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Bruins, Trojans and Getting Mr. Mirisch Back on Track

TALK BACK - What does one do when one’s name is in a headline? I find myself in this situation when Beverly Hills Councilman John Mirisch commented in CityWatch on my speculations of his support for a subway station closer to UCLA than to the office towers along Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards.
My previous CityWatch article was in response to Mr. Mirisch’s article of October 10, which uses the rivalry between UCLA and USC to ask why the later has a light rail station on the soon to open Expo Line but the former may not have its own subway station. It is due to history.

The Expo Line in that part of the city was built on the old Santa Monica Air Line rail line. This right-of-way (ROW) was later purchased by Metro in a move of foresight which was initiated by a grass roots movement. This right-of-way goes back to 1895, and while the last train to use the line was in the 1960s, the ROW with trains has always run along USC (see photo above). The USC station is reinstating the past. UCLA does not have an existing ROW slated for future transit construction, and obviously there is no previously existing subway ROW.

I remain curious why Mr. Mirisch has devoted so much time in writing about a proposed Westwood Station when the main thrusts of his arguments have been the opposition of a subway station for Century City at Constellation Blvd., a station favored by me and many others. He supports the station nearer to Santa Monica Blvd.

To Mr. Mirisch’s dismay, I called it a diversion, perhaps I was not completely on-base. But why this concentrated focus on the Westwood Station, within Los Angeles City limits, which is not within his purview as a representative of Beverly Hills?

Mr. Mirisch states that he’s written enough on the Century City station, and tips his hand by writing that the matter will probably wind up in court. On what would this be based? Would the subway passing under Beverly Hills High School for the Constellation Station be sufficient grounds for a lawsuit?

Does this eventually-end-up-in-court argument need backing, so the concentration is now on Westwood: if the Westwood/UCLA Station is not located near the office towers similar to the Century City/Constellation Blvd. Station, but is placed away from them closer to UCLA, then the Century Station should be located along Santa Monica Blvd. away from the greatest concentration of office towers. But this is only my speculation.

As transit rider since 1992 (Bus, light rail and subway.), in my trips to Century City, I have used a number of bus stops around the site. Entering Century City as a pedestrian from Santa Monica Blvd. is to confront the epitome of bad urban planning with thought only given to cars.

It is like a fortress, with limited points of pedestrian entry and exit, most with stairs. This creates a series of impediments for transit riders/pedestrians getting into and out of the compound, especially from a Santa Monica Blvd. subway station.

The Constellation Blvd. station would be ideally located. It would sit in the middle of Century City to better serve the entire site with businesses and offices north and south of the station and is much closer to the Century City Westfield Mall.

A station along Santa Monica Blvd. would favor the northern part of Century City, and to the north of that station is the golf course of the Los Angeles Country Club with limited membership and no access for transit riders.

Metro posts photos and reports on the various stations along the Wilshire Subway. Pages 63-65 pertain to the Century City Station Alternatives.

It seems there are many mistakes in my opinions. Mr. Mirisch’s writes, “Hetz notes the similarities between Westwood and Century City. How does he know there are similarities? His answer: he once took a bus down Westwood to Wilshire and Sepulveda and noted that both areas have high-rise office buildings.”

As stated here and in my previous article, I am a transit rider since 1992. I cannot begin to count how many bus rides I’ve taken. Some days I ride five buses or more. I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve taken a bus to and from Westwood Village during the day or night.

My comment on the similarities between Westwood and Century City was based upon my transit riding since 1992, not a onetime bus ride. It was based on the many different bus stops I’ve used, and which ones do and do not serve the transit rider.

In one mistake I did indeed call the Purple Line the Red Line, and while that is embarrassing in (cyber) print, it is not nearly as frustrating as mistaking the Purple Line for the Red Line when travelling west from Union Station up to the Wilshire/Vermont Station. I am not the only transit rider to get on the wrong subway train and end up on the Purple Line and not the Red Line which share the same route.

Metro should have never indicated in colors so close in the spectrum for these two lines which share routes. It is confusing. The color for the Purple Line needs changed to another, contrasting color.

With the subject Metro, Mr. Mirisch says I am not so much as “transit advocate” as I am a “Metro advocate.” Just because I may be in agreement with some positions from Metro that does not mean I carry their water. I have disagreements with some of the projects.

I strongly oppose placing any more light rail lines down the center of freeways. Why? Ride the Green Line and get out at the stations which are in the middle of the Century Freeway. The noise, immediate proximity to vehicle exhaust, and being locked into a station in the middle of the freeway is why. Some Gold Line stations are in the center of a freeway, and I did not support the placement of those stations.

Mr. Mirisch in his second article becomes specific on his location in Westwood Village, “How can Hetz possibly know that ridership on Wilshire and Westwood would be greater than it would be on, say, Westwood and Le Conte, which to me seems to be the logical location for a UCLA/Westwood station? Yes, logical: Westwood/Le Conte is actually a gateway to both UCLA and Westwood Village.”

How would Mr. Mirisch know that the Westwood/Le Conte station would have higher ridership than a Wilshire/Westwood station?  As I previously stated, UCLA has very large seasonal changes of population dependent upon when the university is in session. The office towers would retain year round a large number potential riders, dependent, of course, upon the economy and employment trends.

This is the similarity between the Wilshire/Westwood and Century City stations. These are large centers of year round employment, and a plus would be that the Constellation station would be closer to the Century City Mall.

Le Conte is not the gateway to Westwood Village, that is Wilshire and Westwood Blvds. The traffic patterns, and gridlock at Wilshire and Westwood Blvd. bear this out. An incredible amount of traffic approaches Westwood and UCLA from the east and west on multi-lane Wilshire Blvd, and four lane Westwood Blvd to the south. These are the major entry points into Westwood. Le Conte is nowhere close in carrying capacity to compare to Wilshire Blvd.

At the Le Conte Station, subway riders wishing to get to the east and north parts of the campus would still need to transfer to a bus. To walk to those areas of the campus from Le Conte and Westwood would be very time consuming.

Mr. Mirisch says I’m mistaken in my real-world transit riding experience of taking buses into UCLA, such as from the Westwood/UCLA Station at Wilshire and Westwood. “Ultimately, Mr. Hetz's solution to those wanting to use public transit to get to UCLA is similar to Metro's. It's an admonition to "take the bus." Is that really the best we can do?”

We should be better, but the current reality is that it is buses which carry people into Westwood and UCLA.   

Is this perfect? No. I would be happy as a clam if instead of taking a bus to Westwood and Wilshire Blvds, as thousands of current transit riders do, I could instead take a subway or light rail.

But funding for this is years away, and then there is always opposition, that familiar, repeating refrain, further slowing the building of new subway and light rail lines.

If the station was at Le Conte, questions arise on how the area would handle the large of number of buses serving this station. Would this require the construction of a transit center to handle the buses?

The much wider and greater carrying capacities of Wilshire and Westwood Blvds are superior in serving the subway station than Le Conte.

The reality is that buses will remain the backbone of transit in Los Angeles. So it’s not so much my “admonition to ‘take the bus,’ ” but the stating of reality. Unless there is a subway station close to one’s home or work, it will be necessary to take a bus to get to a subway or light rail station.

Some will want to drive to the subway station. I would recommend trying to be fully transit, and taking a bus to the subway.  This would be ideal in reducing traffic and the pollution from vehicles. But people will want to drive to the subway station though a robust transit network may eventually move people from their vehicles to transit.

With parking lots built around subway stations so people could drive there, where would these parking structures be built to serve the Le Conte/Westwood station?

The existing office towers along Wilshire and Westwood Blvds have large parking garages. These are ready to also serve those who would drive to the Wilshire/Westwood station, park, and then take the subway.

Mr. Mirisch asks for my opinion on tunneling under a cemetery. This pertains to matters of the dead, and religious, moral, metaphysical and theological issues which are too lengthy to include in this discussion.

There have been subways built under cemeteries, and for some it has created controversy. This would probably be no different considering the history of opposition to the subway and light rail lines in Los Angeles.

This is also an answer which would involve not only the Wilshire Subway, but could also affect an underground rail line underneath the Sepulveda Pass to finally connect by rail West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

If I understand Mr. Mirisch’s  “ ‘transitive law of subway station location’ on the basis of noting there are high-rises in both places would be considered the height of transit-planning prowess” correctly, it means that subway stations should be built around densely populated areas. I think that’s accurate.

Mr. Mirisch then comments that a subway station at the VA with its open spaces does not fit this law. No, it would not. However, I do support this station because it would serve Veterans.

I see Veterans on the buses, going to the VA. I hear them talk of the physical pains they still suffer of which they seek relief. There are also the Veterans’ emotional and psychological scars which need care.

In this month of remembering our Nation’s Veterans with Veterans Day, I feel it is the least we can do to repay the Men and Women Veterans who served our nation by having a subway station at the VA. Mr. Mirisch?

I agree with Mr. Mirisch that discussions on transit planning are good. My question remains what is the basis for this discussion, is it for the entire Los Angeles region, or is more local for Beverly Hills?

Indeed, Beverly Hills once had rail lines within its city limits, and world still turned.    This time they will be underground, but the world will still turn. Perhaps it is time for Beverly Hills to regain its past.

(Matthew Hetz is a bus rider and transportation advocate. He lives on LA’s Westside.) –cw

Tags: UCLA, USC, John Mirisch, Santa Monica Blvd, Century City, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Westwood, Westwood Village, Red Line, Purple Line, Los Angeles Country Club, Westfield Mall, Metro, subway, Westside subway, Expo Line

Vol 9 Issue 92
Pub: Nov 18, 2011