The Crenshaw Corridor

The Crenshaw Corridor is a transit project in Los Angeles that has been under review for over ten years. It follows Crenshaw Boulevard from Wilshire Boulevard to the Harbor Subdivision freight line and along that line to the Aviation Boulevard Green Line station. This transit project is fully funded under Measure R and is planned to begin construction around 2014 and be completed in 2018. Metro has already completed an alternatives analysis on the line examining bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT) and a no-build option. A few months ago, the agency decided on the LRT option and is now beginning to design a light rail line to go from Exposition Boulevard to the Aviation Station.

Although I support Metro’s decision to choose light rail on this corridor, the BRT option had a distinct advantage in its connection to Wilshire Boulevard instead of the LRT option’s stub end at Exposition Boulevard. Granted, with LRT Crenshaw riders may be able to have direct trains to Downtown Los Angeles and USC. With BRT however, riders would have a direct connection to the Metro Purple Line at Wilshire Boulevard. This connection provides better connecting opportunities and a more popular “anchor” for the transit line. The disadvantages of BRT are a slower operating speed, less separation from traffic and lower capacity. At first, the capacity concern does not seem to be a problem. The LRT option that Metro has chosen is forecast to attract just over 20,000 riders per day, less than the BRT Metro Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, a slower operating speed will be a nail in the coffin for this line. Under current design, the Crenshaw Line will connect directly to LAX with a Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)-designed people mover system at Century and Aviation Boulevards. This connection will make the Crenshaw line the main transit line for LAX. With that designation speed and branding are critical, although LAWA’s Fly Away bus service will still be faster than the rail line from Downtown LA.

Although the southern segment of the Crenshaw LRT is often discussed and is now fully funded, a northern extension of the LRT alignment to Wilshire Boulevard is hardly mentioned and has no timeline for completion nor a source of funding. This northern extension, mostly in subway, would bring Crenshaw trains under Crenshaw, San Vincente, Pico and La Brea, serving two stations and terminating at a transfer station with the future Metro Purple Line at Wilshire/La Brea. A Crenshaw LRT line with a Wilshire connection would potentially twice as many riders as a line that would terminate at Exposition Boulevard. A serious study of this extension should be a priority for Metro’s planning team. A phasing program should be instituted to ensure the completion of this LRT extension as soon as the Purple Line is extended to Wilshire/Fairfax. Indeed, like the Exposition Line, Phase 1 from Expo to the Green Line could be paid for by local sales tax funds (as is already planned), and the more expensive, but more cost effective, phase 2 from Expo to Wilshire could be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for New Starts funding in the future. Ignoring the potential connection to Wilshire Boulevard will leave Los Angeles with a second light rail line which goes from nowhere to nowhere, after the Green Line.

Along this vein, the construction of a station box for the Crenshaw Line at Wilshire/La Brea is critical during the construction of the Purple Line platforms. Without this forward looking approach, hundreds of millions of dollars and a convenient transfer at this station would be at stake. The Washington Metro built its transfer stations before both lines were in operation and ended up saving vast sums of money and building very convenient transfer stations. I cannot state how critical this plan is. Without the station box at Wilshire/La Brea it is entirely possible that a northern Crenshaw Line extension would be abandoned.

The operation of the Crenshaw LRT line is also of concern. Current plans for operation will have Crenshaw trains terminate at the Exposition/Crenshaw station, missing an opportunity for them to run to Downtown LA. This missed opportunity has arisen due to the extreme capacity constraints at 7th Street/Metro Center (see this older post). Without an exclusive right of way downtown, both the Expo and Crenshaw lines will be overcrowded and unable to run at reasonable headways at peak times. Fortunately, Metro is planning for full bidirectional connections of the Crenshaw Line to the Exposition Line and the Metro Green Line. Many new service patterns will arise from these connections like a South Bay-Exposition train along the Crenshaw and Green Lines, or even a Santa Monica-LAX train along the Exposition and Crenshaw Lines. Without these connections Metro would be missing a huge opportunity to interline its light rail services. With such interlining will the current map and naming scheme hold up? Metro has almost 10 years to decide, so don’t hold your breath.

The Crenshaw Line has merit as a LRT project. Hopefully planners and politicians will see the immense need for an extension north of Exposition Boulevard and include a station box at Wilshire/La Brea when the Purple Line station is built. Without it, the effectiveness and connectivity of the Crenshaw Line will be greatly reduced and Los Angeles will end up with another light rail line from nowhere to nowhere.

In a post later this week I will discuss the politics of transportation planning in Los Angeles. That discussion will be very pertinent to the Crenshaw Line, so stay tuned.

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About Karl Tingwald

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

Posted on May 11, 2010, in Los Angeles, Measure R and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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