Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Time for subway to link to Wilshire Boulevard
By Michael Barack

When the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced its intention to take another look at extending the Wilshire subway, the proposal was met with the usual chorus of doom and gloom.

County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich even referred to it as "opening a Pandora's box" or "yanking the stake out of the beast."

Antonovich's flair for the dramatic not withstanding, there's no denying that the sinkhole, graft and cost overruns of the Hollywood-Valley subway extension were nothing short of disgraceful.

There's also no denying that the current popularity of the subway, with more than 140,000 riders a day -- making it the busiest subway line in the country outside of New York City -- warrants giving the notion of another subway extension more than foreboding metaphors.

In response to the disasters of the 1990s, new MTA CEO Roger Snoble has done more than a little housecleaning.

Since his arrival one year ago, Snoble has brought in professional and experienced management from other transit agencies across the country. Two of the many examples include General Manager, Rail Operations Gerald C. Francis and Director of Rail Activation Melvin Clark, each with over 20 years of rail-transit experience.

The new team has a proven record of successfully managing rail construction projects in cities throughout the country.

That said, any rail planner would tell you that very few corridors require the huge expense of a subway line. Unfortunately, the traffic volume and the density of employment and residences along Wilshire make it one of those corridors.

It was always the intention of proponents of the Red Line to build the first part of the system under Wilshire. It was, that is, until the discovery of methane deposits and Rep. Henry Waxman's constituency's objections to a subway that might bring "those people" into the neighborhood conspired to make the Wilshire extension west an impossibility.

But things have changed. The riots that inspired such racism are behind us. New tunneling technology that renders methane deposits less of a challenge are available.

The problem now is convincing people that an extension can be done without the gross mismanagement that plagued subway construction before.

For now, MTA has avoided the Wilshire question by focusing on other major transportation projects, proposals and studies. Examples include the soon-to-open Pasadena-to-Los Angeles Gold Line, the Downtown L.A.-to-Santa Monica Expo Line, extensions of the Green Line to LAX and the Norwalk Transit Center, the east-west and north-south San Fernando Valley busways, and the establishment of new Rapid Bus lines on Van Nuys Boulevard and Broadway.

But none of these projects effectively improve access to the county's densest job corridor, the stretch of Wilshire from the subway's current Western Avenue terminus to the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood.

Extending the subway under Wilshire is essential to the entire county, including San Fernando Valley residents, who would suddenly have access to the jobs of the Wilshire corridor via their two subway stations and eight connecting surface-rail stations.

As a side effect, lifting subway and surface-rail construction prohibitions such as Proposition A and the Robbins Bill will also permit Red Line extensions in the Valley to Warner Center or Burbank Airport.

Both the California Department of Transportation and the MTA recognize that it is impossible to expand freeways enough to significantly reduce congestion, and buses just aren't fast and comfortable enough to draw people out of their cars.

In other words, we're out of options.

As much as opening the Pandora's box of subway expansion is a fearful prospect, when faced with ever-worsening freeway congestion and the worst pollution in the nation, maybe it's time to have a little peek. Michael Barack lives in Sherman Oaks. He is a member of Friends of the Red Line (www.friends4theredline.com).

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