Members of the Metro Board and other dignitaries were on hand last week to break ground for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Project. The groundbreaking effectively begins heavy construction of the new line. The 8.5-mile line represents a return of passenger rail service to part of this corridor, which saw its last streetcars in 1955. Protesters gathered outside the event, however, expressed concern that Metro is not doing enough to hire local workers. Click here to learn more about the project and to receive construction notices.
The Metro Board voted to advance four peoplemover options for rail service to LAX into the environmental study phase, initially scuttling all light rail options. Airport officials have long cited the cost and security issues as the main reason direct rail service to airport terminals is impractical. However, the Board also voted to include two light rail options that would at least keep the possibility alive. As expected, no one is happy with this outcome, since the peoplemover options represent a complete disavowal to the notion of having a rail network directly connecting to LAX. Nevertheless, Transit Coalition Chair Ken Alpern chimes in as to why the peoplemover may very well be the most optimal option for both the airport and Metro Rail.
A federal bill that would encourage transportation agencies to hire local contractors garnered the blessing of the LA Times editorial board. Pasadena officials contemplate placing a road diet and enhancing pedestrian amenities on the part of Colorado Boulevard that runs through Old Town. Union Station operators have opted to ease their restrictions on transients using the station. Finally, don’t become alarmed, but self-driving cars are already cruising around the Bay Area, albeit as part of a demonstration.
Just like the Arts District cited above, things are looking up for the rest of Downtown LA. That’s the conclusion of an article in GQ, which hailed the community as “ America’s Next Great City“. The boom in activity is largely attributed to loosened restrictions on redeveloping older buildings approved by city officials during the previous decade. Previously, businesses opted not to operate downtown, only to reluctantly open shop at the behest of officials and with the availability of incentives. Today, new businesses are sprouting up along Broadway and elsewhere out of their own initiative. This new vision is reflected in the Academy Award-nominated Spike Jonze film Her (2013), which takes place in a dramatically reimagined Downtown LA of the near future.
The LA County Board of Supervisors approved new design concepts for the Grand Avenue Project. The Board asserted that an older plan that they rejected in September did not leave much for pedestrians, while the new concept encourages pedestrian access from surrounding streets. The Grand Avenue Authority will consider approving the new designs this Wednesday. LA Curbed features additional renderings and models of the BOS-approved designs.
Down in the South Park district, things are looking even brighter. What was once a sea of parking lots and low-level industrial space is fast becoming a destination in its own right. New residential towers are already under construction, and many more are underway. The long-proposed Metropolis development on 9th Street, abutting the Harbor Freeway, may finally happen as well. Investors are also funding new hotels that would undoubtedly enhance the appeal of the LA Convention Center. Most notable, however, is the sale of the two parking lots immediately east of LACC and Staples Center, which were once slated for retail development but may morph into mixed-use developments. In fact, the last amenities missing in all of this are national chain stores that are recognized by the public but have been averse to opening shop in Downtown LA.
New transportation facilities are coming to the Los Angeles River. After 22 years of dreaming, plans to bridge the Elysian Valley with Taylor Yard are finally taking shape. Metro and LA City officials presented a model of the proposed bridge during a recent community meeting on the subject. The new bridge, a required mitigation for the Metrolink maintenance yard, would connect two disparate bike paths and provide previously inexistent connections to the two communities. The city is also working towards purchasing more property on the Taylor Yard side that would serve as open space. Nearby, demolition work on the Riverside Dr./Figueroa St. bridge will start. However, historic preservationists plan to make a last-minute attempt to preserve the bridge for recreational purposes, even though the new bridge that would replace it requires its removal.
Additionally, discussion continues on the possibility of converting the former Harbor Subdivision railway into a bike and pedestrian trail (see rendering) that would connect South Los Angeles with the LA River. Metro, in consultation with Alta Planning + Design, will launch a feasibility study that will address basic questions such as cost, possible designs and connections to other transit facilities. A presentation on the process this study would take is now available.
While the above is debated, LAX is struggling with other issues. For one, crime at the airport is up 10% over 2012, rising faster than passenger volumes during that same period. The sharpest increases come from violent crimes and property crimes, while weapons violations and drug-related offenses remain on par. Also, LAWA officials announced that the agency will fix the ever-present traffic problem at LAX, mainly with new traffic signals, better lighting and a new lane of traffic.
The alternatives analysis for the LAX rail connection is coming to an end, and Metro staff has proposed to advance four alternatives for environmental study. All four alternatives involve peoplemover technology that would connect terminals to the future Crenshaw light rail line (which formally broke ground today), meaning that Metro will no longer consider direct light rail service into the airport. Officials cited the high cost of tunneling under the terminals (as much as $3 billion) and the sheer logistics of building underneath the airport as reasons to discard the light rail options.
Elected officials representing the area are having none of that, however. Congressmember Janice Hahn was critical of the recommendation to eliminate the light rail options, stating that users would prefer to travel to and from the airport directly, without the need of transferring. Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey thinks a peoplemover would work just fine. In response, Metro Boardmember Mark Ridley-Thomas submitted a motion that would add two of the discarded light rail options as part of the environmental study. The Metro Board will decide the matter at their upcoming meeting on January 23.
Despite the rapid emergence of the Arts District in terms of residential development and amenities, transit access remains poor, with a Gold Line station placed at a distant corner of the burgeoning community. Talks of bringing Red/Purple Line service to the area using existing tracks have gone nowhere. Suddenly, however, Metro CEO Art Leahy announced that he has instructed staff into investigating potential new stations next to the Arts District. One possible station at Sixth Street would come close to the new and more accessible viaduct that will replace the existing bridge. Staff will examine possible sites, costs and initial designs, with their conclusions to be available within the year.
Metro released two options for raising fares across its system over the next seven years. With the Measure R restrictions on increasing student and elderly fares approaching their end and TAP technology now in use, Metro is more than ready to completely revamp the way it charges riders for its services. One option would raise the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 in September 2014, to $2 in 2018 and to $2.25 in 2021. The second option would keep the base fare at $1.50 during off-peak hours and raise the fare to $2.25 during peak hours for three years; both fares would be raised again to $2 in off-peak hours and $3.25 in peak hours.
In both cases, Metro would replace Metro-only monthly passes in 2018 with EZ transit passes that allow users to access multiple bus systems. Also, the base fare would allow for unlimited travel within 90 minutes of starting a trip. The seemingly high price for base fares is the standard in nearly all large cities, and most provide a fixed amount of time for unlimited travel with a base fare. Naturally, not everyone is happy with the proposition. Metro will hold a public hearing on March 29, and the Metro Board may decide on the matter on May 22.
In other news, a state Senate panel rejected a proposed bill that would ban transit unions from striking. In the Mojave Desert, the Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached its highest height to date, at 71,000 feet, and doing so by breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.4. Entrepreneur Richard Branson hopes to start a space tourism venture with the experimental aircraft in the near future.
Finally, in our requisite entertainment section, Gizomdo examines a curious subway map of a future Los Angeles that was featured in the Spike Jonze film Her (2013). The film itself was produced in both Los Angeles and Shanghai. While the map is oddly designed and geographically inaccurate even for a typical subway map, one can’t deny how better Los Angeles would be if the city had a rapid transit network that is just as dense.