Westside Subway Phase 3 and Beyond
Part 3 of 3 on the Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension
After discussing phases 1 and 2, the only two segments of the Westside Subway Extension that currently have an opening date, the only further topic of debate are sections of the extension not covered under Measure R funding. These two major portions of the line, shown in dashes on my map, are the Wilshire Subway past Westwood/VA Hospital and the West Hollywood Subway. Of these two possible extensions to the Measure R funded Westside Subway Extension, the Santa Monica Extension of the Wilshire Subway is the most cost effective and would attract the highest number of riders.
The West Hollywood Subway (Pink Line on map) fills a large gap in Los Angeles’ rail network, but ridership projections leave something to be desired. Santa Monica/Fairfax and Santa Monica/La Brea are projected to attract less than 1,200 riders per day, a pitiful amount for a heavy rail subway station. Unless density increases substantially along the Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vincente Boulevard corridors in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, this subway project should not be a priority for transit investment.
On the other hand, the current plan to terminate the Westside Subway Extension at Westwood/VA Hospital is not wise and an extension past this terminus should be a priority. The Exposition Line light rail phase 2 will closely parallel the Wilshire Subway alignment south of 26th Avenue. Duplicate rail transit lines are not necessary, but the lack of a connection between the Westside Subway Extension and the Exposition Line is a missed opportunity. Although ridership estimates show that the Santa Monica extension is cost effective, a short extension from the Westwood/VA Hospital station to a Olympic/Bundy interchange station with the Exposition Line would eliminate the need for three miles of duplicate transit service to Downtown Santa Monica. Riders could instead make a relatively painless transfer to light rail, which, with closer spaced stations, would in fact serve the dense Santa Monica Downtown core more effectively than a single subway station.
Such an alignment would be ideal for a future extension of the Westside Subway. All of this analysis leaves out the possibility of dedicated bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard West of the Westwood/VA Hospital station which would be an even more cost effective way to get riders from Westwood to Santa Monica quickly. In the end, Los Angeles needs to prioritize its limited transit dollars on projects more effective than subway heavy rail transit in lower density areas like West Hollywood and central Santa Monica. A short extension to meet up with the Exposition Line or dedicated bus lanes would be an adequate replacement for a true “Subway to the Sea”, as this transit project has sometimes been called. In the end transit expansion is about serving the most riders with the lowest cost, not building expensive grade separated transit where the demand doesn’t exist for it.