Feasibility of a South Vermont Subway Line

Corridor Area with parallel and connecting bus service numbers and approximate ridership.


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!


About Karl Tingwald

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

Posted on February 2, 2011, in Los Angeles, Metro Rail. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Great write-up on the potential Vermont subway. I agree that this should be a priority in the long-range plan. It would be only a little more expensive than the Crenshaw light rail line, but much more useful and would have better ridership. And it would be much better than the second phase of the Foothill light rail extension (east of Azusa) or the second phase of the Eastside light rail extension (along 60 or to Whittier), which would have terrible ridership compared to this.

    Do you think it would be technically feasible to connect at the existing Vermont station, by adding a second tunnel and platform on each level? If done right, this would allow cross-platform transfers to trains on the Wilshire subway, which is where most people from Vermont will be headed (to reach jobs and destination in West LA or Downtown LA). I know this would be more expensive than building a new, 1-level station under Vermont, but the ability to have passengers transfer straight accross one platform to the other train would save people 5 to 10 minutes on every trip, or almost as much time as is saved by building the subway instead of just rapid buses on the surface.

    But I do like the option of a new station and a pedestrain tunnel to connect with the existin platforms, if it is not possible to connect direction with the existing Wilshire/Vermont station. That would be better than the current bus transfers.

    • The reason why I suggested that the new platforms at Wilshire/Vermont be under the intersection, rather than a cross-platform transfer, is due to the fact that the existing station is built off-street under a newly completed mixed use TOD. Although a more direct transfer would be nice, tearing down this new development for construction would be controversial, to say the least. If planners for the original Red Line had left space in their design for a connection further south down Vermont (like the numerous tunnel bellmouths NYC has to potential future subway lines), we wouldn’t have this problem.

      Indeed, as Metro continues to plan and engineer the Westside Subway Extension, it is critical to emphasize the completion of separation structures and provisions for future lines in order to avoid situations like this at Wilshire/Vermont. The separation structure around La Cienega and Wilshire is critical to a future West Hollywood Subway, and should be included in the plans. Like usual, though, finding the 150-200 million dollars to build this giant concrete box in the ground could be an issue.

  2. I like this idea…I frequency use the Metro bus and rail system, and I usually travel along Vermont Avenue from the Green Line to Wilshire Bl., via the 754 Rapid line. I remember this being also suggested elsewhere, and this Vermont Line would ideal, because it would centraly-located between the Blue Line to the east, and the planned Crenshaw/LAX Line to the west.

  3. I love this idea and wish that Metro would look into it’s feasibility. When I used to have to commute from Studio City to El Segundo, I used to hop off the Red Line at Wilshire/Vermont and take the bus down to the Green Line, which would save me a good 15/20 mins in the morning and I felt much safer than riding the Blue Line at night.

  4. I normally take the 754 to work myself, and so I would benefit from this new line. But how much of this line would just duplicate service that is already available from the Blue Line not very far away? I agree that this would be a great line to have, but it seems that the money might be better spent building either the West Hollywood line, or a north/south line on the west side. Or perhaps something farther east, connecting to the Gold Line – I’m much less familiar with those parts of the city.

  5. Great news! Although Vermont shouldn’t be the only north-south corridor under discussion. We need subway / rapid Rail service under La Brea, under Western, etc. Those corridors are also almost as popular, and currently provide no reliable/fast alternative (slow bus service just doesn’t cut it).
    I hope one day Crenshaw line will go further north (from the Expo line), then deviate to La Brea, and going under La Brea reaching Hollywood/Highland.

  6. The 40,000 riders along Venice Boulevard also shows the feasibility of a light rail line down Venice Blvd. to Venice. Especially since there used to be one there and there is a massively wide median between..I think La Cienega and Arlington?

    • Disclaimer: I tried to estimate ridership on the bus lines to the best of my ability and based on the very limited information Metro gives to the public. I may go to the Transportation Library at the Taj Mahal (Metro HQ) to see if I can get some real numbers. I suspect 40,000 for Venice is a bit high.

  7. Do note that a Vermont Subway project is in the Metro’s 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan, although only as a Tier 2 project in the Strategic Unfunded Plan.

    In Metro’s past system analysis, this project performed rather well, ranking 6th out of 19 proposed projects. The project was forecast to draw 1.4 million annual boardings per mile.

  8. Interesting concept, and it’s hard to argue that the ridership on that corridor is fairly large – there are a huge number of transfer passengers from rail to bus at the three southmost existing Vermont stations.

    Two questions, though:
    1. Is the elevated track necessary for the portion south of Slauson? It seems you could reduce the construction costs a great deal. I know there are the safety concerns as with the Blue Line’s at-grade intersections. Perhaps it would alleviate those concerns (and still be cheaper) to make the intersecting roadway at those intersections either above or below grade, rather than elevating the entire length of the railway.

    2. How would you see the connections working – would the service end at Wilshire/Vermont and go back, or continue on to North Hollywood (or even Wilshire/Western)? It’s not clear to me whether your proposed station design at Wilshire/Vermont would work for either of those options.

    • An aerial structure is necessary due to the grade separation requirements of heavy rail (subway) third-rail transit. If the line were to be built at grade down Vermont, it would require massive grade separations of every single intersection. In my opinion, an aerial structure for the HRT tracks would be more cost effective and far less physically and visually obstructive than a grade separated HRT surface line along Vermont.

      The connection at Wilshire/Vermont would allow trains to continue north to North Hollywood along the existing Red Line. A service from South Vermont to North Hollywood could carry the Red Line while the Purple Line could run from Downtown LA to Westwood/Santa Monica with a transfer at Wilshire/Vermont.

  9. Great idea! In my opinion, the more trains in LA the better!

  10. Since the Vermont subway would be an extension of probably the Red Line, it would either have to be an elevated structure or a subway. I think this subway would carry a lot of passengers, and significantly reduce operational complexity by presumably having only the Wilshire subway (Purple Line) go downtown to Union Station. However, it is unlikely to get built for a long time because political considerations dictate that rapid transit lines be spread throughout the city, regardless of where the need is. Once the Expo Line opens you would be able to get to the Vermont Station from the Red Line by transferring at 7th / Flower. It will be interesting to see if that’s faster than just waiting for the 754 at Wilshire/Vermont.

  11. This is an excellent project that LA should undertake. I am on that street every week, and it is horrendous, even on Sundays

  12. I believe that the Vermont subway will be built as light rail instead of heavy rail, although underground and above ground similar to how you describe above. I am not sure the connection should be Wilshire/Vermont (Could be Westlake/McArthur Park instead?)- but where ever the connection is there will need to be a transfer so why not build it as light rail. It may be possible to connect it directly to the Green line as light rail, better to have 1 transfer than two. However, if there has to be two transfers then it really does not matter the mode of rail. Either way, I totally am for this rail line.

    • Eric, I think the Vermont Corridor deserves a HRT Line in order to connect to Red and Purple Lines at Wilshire/Vermont Station. In fact, the Red Line could run from North Hollywood down Vermont Avenue to the Century Freeway in this scenario. The transfer penalty (http://www.humantransit.org/2010/08/good-question-of-the-week-transfer-penalties.html) would be unnecessary considering that an underground/elevated LRT line would be as expensive as a HRT line. Also, if the Vermont Corridor were constructed as LRT, the portion south of Gage Avenue would likely be built as surface level LRT rather than an elevated guideway, increasing travel times considerably. I stand fully convinced that the best mode for the Vermont Corridor is Heavy Rail Transit (I bet an EIS/EIR from Metro would agree with me).

  13. With Los Angeles ranking as having the nation’s worst traffic, the Vermont line with all of its mass transit ridership needs to happen sooner rather than later. It should run underground or on an elevated structure. Anything that mingles with traffic is not the answer. Any new rail should work outside of car traffic–to be an answer to it.

    • Nope. We were ranked # 3 in the last ranking. DC and Chicago wee ahead of us. Remember, rail never reduces traffic, never. It’s an alternative transportation method. NY, Chicago, London, Paris et al still have tons of traffic

  14. I’m happy to see someone talk about this line. I used to live around Adams and Vermont and took the 754 many times. However, what I really wanted was a subway. It would really open up possibilities of connections to Hollywood, LAX or even Long Beach via a Green to Blue transfer. All these are quite difficult from the current bus line. Also, I could really see this creating a lot of development in South (Central) LA and give people great access to Downtown, Hollywood etc. I think that this line also makes a big point that you don’t have to have every transit line go through Downtown.

  15. Why in the world would you turn west at the Green Line? You could continue south to Redondo Beach Blvd, Artesia Blvd, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, PCH, and eventually, San Pedro.

    Damien Goodmon has the right idea for this line (except for the “crescent”): http://glam.fminus.com/files/final-1080.gif

    Anyway, elevated rail after Gage Ave is the most cost-effective alternative. No way is at-grade going to fly.

    Also, in the long run, rebuilding the Wilshire/Vermont station is the best option because it allows a smooth transfer-free ride from San Pedro to Hollywood to Bob Hope Airport.

  16. Sorry, just realized that that was for the maintenence facility. If it was built, hopefully it would still allow the line to continue south on Vermont.

  17. The flying junctions are not constructible. Otherwise, a Red Line extension down Vermont makes a lot of sense.

    It is not constructible because the flying junction that would be needed, which would be on the northside of the Wilshire-Vermont Station, already has service running in those tunnels. Construction would interupt service and perhaps all service would be halted for a period of 2-3 years.

    I don’t think that will work because too many people would be affected.

    If there is a way that existing services are not disturbed, then this plan might be feasible.

    • While the station is rebuilt, why not have special articulated buses run between each subway station on the Purple and Red lines, and avoid all other regular bus stops along the routes?

      Or do we already have that? If so, have the buses run much more frequently. This way, we can keep most subway riders during the 2-3 years of construction.

  18. I think it’s great that SoCal is embracing mass transit. Up here in the Bay Area it appears we’re doomed to repeat transit and development mistakes made in the greater LA area a generation or two ago. I was in LA for the first time before the holidays and was impressed with the red line. I found it operated more like a true subway system, unlike BART which runs more like a commuter rail system or MUNI which…well, I think MUNI’s track record speaks for itself.

    Keep up the great ideas and promising projects. LA seems to be on the right track…it all comes down to mindset. In SF, we’re not on the right track (Central Subway boondoggle, BART exurbia projects) because transit agencies aren’t thinking logically.

  19. I’m curious as to what can be done SOUTH of the Green Line for this Vermont Corridor to take advantage of existing rights-of-way that can be utilized to extend the line towards Gardena and Harbor/UCLA Medical Center where theres potential for stronger bi-directional ridership essential for a Rail line whether its light rail or heavy rail to be productive.

  20. Can you provide the source of information for your bus ridership statistic? I fail to see 100,000 on the Vermont corridor when Wilshire has been known to be between 80 – 100,000 and that’s way more dense than Vermont. AND Wilshire has standing room Rapids at 11 pm! I haven’t seen that on Vermont!

    • I’m not claiming Vermont alone has 100,000 riders alone. The point I made was that within one mile of this proposed subway line, north-south transit lines have near 100,000 riders per day. These lines are the 207 and 757 on Western Avenue, the 204 and 754 on Vermont Avenue, the 81 on Figuroa Street, and the 40 and 740 on Broadway.

      I think Vermont alone has about 40,000 riders per day.

      As a whole, it is the busiest north-south corridor in terms of bus ridership in Los Angeles County.

  21. I think a South Vermont extension of the Red/Purple Line is worth looking at.

    It wouldn’t really compete with the Blue Line, any more than the existing #754 bus or Harbor Freeway Transitway services do. (Different corridors, different destinations).

    Connecting it to the existing Wilshire/Vermont subway station would be tricky at best.

    1. Force a transfer for all riders going south on Vermont;

    2. Blow up the existing station and put in trackage that branches three ways:
    * LA-Hollywood-North Hollywood (Like current Red Line)
    * LA-Wilshire-Santa Monica (Like Current Purple Line)
    * LA-South Vermont (New)

    Would still require a transfer between Vermont segments north and south of Wilshire. Also the Vermont-Union Station segment has a limited capacity and may be overwhelmed…

    3. Blow up the existing station and put in a simple intersecting station (like 7th and Metro). Travel along Wilshire would be the same as it is now, but transfers would be required for trips to any station along Vermont. Somewhat less expensive than #2

    4. Like #3, with an additional direct connection to North Vermont (maintaining existing Red Line service pattern….)


  22. “and could preclude”
    don’t you mean “wouldn’t preclude”

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