings they will not.

    You know the Expo Line and the differences there.
    The Gold Line and the differences there.

    So yeah it’s bad to just go after people based on race and class, so David you probably should get writing to Metro since this seems to disturb you as much as it disturbs me.

    And the Cheviot Hills wasn’t the only group to oppose the Expo also South Central and South LA opposed it, because of how it was built. Obviously I’m going to have to go down and take some pictures of what they are doing down there so certain people will get this isn’t about anti-rail, but about safety, you know safety what the people who live in South Pas get to experience with their rail line and what people in South LA won’t get with the Expo line.

    Remember Metro built the most dangerous rail line in America (the Blue Line,) you don’t get to that level by being half ass.

    Browne

  • Can someone there fill me in on how Wilshire and SM Blvd subways are all supposed to feed into downtown? Are we envisioning that the CBD rail stations will now be served by a third line? If so this means that frequencies on the branches will be capped at 1/3 of the line’s capacity. For example, if trains fit through the CBD segment every 2 minutes, your frequency on Wilshire, SM Blvd, and to North Hollywood can never be better than 6 min. Is that enough frequency? Is anyone thinking about this?

  • Spokker

    No, Matt, you’re not missing anything. The Expo rail yard is as benign as a car wash. It’s not a toxic waste dump. It isn’t a landfill. It isn’t even a freeway. It’s a place where electric trains sleep. They emit no local emissions as the train is powered through the grid. The short end of the stick goes to whoever has to live near the coal power plant that generated the electricity in the first place.

    As far as the Gold Line Eastside extension being unsafe goes, I’ll make a bet with anyone who is willing to take it. I will take my poor, half-Hispanic ass to East LA and spend all day crossing the tracks at designated crossings. If I get hit by a train and die, I will pay you $500. If I get hit by a car and die, I get $500. Anybody willing to take that bet?

  • Spokker

    “Obviously I’m going to have to go down and take some pictures of what they are doing down there so certain people will get this isn’t about anti-rail, but about safety”

    Is this going to be like that video where you recorded the Gold Line through Highland Park on Marmion Way and had to step out onto the street in order to get a good shot at the lack of barriers and the raised curb? I wonder if the irony was lost on anybody. You’re worried about the train but getting hit by a car didn’t seem to phase you.

  • Matt

    Jarrett, the Pink Line will end at Hollywood/Highland on the East end so the situation you are describing downtown will not occur.

    Browne, not sure what you are getting at on the Gold Line being built with higher safety standards than Expo. I have never seen or heard any reference to that in the past. In fact, Fix Expo’s chief complaint was that it wanted to have Expo go underground, something the Gold Line does not do.

  • Yeah, the Red and the Purple Lines will be the only two subway lines through downtown in any currently proposed scenario.

  • David Galvan

    Browne, I get what you are saying, but the question that MTA is faced with is simple: Where else could we build the regional transit connector? You didn’t even try to answer that. Little Tokyo is downtown, and downtown is the hub of the MTA rail system. Sorry, thems the breaks.

    @Matt: The most recent issue I remember was that the gold line had yellow barriers on the platforms that would help prevent people from accidentally falling in between the rail cars, while the blue line did not have those barriers until recently. This was highlighted by a case last spring (I think) where a blind man fell between the blue line cars (he thought the gap in front of him was an open train door), and was killed when the train started moving. The Bus Bench covered the incident and it was a while before the blue line had the barriers, though the gold line had had them for quite a while before.

  • Track Legs

    Spokker,

    #1
    Don’t forget that the Regional Connector will be a downtown subway… connecting the Blue to the Gold Line to Pasadena and the Expo to the Gold Line to East LA.

    #2
    By the way, I don’t the issue in Little Tokyo. It seems trumped up. Yes, probably the whole block bounded by Alameda, 2nd, 1st and Central will get raised to construct a portal and provide a construction area of sufficient size…. HOWEVER, lots of space woudl appear avaialble for after construction to replace all the businesses and/or create an awesome park.

    I have always had a sensitivity to Japanese-American’s that were placed in internment camps and lost their buisines and/or homes during WWII. Perhaps some type of monument recognizing their sacrifice would be appropriate?

    #3
    There is another project on the horizon that may affect Little Tokyo. However, it is not a Metro project. It is High Speed Rail.

  • “Don’t forget that the Regional Connector will be a downtown subway… connecting the Blue to the Gold Line to Pasadena and the Expo to the Gold Line to East LA.”

    Technically it’s light rail in a tunnel. Subway usually means heavy rail, whether it’s underground or not. I don’t care though, it’s just semantics.

    Also, how will high speed rail affect Little Tokyo?

  • Wad

    High-speed rail might build the run-through tracks so trains can run south out of Union Station.

  • But that’s not Little Tokyo.

  • Where the run-through tracks may be built: http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/maps/TC-49b-2006-12-19.jpg

  • James Fujita

    I’m a Japanese American. I may not live in Little Tokyo, but I certainly spend plenty of time and money there.

    I SUPPORT the underground option for the Regional Connector.

    It’s frankly somewhat annoying to me when people presume to speak for the entire Japanese American community (and the community is a many “splintered” thing) on issues like these.

    I do believe that Little Tokyo deserves to be preserved as a Japanese American ethnic community. In this sense, the Little Tokyo fight is going to be different from other NIMBY fights because the JA community is not fighting for some abstract concept such as “property values”.

    That said, it is unfortunate that so many of my fellow JAs seem to be “fighting the last war.” Weller Court isn’t going to go away, and neither is Parker Center or the new apartments or the Koreans who now own Little Tokyo Shopping Center (it was ugly to begin with).

    I knew when I first saw the wye that there was going to be trouble, because radical new ideas do take time to get used to. But I really don’t see what the big deal is about the Office Depot block. I think the design looks awesome, considering the limitations that the MTA had to work with – an existing light rail line, plus a proposed, but still quite vague, huge new development at the corner.

    The MTA needs to address the local concerns. Construction is messy. But that connector is needed, and I think a lot of Japanese Americans will accept that IF Metro handles the situation well.

    I hope that when the Eastside line opens, that transit fans will come to Little Tokyo, because that would send a positive message as well.

  • You know the Expo Line and the differences there. You mean, Browne, how it will be at-grade in the white neighborhoods north of USC, west of Cheviot Hills, and in most of Santa Monica, vs. aerial in the majority-minority neighborhoods around La Brea, La Cienega, and east Culver City?

  • Manu

    @Browne:

    A Train does not make it-self dangerous. It’s the morons that keep ignoring the basic principles of common sense. If people would just obey the law and not cross, walk, or be on the rail tracks, the majority of the accidents/deaths would not happen. And the reason the rail lines run through minority neighborhoods is because these are the areas were people need public transportation, so most likely they are not going to oppose the line built though their neighborhood.
    Plus, South Central and South LA is the same area. The name was changed due to the negativity that has been portrayed over time by the name South Central.
    And the reason white wealthier people fight the MTA is because they are better educated and have the resources to do so, not because of race. Plus, the MTA has gone through a middle class white/Jewish neighborhood; the transit line is the Orange Line. Have you seen the houses on Chandler blvd?

  • David Galvan

    @Manu: First of all, the orange line was originally supposed to be a rail line, but the NIMBY’s in that part of the valley opposed any sort of rail other than deep-bore subway. Hence, the orange line was built as a busway. This was better than nothing, but still unfortunate because the busway hit its 5-year daily ridership projection within a few months. That really should have been light rail, but rich NIMBY’s fought it and now we have a busway instead, wishing it were light rail.

    Also, not everyone who gets killed by a train is a “moron”. That’s a sweeping and inaccurate generalization. For example:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/01/in-wake-of-dead.html?cid=147376389

  • It seems like it would be easy to determine if you were at the door or not with a cane. If your cane is touching the floor of the train you would feel the vibration through the tip of the cane. If the floor wasn’t there you’d feel the vibration on the side of the cane. I tried it on my balcony and it seemed pretty intuitive.

    The article mentions that this is the practice.

    “Kent Zelas, who works in the readers representative’s office at The Times, was on a northbound train leaving the Del Amo Station on Wednesday and saw Cuthbertson fall onto the tracks.

    “What I saw him do is put his cane in that empty space and he thought it was a doorway and he walked into it,” Zelas said. “What he didn’t do was tap the bottom of that space to make sure there was a floor to walk into. He just assumed it was a door.””

    If I were blind and didn’t have a cane I would probably slide my foot off the platform and if I didn’t immediately feel the floor of the train, I’d not step forward.

    Not that those barriers aren’t nice to have, though.

  • We should just install these (http://thetyee.cachefly.net/News/2008/11/18/platform.png) on every raised platform and be done with it.

  • Wad

    David Galvan wrote:

    First of all, the orange line was originally supposed to be a rail line, but the NIMBY’s in that part of the valley opposed any sort of rail other than deep-bore subway.

    The NIMBYs opposed the right of way being reactivated. They didn’t want a subway, either.

    Former State Sen. Alan Robbins drafted a bill that said the right of way in North Hollywood could not have any rail running at the surface and mandated a subway. This was not done to reinforce a community concern.

    It was death by equivocation. The Robbins bill specified subway deliberately to obliterate any chance of rail being extended as a subway because it would not meet any state or federal cost-effectiveness metric.

    And why did the Orange Line end up being a busway instead of light rail? Zev Yaroslavsky. He went on a study tour of Curitiba, Brazil, and came back with a jones for busways. He came close to making every future Metro rail project a busway. He and Yvonne Burke wanted the Expo Line to be a busway because it would cost less in construction.

    To Zev’s credit, though, he did a lot of the heavy lifting to get the Orange Line built. If we had held out for light rail, Zev would have likely sat on his hands or fought the project. He did advocate for a Curitiba-style busway and worked hard on the financing and political ends to get it built. It opened in 2005, and became a success. It also seemed to calm him down.

    But as you said, David, Metro said the Orange Line has already hit its capacity at a level that would be considered underutilized for light rail. Maybe Zev knows that for the kind of ridership L.A. is expecting, busways would struggle under the burden.

  • Zev supported studying light rail on Expo in 2000 and selection of light rail in 2001, despite his advocacy for busways and past opposition to Expo light rail. He subsequently became the champion the line needed, beginning with reprogramming Wilshire BRT money to complete its phase 1 environmental study and preliminary engineering.

  • DJB

    @Spokker

    Those safety barriers would also probably reduce noise on rail platforms in the middle of highways (i.e. most of the Green Line and the last few stations on the Gold Line).

    I wonder how much they would cost.

  • This goes back to the San Fernando Valley not being as well organized as the San Gabriel Valley.

    If the SGV can advocate for the Foothill extension of the Gold Line, there is no parallel movement I’ve seen advocating for the Orange Line to be upgraded to light rail.

    Has any SFV State Senator or Assemblymember attempted repeal of the Robbins bill?

  • Wad

    Two good reasons why there’s no unified movement in the San Fernando Valley.

    For one, they have their project and aren’t about to tolerate more years of disruption doing over the Orange Line. Besides, it’ll be a very costly do-over. You’d be adding nearly a billion dollars on top of the $400 million or so to build the existing Orange Line. It’s an expensive remodel.

    Second, the San Gabriel Valley’s advocacy for the Foothill Gold Line extension was primarly about MIS irredentism. They wanted money, and wanted a rail line to show for it. They don’t care about the Gold Line per se, and if they did, the ridership figures had better be giving the region’s leaders some sleepless nights.