Public hearing kicks off environmental planning process for downtown streetcar project

A Metro staff member discusses the various phases and timeline for the project.

In the lobby of the historic Los Angeles Theater, nearly 100 Angelenos participated in a workshop last night to learn about the proposed downtown L.A. streetcar project. Those who attended were also given the opportunity to make official public comments as part of the “scoping” process, during which planners will sketch out the basic parameters of the project.

Metro staff members began the meeting by bringing the audience up to speed on a project whose conceptual roots go back to the mid-1990s. In short, Metro was brought on last year to head up the environmental planning process on behalf of the city of Los Angeles and the non-profit Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc., which are working to secure funding for the $125-million dollar project.

In March 2011, the City of L.A. and its Community Redevelopment Agency allocated seed money — including funds from the city’s Measure R local return funds — to pay for preliminary engineering, continued community outreach and other planning work.

Downtown L.A. Streetcar project study area. Click through for greater detail.

At this point, Metro’s planners are in the early phases of deciding — with the public’s input — where exactly the streetcar will travel. What we do know is that the area under consideration is a rectangular swath of downtown L.A. bounded by Cesar Chavez Avenue to the north, Los Angeles Street to the east, Washington Boulevard to the south and the 110 freeway to the west. Union Station, slightly to the northeast of this area, will be included in the study too, because it is the principal transit hub for the greater L.A. area.

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar — whose district includes parts of downtown and who is also a Metro Board Member– has been pushing for the streetcar to run on Broadway as part of his Bringing Back Broadway Initiative.

As a Metro staff member noted, the primary goal for the project is to enhance connections between downtown’s principal residential and commercial activity centers, including South Park, Bunker Hill and the Broadway corridor, among others. Metro Planning Director Robin Blair emphasized that the streetcar is, above all, really about “accelerating pedestrian” movement through downtown.

Going forward, Metro planners will study how the streetcar would impact existing transportation systems and mobility — and then compare that to two alternatives: a “no-build” option and a “travel demand management” option, where more incremental changes are made to existing transit services in lieu of a new streetcar line. Basically, it’s the standard procedure for all big transit projects and a critical step in applying for federal funding.

During the public comment period of the meeting, a number of important questions, concerns and suggestions were aired, all of which will be addressed during the environmental review process. Below is a curated list of some issues brought up by community members at the meeting.

The best way to ensure that your thoughts on the project are made an official part of the public record is to email them to streetcarservice@metro.net by May 31, 2011, the deadline for public comments. A copy of Metro’s presentation is available here for download as a PDF.

In no particular order, some of the issues raised by the public at the meeting were:

  • The new streetcar line should emulate downtown’s former streetcar service by using vintage rail cars.
  • Directly serving the Staples Center, Convention Center and L.A. Live is of the utmost importance.
  • The streetcar should include Union Station as a stop, because it is the transportation entry point to downtown.
  • The streetcar should not connect to Union Station directly, because the future Regional Connector will provide a faster trip into the heart of downtown.
  • Very frequent service is the key to making the line successful.
  • The streetcar should have its own travel lane to ensure that it can provide fast and reliable service.
  • The line should connect existing downtown transit stations, like the Metro Rail Blue, Red, Purple and Expo Lines.
  • The line should go down Broadway, because project should support the revitalization of the historic corridor.
  • Metro and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation should pay for the operating costs, not local residents and businesses.
  • The existing businesses and residents on Broadway should have their interests better represented.
  • There should be a more rigorous economic analysis of the costs and benefits of the project to local businesses.

For more information on what streetcars can do for mobility, transit planner Jarrett Walker’s blog post on the subject is a great primer.

11 thoughts on “Public hearing kicks off environmental planning process for downtown streetcar project

  1. I think using vintage cars would make it look like like Disneyland or the Grove than making it a appear as a real transit option. Also using vintage rail cars presents a host of problems for ADA accessibility, meaning you’d have to build platforms. Whereas if modern streetcars like those used in Portland were selected they could be low-floor and much easier to board for wheelchairs, luggage, and the elderly.

    A compromise I could definitely see is using modern streetcars and painting them with colors inspired by streetcars of yore. Yellow and green like the Yellow cars, and red like the old Red cars.

  2. Ray,

    I like your ideas, especially about painting new cars in the spirit of the old trolleys — make sure to send those thoughts to streetcarservice@metro.net so that the planners hear them too. As for the Americans with Disabilities Act, Metro staff last night said that there were ways to modify vintage cars meet ADA requirements.

    Thanks,

    Carter Rubin
    Contributing Writer, The Source

  3. I agree with Ray.

    To be practical and usable, the streetcars would have to be relatively frequent, which would mean newer streetcars.

    There aren’t enough vintage streetcars available to do the job, and building new ones would take too long, as San Pedro found out when they built authentic replicas.

  4. I agree with Ray and like the idea of painting the cars to have that vintage look. I am surprised that the map is on the boundaries of Downtown rather than going up its middle. Not sure what is to be gained by going around Downtown? And is there really a revitalization of Broadway. That could be so off in the future that we’ll be on our second rounds of trolley cars by then.

  5. Joseph,

    Thanks for your comments. To clarify, Metro is studying a variety of different routes for the streetcar that will all be somewhere within the yellow area on the map. In all likelihood, planners will end up recommending a route that goes right through the “heart” of downtown, perhaps along Broadway, Hill Street or Olive Street. But that remains to be seen! Stay tuned.

    Carter Rubin
    Contributing Writer, The Source

  6. Send it up all the way to Ceasar Chavez and then send another trolley line down Sunset for all the Eastside people who would drool over the idea.

  7. In regards to Joseph’s preferring a streetcar route up the middle of downtown…I might have agreed with him had I not recently been to Portland.

    After riding the streetcar there, whose route hugs the edge of downtown, I am convinced that our streetcar needs to do the same. It should go up Main and down Spring. I am sure that some people, particularly those who have never been to Portland, would consider that a radical idea. But the lofts, galleries and restaurants in Portland’s Pearl district are a direct result of the streetcar route tying the neighborhood into downtown. Having our streetcar run through the historic core would have the same effect here.

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