11 September 2008

Subway to the Sea

One component of Measure R, which was mentioned in a post last week, is the Metro Westside Extension, more affectionately known as the "Subway to the Sea." For those of you whom have lived in Los Angeles for a while may remember that the subway was once headed for the sea in the mid-1980's, only to be held up by concerns of drilling through areas with pockets of underground methane.  Last year, that federal moratorium was lifted, allowing the next generation to pursue completion of the project which aims to ease gridlock on the westside.

Last night, the final public hearing in the Alternatives Analysis phase took place in Westwood and I attended the meeting in order to gain a little more insight into the project itself as well as the opportunity that the community has had to comment on the available options. There was a healthy group of approximately 80-100 people present.  The evening started out with an open house, where presentation boards were placed at the perimeter of the room and conversation took place between the public and the Metro staff present.  Following that was a presentation, which is available for download here, followed by a public comment session in which about 20 individuals each had two minutes to state their opinion.  About 85% of those who spoke were in favor of some sort of subway expansion to the westside.

Now, to the subway plan iteslf...

After multiple studies, calculations of ridership, and a series of public hearings, the subway is down to four options.  The first two options are required by the Federal Transportation Administration, which would provide federal matching funds for the project, and include a "No Build" option, which simply looks at how quality of life will be affected if no changes in public transit are taken over the study period (25 years), and a "Transportation Systems Management" option, which looks at how to improve existing bus service.  The final two options are officially known as "Alternative 1," which takes the subway from the existing Purple Line station at Wilshire/Western and extends it straight down Wilshire Boulevard all the way to the ocean in Santa Monica, and "Alternative 11," which takes that same plan and adds an extension headed past the Beverly Center, though West Hollywood, and links up with the Red Line near Hollywood and Highland.

Alternative 1: straight down Wilshire
courtesy of Metro

Alternative 11: with West Hollywood extension
courtesy of Metro

A sizable majority, both of those present at the meeting last night and public feedback gathered from previous public hearings, favor at least getting the Wilshire portion of the subway constructed and proceeding with the West Hollywood extension if there is enough funds remaining.  The main line of the subway would cost approximately $6.1 billion and the West Hollywood extension would cost approximately an additional $3.0 billion. Yes, this seems like a lot of money (and it is), but it is less per mile constructed compared to some recent urban freeway projects, according to Project Manager Dave Mieger.  Right now, that price tag (equivalent to $33 per hour of travel time savings) is slightly above what the FTA requires in order to be eligible for federal matching funds ($30 per hour of travel time savings), but the Metro staff was fairly confident that cost savings could be achieved during the engineering process and that the influx of riders with increased gas prices would help push that figure down closer to $25 per hour of travel time savings, making the project eligible for FTA funding.

For those of us who look for a better way to travel in the Los Angeles area in a more sustainable fashion, this is the public transit project which has and will continue to be the most expensive, yet most visible evidence that Los Angeles is committed to moving past car-only transit.  I highly recommend that you provide your comments on the project here to let the Metro staff and Board of Directors know which of the alternatives you prefer, as the public approval and comment phase is critical before the project can move forward.

Some interesting additional tidbits:
  • North/South connections to the subway are being studied, including the 405 Corridor Study and adding bus service in conjunction with the subway stops, but those are not a part of this particular study.
  • About 22% of the riders that would use the MWE would be coming from the San Gabriel Valley, much to the chagrin of Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has not been in favor of the project or Measure R
  • Ridership on the Red and Purple Lines has grown from 120,000 riders/day in 2006/07 to 153,000 riders/day this summer
  • BART in the Bay Area handles about 322,000 riders/day and would have approximately twice the mileage of the Metro subway system if the Wilshire and West Hollywood lines are constructed, meaning that the Metro system would have about twice the ridership per mile compared to BART.
  • The current ridership models only account for trips back and forth from home to work, but a large amount of traffic is comprised of people headed to meetings or trips social in nature.  Once those "special generators" are factored in, the project will be even more favorable in terms of receiving federal funding.
  • In the 28 years since the first Metro sales tax was passed, the westside has been the only area of the county not to receive rail service.

1 comment:

erin said...

I've been out of the loop a bit, but what happened to the Expo line? Is this Wilshire line an instead-of, or a both-and?