Skip to content

Posts from the "streetcar" Category

14 Comments

Ethan Elkind’s Railtown – How Planning, Engineering and Mostly Politics Shape L.A. Rail

Railtown:

Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City, published by UC Press, 2014

The UC Berkeley Faculty Club meeting room was packed on Tuesday evening with people who came to hear Ethan Elkind talk about his book, Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City.

Elkind, who holds a joint appointment as Climate Policy Associate at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools, entertained the crowd with a wry, rapid-fire summary of some of the complex political forces that quite literally shaped the current and future Metro system.

Like many contemporary cities, L.A. originally grew along streetcar lines. Then, as cars became more ubiquitous, it spread out into interstitial areas and beyond, becoming an “endless expanse of subdivisions.” A map of the oversized extent of Los Angeles County (“the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined….Why does Delaware get to be a state?”) gave an idea of the vast areas overseen by only five county supervisors, with huge and varied constituencies. The mottled shape of the city of LA showed the relatively minor power base of its mayor.

Federal money for transit helped start the conversation. “If the city could put up 20% of the cost of building an urban rail system,” said Elkind, “then the federal government would pay 80%–this was a very enticing deal.” Terrible air quality and bad congestion added to a general frustration with the existing transportation in LA, helping set the stage for rail.

He showed a slide with an overhead photo of the city (“That photo cost me some money,” he said—which is why Streetsblog didn’t post it here). It showed an endless cityscape, and jutting up were tall buildings clearly outlining the Wilshire Boulevard corridor.

“If you’re going to build rail,” said Elkind, “This is where you should do it, along the most densely populated corridor in the western U.S.”

Read more…

23 Comments

Utility Relocation Costs Not a Death Sentence for Downtown LA Circulator

A funny thing happened on the way to a downtown Los Angeles streetcar. According to the Los Angeles Times, the initial cost estimate of $125M excluded the costs of utility relocation, which could total $166M in additional costs, and $295M in operating costs over 30 years. That’s quite a bit compared to the $62.5M voters authorized when approving a community facilities district last November.

Few transit experts have met a streetcar they’ve liked. This doesn’t mean the projects aren’t justified – they can be superb economic development catalysts when complemented with smart land use strategies and targeted incentives. However, streetcars are rarely the most effective option for mobility, and any accessibility benefits are generally brought about by smart land use strategies rather than the streetcar itself. Downtown’s streetcar proposal was a significant cornerstone of the Bringing Back Broadway Initiative, a larger strategy to overhaul the downtown boulevard.

Most mobility benefits can be accomplished more cost-effectively with a bus than a streetcar.  Having researched how users, planners, and policymakers perceive transit, I’m quite aware that many people prefer rail to buses, even when buses provide an identical service.  I’m also aware that bus service avoids the environmental impacts of rail construction, which can be a significant portion of the project’s total impact, and that electric-propulsion (even using LADWP power) is far cleaner than natural gas or diesel.  As such, I’ve gained an admiration for the trolleybus as a transit mode.

A modern trolleybus in France, from Wikimedia Commons.

Read more…

29 Comments

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.”

14 Comments

L.A. Moves Closer to Bringing Streetcars Back. You Can Help Tomorrow Night

My favorite alternative connects the black line running down Broadway to the yellow line snaking through South Central Los Angeles and around the Staples Center. See all the alternatives here.

Tomorrow night, the L.A. Streetcar team and Metro will hold a public meeting to discuss what options will be studied for a new streetcar system for Downtown Los Angeles.  There are seven options on the table, all of them serve a different need, and all of them will bring something new, or rather something old, back to the Downtown.

There’s plenty of information about the project and meeting online.  You can get the meeting details, read a short briefing put together by Metro, or visit the official LA Streetcar homepage and comment on the alternatives.  Last but not least, the streetcar boosters have their own webpage at Go LA Streetcar.

Last week, the mapping blog Big Map Blog, released an old map of the streetcar system from 105 years ago.  The quality of the old streetcar system has become something of an urban legend among transportation reformers.  People talk about the system as though it provided a universal transit system that was unrivaled.

And looking at the map, it’s easy to say why.

Yup, the old streetcars went to Staples Center. You can see a lot more of the 1906 map at The Big Map Blog.

But as impressive as the old streetcars were, it’s time to look forward, at what’s being offered by the current proposals. None of the proposals can replace what used to exist, but each of them brings something new to the table.

Read more…

  • Listen to the latest Talking Headways Podcast

  • Recently Posted Jobs

  • Recent Comments

    0 comments so far today
  • Hot Topics

  • Archived Articles

  • Categories

  • Copyright Notice

  • Author Login