Feasibility of a South Vermont Subway Line
Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion and progress on the Westside Subway Extension Project here in Los Angeles. Today I’d like to take a look at a somewhat more neglected subway extension project – a subway/elevated heavy rail transit (HRT) line down South Vermont Avenue, from the Wilshire/Vermont Station to the Vermont Station on the Metro Green Line. This corridor is the busiest north-south route in the Los Angeles Basin, with over 100,000 combined daily bus trips on Vermont, Western, Broadway and Figueroa. In addition, Vermont Avenue closely parallels the Harbor Freeway and its Transitway. Sadly, this facility fails to capture significant ridership. The zone fare system alienates low income riders, frequency outside of peak hours is dismal (one bus per hour!) and the mid-freeway station design is not pleasant or desirable for transit riders.
The alignment of Vermont Avenue also provides for an ideal opportunity to construct HRT. South of Gage Avenue, Vermont has a wide 20-30 foot median, currently occupied by crude landscaping – potentially ideal right of way for an elevated HRT line. In this article I will discuss what a potential South Vermont Line could look like, how to integrate stations with the neighborhood and what a potential construction and planning schedule could look like.
The line would begin at a complex flying junction with the current Red and Purple Lines at Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. Around Third Street the stacked Red Line tunnels (they are already stacked for the junction at Wilshire/Vermont) would diverge onto the west side of the street. A new platform at Wilshire/Vermont would host trains for this extension, which would be built directly under the intersection of Vermont and Wilshire under Vermont Avenue. A short 500-600 foot tunnel would connect this new platform to the existing off-street Wilshire/Vermont Station.
From there this line would continue in subway south until Gage Avenue with stops at Olympic, Venice, Adams, Exposition, Vernon and Slauson. The section between Wilshire and Exposition will likely have the highest ridership, in correlation with the high load factors of the 204/754 bus lines along this corridor. The population and job density in this 4 mile corridor is also very high, and redevelopment potential is limited due to existing structures and dense development. The Vernon and Slauson stations present great opportunities for Transit Oriented Development due to the lower density development in these areas and large swaths of surface parking and vacant lots. The underground nature of these stations should make them especially enticing to developers who obviously prefer building sites that lack rail noise and vibration.
At Gage Avenue, Vermont Avenue widens into a much larger boulevard, with a 30-40 foot median. This streetscape would be ideal for an elevated rapid transit line. The reduced costs of an elevated alignment would indicate a fairer level of investment for the communities along the southern portion of the route due to their lower densities and lower potential ridership. Nonetheless, this elevated portion of the line would still attract a huge number of riders and Transit Oriented Development opportunities are plentiful at the intersections of Vermont and Century, Manchester and Florence.
This elevated guideway would be similar to BART’s aerial structures in the San Francisco Bay Area: visually unobtrusive concrete viaducts that effeciently carry relatively quiet rapid transit trains. The connection to the Metro Green Line at the Vermont/Century Freeway Station will be a simple elevated station, parallel to, and above, the current freeway-level light rail platforms. Elevators and escalators will connect these two facilities for easy transfers.
Finally, an HRT vehicle maintenance facility should be built in conjunction with this extension project. Vacant land along the 105 freeway would be ideal for this purpose and could preclude a future extension further into the South Bay Area if funding and ridership are sufficient.
I have quite a bit more to say about the potential for this South Vermont Subway line, but let me just say this: parallel bus services carry 100,000+ riders per weekday, connecting bus services currently carry 60,000+ riders per weekday, and the community’s socioeconomic composition makes it predisposed for high levels of transit usage. If built in phases, like the Westside Subway Extension, this South Vermont Subway could be completed in 15 years or less at a cost of 4-6 billion dollars – chump change compared to the current level of city, county, state and federal levels of spending. Let’s get the gears rolling! South LA deserves an effective rapid transit line too!