Downtowners Give Overwhelming Approval to Downtown Streetcar Funding

The Downtown L.A. Streetcar is one step closer to reality…one giant step.

Click on the image to see a larger version of the proposed route.

Last night, the Los Angeles City Clerk announced that the a measure to fund $62.5 million of the $125 million project was passed by Downtown voters with over 70% in support. As with Measure J, the initiative needed a two-thirds vote to pass. The election was held via mail ballot and was open to all Downtown property holders.

As of last night, clerk reported that 73 percent of about 2,000 ballots cast favored the measure, with 67 percent required. There were still 110 votes remaining to be counted, but even if every single one was a “no” vote it would not take the measure below the two-thirds threshold.

The proposed route of the streetcar covers 10 blocks along Broadway before turning left over to L.A. Live. Then it heads through the financial district. It is scheduled to open in 2015. The other half of the funding for the project is expected to come from through federal grants.

While Steetsblog took no official position on the Streetcar, contributor Brigham Yen penned an op/ed as part of Streetsblog’s election coverage explaining the measure and urging a “yes” vote. Yen noted that ridership orojections for the Streetcar are much higher than current bus ridership along the corridor, the redevelopment benefits and that once the streetcar route is completed, expanding it to other streets would be easier than the initial route.

L.A. Streetcar Inc., the non-profit that is supporting the Streetcar explains that based on this measure, he majority of residential units included in the downtown area will pay less than $100 a year, with the median rate for a 1,000 square foot unit coming in at roughly $60 a year to pay for the measure. “That’s less than dinner out once or twice a year.”

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know if the plan includes signal priority and/or dedicated lanes? Not to knock on the project, but I’m not sure what this does that Dash Downtown doesn’t do, other than appeal to the fact that people like trains better than buses :)

    Also, $125m or $37m/mile for a single track? Yikes. Downtown is already seeing a lot of redevelopment, but a nice demonstration project to show viability would be good. There could be a lot of potential in LA for local circulators, or to support development, e.g. a loop that connects neighborhoods to a Blue/Gold/Expo station funded by upzoning the area. But $37m/mile is a real tough sell.

  • J

    I’m glad to see Downtown pushing for transit infrastructure, but this is symbolic transit at its worst. The route is way too short (less than 1.5 miles) to be of much use to anyone but tourists. You can walk that distance in not too long, which is the best way to see an interesting downtown area, since it’s easy to pop into stores and cafes and the like. There is nothing in the plan that will make the streetcar go any faster than a bus, and since streetcars cannot pass obstructions, this system will actually be slower than a bus. The looping route makes it hard to make round trips. Basically, this project misses the entire point of transit, which is to move people efficiently from one place to another, and does so with an extraordinarily high price tag.

    The problem with looping routes:

    Replacing bus routes with streetcar routes:

  • X.

    @j The bog posts you mention are the subjective opinion of a person who tries to make broad sweeping arguments but loses when he has to defend his positions such as he does by qualifying his statements eventually somewhere in his post. In one paragraph he says buses are as fast or faster and then qualifies that with a statement that he suspects that buses would be faster????!!!!! ….. that is a dreadful and tedious way to make a statement and an obvious ploy by someone who has an agenda to refute streetcars from the start.

    You attack the loop it makes because it makes it hard for round trips and is bad for walking but the point of the loop is that many Downtown streets are one way and the loop will make people walk a block or so to catch the street car going in the opposite direction…which I think addresses your concern about walking unless maybe your against buses because they prevent walking as well.

    The buses are slow, slower than fixed rail, and I know this from using the Dash buses downtown which this will essentially replace to a degree. Rail can’t solve every problem but to dismiss it so casually is like denying that the earth is round.

  • John P

    I agree that the one way loop idea is not well thought out, and it was stretched out only for the economic development potential. The loop idea is great for a theme park or a Caruso project, but is not a viable form of public transportation. Unfortunately the MTA did not receive much input regarding the other options to the loop during the public comment period. The “loop” should not be wider than one block. The plan will be confusing for tourists who might want to go in the “other” direction.  

  • PC

    Just an incredibly ill-conceived project–mostly pointless in terms of actual transit, questionable as a generator of “upscale” development (its true purpose), and a potential nightmare for DTLA cyclists. And if it weren’t for that last point I would be inclined to say “screw it, it’s their money to waste.”

  • El Barto

    I was originally for this… but looking at the map it’s pretty useless except for when the Mayor needs a quick tram ride to accept awards of recognition inconveniently interrupted by concerts and Laker Games.

  • Chance

    People liking trains can make a big difference.  Replacing a bus with a train increases ridership by at least 50%.  I don’t live DT and the route as obvious flaws.  But I fully support tax assessment districts for transit so good for DT.  I would hope that the route could be brought closer to union station.  I imagine that would attract significantly more people.

  • The Game


  • Chardhogge

    It’s crucial that they work with LADOT to ensure the bike lanes planned for 7th/Fig/11th complement the streetcar.

    I think the best solution would be european style cycle tracks for all of those shared blocks, and all crossing points configured at perpendicular angles.

    That way cyclists aren’t forced into the groove of the trolley tracks.

  • Dan W.

    Putting streetcar tracks on 7th Avenue both ways between Hill and Broadway should be the first upgrade to this line.

    We would have three streetcar routes immediately

    (A)  The full loop we see constructed.
    (B)  A northern loop from Bunker Hill to 7th Avenue
    (C)  A southern loop from 7th Avenue to 11th.

  • Wanderer

    Jarrett Walker, the person who authored the blog posts, is not some random blogger, he’s an internationally recognized transit consultant. You can disagree with him, if you’ve got arguments, but he’s got standing.

    Streetcars are actually slower than buses. Streetcars operate in traffic and can’t manuever around traffic obstacles. The Portland streetcar goes 6 mph, a fast walk is 4 mph. Rail lines with a dedicated right of way, like light rail or heavy rail, can go considerably faster.

    When you want to think about the bus/rail differential, you have to hold operating characteristics–speed, frequency, etc–constant. Comparing a crappy bus service to much more frequent rail is not doing that. When you hold characteristics constant, what I’ve seen suggests that rail/bus differential is about 10%. Not trival, but does it really warrant the expense and disruption involved in building the streetcar?

  • Dan W.

    Jarrett Walkers block and book are essential reading for transit advocates.

    But I would say that downtown the voters apparently decided yes, it is worth is. 

    I look forward to riding it.

  • Anonymous

    And this route is practically the same as the Dash D. Also note the sell to residential property owners “it’ll only cost you $60 a year”, while commercial property owners will get hit for tens of thousands despite getting no say in the vote.

    You could walk most of this loop. And if you want to make the longest trip, you’d be better off taking the Red/Purple Line (or Regional Connector when it’s done) because it would be much faster.

    The Streetsblog Op/Ed said streetcars are easy to expand. But at $37/m a mile that’s far from true. And why would anyone in their right mind take a streetcar from Loz Feliz to Downtown? You could take the red line from Vermont/Sunset and be downtown in 20 minutes; streetcar will take 2x that easily.

    The arguments for streetcars often drift into things like “permanence”, i.e. because we invested this money, the service isn’t going away. Well, you can ask A Line or E Line riders in Boston about that, but “we’re so serious about transit that we’re willing to waste tens of millions of dollars of capital funds” is a pretty silly argument.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Street cars were initially in consideration for the East San Fernando Transit Corridor Project that is to be completed by 2018. But they were dropped from the choices due to their lack of advantages over buses and also because of low amount of interest from the community.

    Here’s a pdf slide presentation about the choices that on page 13 lists the reasons behind the decision to drop street cars from further evaluation:

    What is not clear about having a street car downtown is where the maintenance on the vehicles is going to take place and it might also be wishful thinking to believe that the federal or state government will be willing to fund half of its construction when this project is not a needed improvement for transportation in the area.

  • Capt

    I don’t think they have the option to not work with LADOT. They are planning a project on public street right of way.

  • Dave J22

    “The other half of the funding for the project is expected to come from through federal grants.”

    The street car project applied for USDOT TIGER grant money twice and was rejected twice. Why? Because they could not convince USDOT that the cost vs benefit of this project was worth the federal investment; especially when compared to actual transportation projects competing for funds. Each of those applications was for less than the $62.5M they are expecting to get now. The tax assessment vote was plan B.

  • Every description I’ve read has explicitly said that it will run in mixed traffic, so no dedicated lanes.

  •  Buses are only slower than fixed rail when buses run in mixed traffic and fixed rail has its own right of way.  This fixed rail will run in mixed traffic, like the buses, and so it will be no faster than them.

    The loop is not bad in the upper part on Hill and Broadway.  But on 7th and 11th, it’s much more problematic – if I want to get between 5th and Broadway, and 7th and Figueroa, I have to detour all the way down to 11th St (though it’s really easy to come back by just getting off at 5th and Hill).

  • I’m worried about how it’s possible to handle eastbound bikes and streetcars – will passengers step off directly into the bike lane?  Or will the sidewalk bulb out and force the bike lane either into the tracks, or onto the sidewalk?  The only solution I can imagine is putting the streetcar in a center lane with a pedestrian island, but that doesn’t seem especially good.

    How committed are they now to the route?  Could they move the streetcar to 8th st eastbound, to both tighten the loop and avoid hitting the bike lanes?

  • Anonymous

    You’re right: Jarrett Walker is an internationally recognized transit consultant. That’s exactly why while I love listening to what he has to say about heavy and light rail systems, I stop listening when he starts talking about streetcars. Walker is only concerned with the efficiency of transit systems, not their economic development potential for neighborhoods.  I saw him speak last year at a Sierra Club meeting where he spent 20 minutes deriding Portland’s system because of its slow speeds.  The whole time I’m thinking “Yes but have you SEEN the Pearl District?!”

    It just comes down to priorities. Walker doesn’t care about the economic development potential that the streetcar will bring to DTLA, but many of us do. So I’m taking what he posted below with a giant grain of salt.

  • Kenneth Harrison

     “The Portland streetcar goes 6 mph, a fast walk is 4 mph.”  (What is your citation for this assertion)?

    So why is it that MAX and the local downtown line are so heavily utilized?  Do you dare to suppose that there are reasons that are as yet unquantifiable that lead so many people to choose the “light rail” system over rubber-tired transport?

  • PC

    @northendmatt: In Streetsblog’s defense, that wasn’t really a “Streetsblog op/ed” but more of an opinion piece by a guest author, Brigham Yen. It was a pretty winceworthy piece, clearly written by somebody who doesnt know much about transit, and Streetsblog didn’t really do itself any favors by running it; but I dont think that running the piece implied endorsement of the opinions in it.

  • Anonymous

    No, it was rejected twice because they hadn’t set up the special tax assessment district yet. Its well known that USDOT favors projects where cities have ponied up to pay for a share of the project, rather than asking the federal government to pay for the project outright.  I have no doubt that the project will get federal funds if they apply in the next round of grants.

  • brudy

    I voted for this but I definitely have reservations about the route. It should be two way at the least. But for all the people saying you could walk this – yeah that’s true. But if I want to go to Ralphs and then walk back to my apt, that’s a bit of a drag carrying groceries. If I don’t feel like walking home from a movie at LA Live, this will help. It’s not all about one method of transportation or the other, it’s how it fits in to everyday lives. I don’t think this is the panacea, but it’s a start and I hope it can be expanded in time to be more practical. I thought of it this way, better to have it than not.

  • Dan W.

    Different corridors.  Different needs.

  • Dave J22

    The 50% local match doesn’t change the costs vs benefits of the project. USDOT economists initially review the hundreds of applications and rank them based on cost-benefit. The top ranking projects are passed on to the Office of the Transportation Secretary where the award decision is made.

  • chairs_missing

     @facebook-1201453:disqus Good point about conflicts between cyclists passing through and pedestrians boarding the streetcar. Center running could work well with islands and a bit of traffic calming.

    I also wonder if maybe the Dutch or the Danish have worked out a solution for similar problems (perhaps separate traffic signals and stopping areas for the bikes and trolleys).

    Of course I’d be surprised if LADOT considers any of these options, they’ll probably drop the ball like they always do.

  • Nathanael

     The problem with looping routes is real.  Jarrett’s attitudes towards streetcars are driven by an unreasoning unwillingness to admit that people care about comfort (streetcars are nicer than buses, period, and the vast majority of people seem to think so)

  • J

    Nathanael, You are correct that people tend to favor streetcar over buses, but the question I ask is why? Surely the difference between rails and tires is not something most people care about too much, although there is some nostalgia and a vague sense of permanence associated with rail-based transport. Apart from that, the main differences have to do streetcars tending to have newer vehicles and generous passenger amenities at every stop, while buses often have older vehicles and few amenities (if any) at stops. These aspects, which are a big part of the rider experience, have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the amount of investment in the respective systems.


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