Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension Phase 1

Part one of  three on the Westside Subway Extension.

The Westside Subway Extension in Los Angeles is the holy grail of transit expansion. Envisioned since the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) began planning a heavy rail system for Los Angeles in the 1960’s, a Wilshire Boulevard subway’s only parallel in America is New York’s ill fated (but currently under construction) Second Avenue Subway. Politics, money and even racism have posponed serious discussion on a Wilshire subway for over twenty years. In this post, I will cover some of the history of this project and also the alignment and design of the currently designated phase one, which runs from Wilshire/Western to Wilshire/Fairfax.

As seen on my map, the portion of the line between Crenshaw and La Brea travels along a medium density office/retail portion of Wilshire. Right behind Wilshire are single occupancy homes in Hancock Park, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the City of Los Angeles. Large transit projects through rich areas tend to exacerbate fears of poorer people entering a neighborhood and committing crime. While this notion is statistically untrue, and simply silly (right now someone in East Los Angeles can take the 720 bus to get to the same area), community support for the Westside Subway Extension has been limited in this area.

Past completion of the Wilshire subway was easily possible without this fear the residents of Hancock Park harbored. After a methane gas explosion under a Ross store at 3rd street and Fairfax Avenue (five blocks north of the future Wilshire/Fairfax station) in 1980, Representative Henry Waxman banned federal funding for subway tunneling through the Fairfax neighborhood, effectively ending hopes for a Westside subway. Waxman cited safety concerns, but fears of crime in Hancock Park were more than likely to have been central to the ban. The current Red and Purple Line subways reflect the intention to continue down Wilshire with the short stub from Wilshire/Vermont to Wilshire/Western, while also continuing through Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley as an alternative to the banned Westside route. Without Waxman’s ban, it is likely there would be a currently operating subway line to the Westside.

In the last ten years, Waxman’s ban has been repealed and work has begun again on this crucial transit line. With the passage of Measure R, the Wilshire subway is funded to Westwood at either a UCLA or VA Hospital terminus. Planning has been ongoing for several years and the alignment has been narrowed to five alternatives, two of which are covered with Measure R funding. Deviations from Wilshire Boulevard do not exist in any of the five alignments for this portion of the line, so construction could begin very soon, especially if the design-build method is used.

Being that much of the line run through detached home filled Hancock Park, ridership estimates for the two stations (not including Crenshaw) is about 10000 riders. Granted, this number does not include the large number of riders who currently transfer to the 720 and 920 buses at Wilshire/Western, so initially ridership will most likely be much higher. On the current schedule, this two (or three) station extension will open in 2019 and cost 1.3 billion dollars, contingent upon the construction of the Crenshaw Station.

The Crenshaw Station is the sole matter of contention on this segment of the Westside Extension. First of all, a possible future extension of the Crenshaw Corridor light rail line would interface the Westside subway at Wilshire/La Brea, eliminating the Crenshaw Station’s importance for transfers. Second, the Crenshaw Station area is within half a mile of the existing Wilshire/Western station. Finally, the density in the surrounding area is the lowest density around any planned subway station all the way out to Westwood. With so many things going against it, the Crenshaw Station seems like a poor use of the 200-300 million of construction funds it would use up. The ideal solution for the Crenshaw Station would to build the station box during Phase 1, but wait to complete the station until future density or ridership potential justified it. A large transit oriented development (TOD)  in the future could be incorporated into the station as funds permit. With a station box already installed, conversion to a full service station is quick and relatively inexpensive, especially compared to constructing a subway station from scratch on an active line.

Current trends in transit funding such as the FasTracks program in Denver show that sales tax revenues can drop sharply without much notice. The cost and benefit from the Crenshaw Station simply do not justify its construction at present, although a station box is a must.

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About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on April 15, 2010, in Los Angeles, Measure R, Westside Subway Extension and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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