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Top Ten Lessons Learned From the Expo Line

MOVING LA - After long years of planning, talking and even fighting, the Expo Line appears on its way to becoming a reality, with operation of the first phase to Culver City a matter of months away, and with the groundbreaking of the second phase to Santa Monica now behind us. (Link)

Yes, Virginia, the Expo Line will actually make it to USC, the Mid-City, Culver City West LA, Santa Monica and the beach, and the long effort by the grassroots Friends4Expo Transit to create a light rail that parallels (and effectively offers an alternative/addition to the capacity of) the I-10 freeway, as illustrated by the map on its website. (Link)

There are lessons learned, however, and by no means should they be forgotten, because they WILL come up both for this project (with operations and construction that are anything but completed), and for other rail projects in the county.  Here are a few biggies.

1) This was a project saved and fought for by the little guy, not the political aristocracy, which is a reality that is all too forgotten by the elected who think the world revolves around them.  This was a project that was held to high standards against the former opposition by two Westside county supervisors and a former mayor of Los Angeles.

2) Volunteer and middle-class efforts created this and related rail projects, often over the opposition of the rich and well-connected, a phenomenon we saw and still do see by those special interests who were used to getting their way prior to the Internet, with former and current opposition to the Pasadena/Foothill Gold Line, Orange Line, Expo Line and Wilshire Subway being overwhelmed by the power of the majority who wanted this and other lines.

3) When volunteers and taxpayers demand more, they must be listened to, with both opportunities and blowback not to be dismissed.  Just as the taxpaying commuters of Los Angeles were left seething when the Green Line didn’t make it to LAX, they demanded a light rail line paralleling and offering a perfect alternative to the I-10 freeway become not merely a Busway but a speedy, modern light rail line—and with Measure R, they were willing to tax themselves.

4) Just as the Expo Line paved the way for other transit projects, the grassroots input to create it can be capitalized to enhance the planning and construction of other major rail projects.  There are still many who just can’t believe that Friends4Expo Transit volunteers were just that—volunteers—and the sad, sorry top-down approach of some of the Expo Authority Board (they know who they are) will leave rail stations and other features with problems that could have been avoided.  Metro staff worked with Friends4Expo Transit volunteers to make the Expo Line, Wilshire Subway and Green Line to LAX projects a funded work in progress—and the elected pols need to listen to their staff.


5) Most of the problems that Westsiders had and will have with the Expo Line lie in the failure of L.A. and Santa Monica City Planning, and absolutely NOT with the Expo Authority.  Whether it’s the Casden project at Expo/Sepulveda, the Bundy Village project at Olympic/Bundy, or the Bergamot Village project in Santa Monica, no one but no one wants the Expo Line to be an excuse for over-development that worsens car traffic, overall mobility and quality of life in the Westside.  The City Councils of L.A. and Santa Monica need to get over their bad selves and be realistic about what should and should not be built next to what will be very attractive commercial property near Expo Line stations.

6) Grade separation is a nice betterment, but usually it will involve rail bridges, and not rail tunnels.  Anyone familiar with the Expo Line rail trench near USC and the future Crenshaw/Green Line rail trench near LAX is aware of the financial, environmental and engineering nightmares they pose compared to the expensive but eminently simpler rail bridges at La Cienega and La Brea.  Westside grade separation at Sepulveda, Sawtelle and Centinela, for example, is elevated—and the fight for a tunnel-or-nothing at other major intersections led to at-grade crossings that the Westside might rue for years to come.

7) There is no Westside Metrolink service, so the Expo Line needs to have features of commuter as well as light rail transit—in other words, PARKING IS CRITICAL. It’s amazing how this line was meant to be a regional alternative to the I-10 freeway but yet bean-counters and environmental green zealots disrespect the need for parking.  Of course it’s expensive, and of course it’s not needed for every station, but not everyone in the Westside, Valley and South Bay who use this line will bicycle or take a bus to it.  Do whatever is needed to attract both public and private funding for parking, particularly at freeway-adjacent stations.  File this one under “Duh”.

8) A Westside Regional Transportation Center accommodating rail, bus, bicycle, car and all other transportation options, belongs at or adjacent to the Sepulveda station (pursuant to the above point)

9) There are inevitable lessons to be learned from funding and constructing this project, and they should be applied to other Measure R projects. It’s to be remembered that the successful passage, planning and now construction of the Expo Line left the Westside and LA County clamoring for more—and Measure R defined critical regional rail projects that either are or will be strictly budgeted.  We learned a lot of painful lessons with the first phase of the Expo Line (LINK), so let’s take taxpayer money seriously and not have to relearn these lessons.

10) Nail down police/traffic/safety issues now, and not wait for “incidents” to occur—While it’s good to know that Metro, the Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD are enhancing their enforcement of illegal activities of motorists and pedestrians on MetroRail Lines, the Westside and Mid-City (as with all regions) deserve to have this enforcement consistently applied.  Equally important is the need to have sheriff’s deputies routinely assigned to Expo Line stations and to trains so that everyone can feel safe and secure on MetroRail.

We deserve to give ourselves a good pat on the back, but there is so much to figure out and plan that this is no time to rest on our laurels.  Our mission to enhance the economy, environment and mobility of LA County is anything but accomplished.  Let’s get moving, LA!

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Expo Line, Culver City, Santa Monica, Ken Alpern, lessons, Westside




CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 74
Pub: Sept 16, 2011

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