On Transportation: March 21 column

The Westwood/VA Station entrance will be just east of Bonsall Avenue. Click to enlarge.

WESTWOOD/VA STATION: For obvious reasons, a lot of attention has been paid to the Westside Subway Extension’s Century City station and the subway alignment in Beverly Hills. There’s no need to belabor those issues here.

But one of the more overlooked stories involving the subway project involves the Westwood/VA Hospital station. In the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report, released Monday, Metro staff recommend placing the station on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard, just east of Bonsall Avenue and just west of the 405 freeway.

This is the last station on the line. Why? Measure R and Metro’s long-range plan have funding for the subway to reach Westwood but not beyond. It’s a tough situation because not much farther west, just beyond San Vicente Boulevard, are thousands of residents — many of whom will probably want to use the new train.

Let’s back up a step. The best part about this station location is its proximity to the VA Hospital entrance. I think most of us would agree that our nation’s veterans deserve the best healthcare we can provide for them — and they also deserve first-class transit to help them reach medical facilities. The subway will accomplish that.

And every sign points to an escalating need for health-care for our soldiers. From the New York Times last month:

The United States has now endured what by some measures is the longest period of war in its history, with more than 6,300 American troops killed and 46,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ultimate costs estimated at $3 trillion. Both wars lasted far longer than predicted. The outcomes seem disappointing and uncertain.

Even if the subway goes farther west — and one day it might — I think there’s a pretty compelling case that can be made for building a station in front of the hospital. We take care of our own, it’s the right thing to do. Period.

The station actually gets beyond that great barrier known as the 405 Freeway.  Everyone knows how awful traffic can be on the east-west streets approaching the 405, even before the current 405 widening began. This station should reduce some of the traffic that would otherwise come into highly congested Westwood if the line ended there.

Of course, the station will also have to serve as the gateway to and from the Purple Line subway for the many people who live and work west of the 405 freeway along the Wilshire corridor. There are several challenges here:  it’s (for example) a .4-mile walk from the corner of San Vicente/Federal and Wilshire (i.e. the closest residences) to the station entrance, there will not be any public parking at the station and this section of Wilshire is particularly congested, in part because of traffic entering and exiting the 405 freeway.

This is where the bus, bike, pedestrian and drop-off connections become critical. The buses running on Wilshire have to quickly get people to and from that Westwood/VA station. It’s a classic example of what transit planners like to call “first mile/last mile” connections — in other words, how to get people to and from transit stations.

One thing that should help is the Wilshire bus lane project which is adding an eastbound peak period bus lane between Centinela and Sepulveda and a westbound lane between Federal and Centinela. The bus lane is due to be built in the next three years.

It’s going to be a while until the subway arrives in Westwood — the best case funding scenario has the subway completed there in 2022. That’s not easy to swallow but there is one upside: that’s a good decade for Metro to continue to work with the VA and others on connections to the new subway station and ensure it meets its full potential.

GOING TO COURT?: In the past few months, I’ve seen occasional postings on websites that say  that if a lawsuit is filed against a particular transit or road project, a court could end up deciding where stations are built, etc.

Not so, people. Lawsuits filed against transportation projects typically allege that the environmental impact reports did not meet the requirements of state law know as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As a result, courts rule on whether the process was followed in compiling reports. They don’t rule on whether a particular station should be here instead of there or whether a rail grade crossings is okay at street level or needs to be on a bridge.

What that means is that at the end of the day, Metro will make the final decisions on its projects. The process may be challenged in court — but not the actual decisions. Something to keep in mind.

GOLD LINE RIDERSHIP: I’ve lived near the Gold Line for its entire eight-year existence and trains are as crowded as I can remember seeing them.

I’m sure gas prices are a big factor. But I suspect an equally important reason is that trains run so often during peak periods — every six to seven minutes from 5:40 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Bottom line: those traveling on the Gold Line during rush hour, spend the bulk of their time actually traveling and not waiting on a platform.

More coverage of the subway’s FEIS/R:

Where will the station entrances be for the Westside Subway Extension?

Travel times to Westwood/UCLA station via the Westside Subway Extension

New FAQ on the Westside Subway Extension

Highlights from the Westside Subway Extension’s final environmental study

Metro releases final environmental study for Westside Subway Extension

12 thoughts on “On Transportation: March 21 column

  1. Hmmm, no parking at the terminal station? Might want to rethink that decision. Last time I checked the was quite a bit of real estate at the VA. At least leave plenty of room for bikes and motor scooters.

  2. I can’t agree more regarding the VA station. Like so much else about measure R, its such a glass half full situation. Sure, it seems crazy to end the line there, but compared to ending it at Westwood Blvd. we are clearly better off. Do I wish measure R allotted enough money to go to Bundy? Yes, but what would we have to give up? Maybe the Gold Line foothill extension, or phase 2 of expo? OK, I won’t mind giving up the high desert freeway, personally, but given 67% requirement for raising taxes we’re lucky to have such problems.
    Now, if we could just get the House to pass the Senate bill…..

  3. I’ve began to wonder why the subway does not just run above ground on Wilshire west after the 405? I could see how some may think its not aesthetically pleasing, however it will be so much more of a utility for those that live and work in Santa Monica. Just before the economy went under, I worked on 26th and Wilshire. I would exit my office at 6pm, and arrive at my South Park apartment at 8 or 8:30. The first hour was usually spent sitting in traffic between 26th and the 405 on Wilshire. Not that I am pro “Above ground” after the 405, but has this option been studied? Or even having the route back down south to Santa Monica blvd (which can be just as conjested as Wilshire druing rush hour), and then running above ground to say 4th st, or even meeting the Expo Line?

  4. I’m glad more attention is now being paid to the VA hospital station regarding its issues of connectivity. There is so much land next to that station that it is certainly conceivable for metro to work out an agreement with the VA to add another station portal close to San Vicente/Federal. Also I agree with Jim that the decision for no parking at this station despite its terminus status leaves out many potential riders that would either drive to the station or bust. Many neighborhoods, especially from San Vicente northward, in brentwood for example, have poor bus access and would have little to no connectivity to the station via transit and the walking distance is much too great. Driving is the only way. Ridership would go up if there was parking, and as stated before there is certainly enough space around the station for said parking.

    Regarding elevated tracks west of VA; I think this should be considered as a way to expand the line westward since it is considerably less expensive than tunneling and can maintain the same transit level of service that staying underground would (because its still grade separated so speeds are the same), and the aesthetic impacts should not be a problem since the corridor is almost entirely commercial (the buildings directly along the street) and usually that concern is only for residential areas. I don’t see why business owners should care about the presence of an EL structure. I can’t see how that would negatively affect business. I think it would be quite cool actually to have an EL train running above Wilshire.

  5. While I certainly respect the need honor our veterans, I find that this is bit lacking as the sole argument (beyond the need to traverse the 405) for where precisely to locate a subway station. The location seems rather unwalkable – what are the ridership projections for this location, compared to Wilshire/Federal or Wilshire/Barrington? If I remember correctly these were originally alternatives considered instead of a Wilshire/VA station. Considering we are already in the FEIR stage I understand that it’s too late to reassess this issue, but it seems a shame since a Wilshire/Federal station might have equally served the VA and its neighbors.

  6. I have to agree about the Gold Line, the frequency of the trains is great. And they tend to be full, just like the subway in New York. Frequent and full is a good thing.

  7. Speaking of the 405 at Wilshire. The walls that were constructed to fly the southbound off-ramp over Wilshire have been completely removed and the once 30-40 foot flyover is back down to ground level. These is the same type wall construction that collapsed at Mountain Gate along Sepulveda. I notice that this type of wall construction (cement panels) is being removed at various places along the freeway widening project. Has that method of constructing walls for this project been deemed unfit? What kind of delays with this cause? What kind of cost overruns. What’s the deal?

  8. The only real workable scenario for the VA station is to have an entrance at Wilshire/Federal using the trail tracks extend here. There are more squirrels than people in the VA and only so many people can use the hospital. Starting at federal you have high rises full of thousands of workers, dense apartments, and a large high school. Without this, it is going to be tough to access that VA Station.

    Yes, the VA is just west of the 405, but the traffic wall extends far to the West. Last night at 7:15, Wilshire was complete gridlock all the way back to Bundy, which is typical here. The busway will help, but overall the VA Station is largely inaccessible.

  9. A few facts regarding the issue of parking at this Westwood/VA station:
    1. Construction of the Subway will cost around $50,000 per daily rider – this is 100% subsidized
    2. Operating the subway will cost somewhere between $2-$3 per boarding, representing a 25%-50% subsidy.
    3. $25,000 is a conservative per-space estimate for structured parking at the VA. This brings the per daily rider cost to $75,000 for VA parkers.
    4. Metro would have to charge over $25 per day for parking if is to be unsubsidized. $25/day is expensive for LA, so few would use it.
    5. Metro could increase subsidies to certain Big Blue Bus and Metro Lines to improve connectivity in the area, yielding additional ridership at a fraction of the cost of parking subsidies. These additional subsidies would probably be in the range of $0.50-$1.00 per trip.
    6. Metro has limited funds, and while subsidizing parking would not necessarily preclude it from subsidizing connecting transit service, doing both would be difficult given its financial position and fiduciary responsibilities
    7. Based on analysis and community feedback, Metro seems to have chosen to strengthen transit connections rather than subsidizing parking. I think this is a good decision.

  10. Why is this station located next to a 405freeway on-ramp?? this makes no sense at all the station is next to nowhere!!! Please extend the subway to Santa Monica(4th/Wilshire) , whatever happened to the Subway to the Sea?? The Westwood station should be built closer to UCLA at Westwood blvd/Wilshire Blvd, this makes more sense!!! Thanks and hope to see you on the new subway to the sea in 2020!!!

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