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.

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