Sat, Apr

The New Holy Grail of the LA County Rail Network: The Elusive Valley-to-Westside Subway


TRANSIT WATCH--It's interesting ... and maybe a little sad ... that while the transit advocates behind the Expo Line revolution (who then turned their sights to the LAX/Metro Rail, Wilshire Subway, Downtown Light Rail Connector) have to some degree separated and gone on to other issues, venues, and their own personal lives, some battles still remain, and are just not going away. 


The battle for the Expo Line, interestingly enough, had roots with the then-stalled, now-expedited Wilshire Subway--once the "Holy Grail" of LA County transportation.  And the new "Holy Grail" of the LA County train infrastructure movement, the San Fernando Valley-Westside Subway, may be one of our last great battles over the next 5-15 years. 

Those behind the Expo Line Revolution (Friends4Expo Transit) were comprised not only of Westsiders but from throughout the county.  We learned a lot from others, and hopefully taught to others as well, a few critical features, some of which were VERY well enumerated and outlined by Matthew Hetz in a recent CityWatch article

1) In short, Hetz (I prefer to call him "Matt", who is a good man and a good friend), taught me, and still teaches others, that while freeway medians make great rights of way for moving trains, they are nightmarishly hellish to locate stations.   

Accessing or leaving a train in the middle of a freeway is an environmental and unhealthy ordeal to wait for both the lungs and the ears, and even the psyche, and is as much fun as any flat tire or automobile breakdown for stranded motorist (would YOU want to undergo that experience on a daily basis?). 

Hence, the Green Line is the fastest light rail in the nation because it zips along the middle of the I-105 freeway, but has ridership elevated only because of its bus and Blue Line connections, and with virtually no successful transit-oriented development

Meanwhile, the Expo Line, which parallels the I-10 freeway, already has surpassed the Green Line in ridership but is loaded with current and future transit-oriented development.  Yes, the Expo Line goes too darned slow in places, but that's more due to the idiocy of Los Angeles and Santa Monica politicians, as well as NIMBY forces, than the excellent location of this line. 

2) Hetz also made it clear, and this has been studied many times over, and always with the same conclusion, that monorail technology is both outdated and not prudent for the 21st century. Most reading this probably do NOT have any clue, and do NOT give a rip, whether we call it "monorail" or "light rail", and the same can be said for "elevated monorail" or "elevated light rail". 

So perhaps Mayor Garcetti misspoke, or just spoke in generalities, when he advocated a monorail over the 405 freeway.  The vision of seeing trains zip by you while stuck in the Sepulveda Pass on the I-405 might make many commuters envy that speed and mobility. 

Certainly, Friends4Expo Transit leader Darrell Clarke has advocated for a light rail on the side of the I-405 freeway, and is probably a more workable alternative than the freeway median.  Yet issues of the slope of the Sepulveda Pass, and the ability of a light rail to carry many passengers with high speeds remain very real obstacles.

Transit street fighter Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition probably has the best of all ideas, which is a direct Valley-to-Westside subway from Ventura to Wilshire Blvd that would boast a transit time of approximately 6 minutes. 

... but, moving away from Hetz's timely and critical comments to a broader picture, it must be remembered that: 

1) East-west projects like the Expo Line work best with north-south linkages, and just as the Green and Blue Lines work in tandem, and the Expo and future Crenshaw/LAX Lines will work in tandem, the Wilshire and Sepulveda subways will ALSO work in tandem (the proposed subway route doesn't always go directly under Sepulveda Blvd., but serves that commercial/transportation corridor. 

2) The Green Line is more visible to freeway commuters than the Expo Line, but has fewer riders. The Expo Line could probably enjoy more riders by both posting signs along the I-10 freeway of comparative commute times during rush hour, and by creating/partnering with the private sector for inexpensive parking structures near key stations (like Metrolink does). 

3) A Sepulveda Pass Subway would be invisible to commuters on the I-405, but signage (see above) and Metro/private sector promotion/environmentally-based tax benefits would make it clear to everyone that there's a great new subway for north-south commuters, particularly if it very rapidly links the Orange, Expo, and Wilshire/Purple Lines

4) The years 2022-2024 absolutely WILL come to pass, just as those of us in the first decade of the 21st Century knew that 2012-16 would come to pass.  The Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Downtown Light Rail Line, and the Wilshire Subway/Purple Line will all be either completed or on their way to completion.   

There will be an increasingly-louder call for "What's Next", which will almost certainly include: 

1) A more direct LAX-Downtown rail link, probably along the publicly-owned Harbor Subdivision Rail Right of Way (currently slated for...a bikeway?). 

2) The BEST rail line route and technology between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, and by extension to LAX, which will probably be either light or heavy rail underground to serve all key destinations. 

3) Better parking/automobile, bus, carpool/vanpool, bicycle, and Uber/Lyft access to allow all commuters (and voters/taxpayers, to boot) access to the fastest ways to get from Point A to Point B from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, and from Downtown to the Ocean. 

The Wilshire Subway was previously the "once and future Holy Grail" of LA County transportation, and is being fast-tracked.  Mission accomplished, on many levels.  

As the entirety of LA County beefs up rail (and whatever viable freeway improvements remain), it is not hard to conclude that the new and true "Holy Grail" of the LA County transportation was, and will be for a very long time, the oft-discussed but still-elusive rapid rail transportation option from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside (and, by extension, to LAX).


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us . The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)