HWR: LAX people mover in 2023?

Art of Transit:

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A very quiet Saturday afternoon at the big-and-empty Cincinnati airport — an airport of little interest to many airlines after a brief flurry of business in the ’90s and early aughts. An interesting case of infrastructure being overbuilt. That said, it’s a comfy place to spend three hours waiting for a flight to Philly in order to fly to Los Angeles. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Speaking of LAX….

New look at the LAX people mover set to be finished in 2023 (Curbed LA)

Credit: Los Angeles World Airports.

Credit: Los Angeles World Airports.

Some interestingness burped out of Los Angeles World Airports last week about a project that always inspires some wing-flapping on this site: the automated people mover that will run between the LAX terminals, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, a new ground transportation center and a new consolidated rental car center.

Among the highlights from the LAWA staff presentation:

•With an aggressive schedule, staff believes the project can be environmentally cleared, procured, built and be in operation in 2023.

•Metro is working to accelerate and identify the funding needed to build the new station along the Crenshaw/LAX Line that will allow riders to transfer to the people mover.

•The people mover would be 2.25 miles long, 50 to 70 feet above ground and include six stations. The plan is to have trains running every two minutes with nine trains running simultaneously. Platforms would be 40 feet wide — much wider than Metro rail platforms, btw — to give riders elbow room and accommodate luggage.

•There will be moving sidewalks in the walkways between the stations and the airport terminals. Those walkways will also be used for people walking between terminals and the parking garages at the terminals.

•That means that pedestrian crossings of the very busy horseshoe road can be eliminated. Also, the consolidated rental car center and new ground transpo center are excpected to eliminate the shuttles that create congestion in the horseshoe.

•Metro is working to accelerate and identify the funding needed to build the new station along the Crenshaw/LAX Line that will allow riders to transfer to the people mover. The project’s formal name, btw, is Airport Metro Connector. Also, one project being discussed in Metro’s potential ballot measure for 2016 is a northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX to the Purple Line Extension and possibly beyond. That could make it easier for more people to get to the airport via Metro Rail.

•The airport is seeking to build the project as a public-private partnership. How it works: firms will bid on the project. They’ll design it and build it at their expense and then after it opens receive an annual fee from LAX with the terms to be determined (staff says a typical arrangement is a 30 to 35 year fee). The idea is to give the builder incentive to keep costs in line and get the project open asap so they can start collecting the fee — which also depends in part on their ability to keep the people mover in good working order.

Attentive readers know that public-private partnerships are oft-talked about in transit circles but not as often executed. So it’s intriguing to see LAX take the PPP route. It’s also worth noting that next spring the Denver RTD will open a new 22-mile rail line between downtown Denver and the airport, and the project was partially funded as a PPP. Attentive readers know that the former chief of the RTD, Phil Washington, is the current chief of Metro.

All in all, I think it’s safe to file this one in the Department of We’ll See. Getting the LAX people mover done by 2023 sounds do-able to me and I think it helps that the mayor of L.A. — who hires/fires the head of LAX — has a very vested interest in the project, given that L.A. is competing for the 2024 Summer Olympics. That said, it’s a project that requires building on top of existing infrastructure in a very trafficky part of our region, and that strikes me as Very, Very Challenging.

How important is downtown? (Human Transit) 

Mentioning Houston and L.A. as examples, transit planner Jarrett Walker argues that funneling all transit into one downtown area doesn’t match what many cities have become with many job and residential centers across the region. This isn’t just true of the Sunbelt in the U.S., Jarrett argues — it’s also true in places such as Paris and the Netherlands.

So growing a single downtown isn’t the key to becoming a great transit city.  Quite the opposite, it’s best to have a pattern of many centers, all generating high demand, and supporting balanced two-way flows between them that let us move more people on less infrastructure.  This is the great advantage of Paris or Los Angeles or the Dutch Randstad over Chicago or Manhattan.

So remember: when it comes to the efficiency and abundance of transit — or roads for that matter — “downtown” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  For transit, big clumps of density and walkability are great, but several are better than one.

In the city of Los Angeles, planners for decades have been pushing the multi-center approach. From 1970:


If you think about it, such a plan makes a lot of sense in a big, sprawling region — in theory, at least, it puts a lot more jobs and other commercial centers near a lot more homes.

The problem here has been that a lot of the development occurred either before or without the accompanying transit system needed to tie it all together. Remember: voters four times in the 1960s and ’70s rejected transit plans before Prop A, Prop C and Measure R were approved in 1980, 1990 and 2008, respectively, to raise funds for transit projects.

I’m not saying that voters were always wrong — the plans often flawed — but those losses at the polls meant that rail transit here intended to get people long distances didn’t really start until the 1990s with many of those centers still underserved or unserved today (see: Century City). Measure R is addressing many of those gaps (R is helping fund the Purple Line Extension to Century City and Westwood, another job center) and the potential ballot measure to raise the countywide sales tax that Metro is considering for 2016 could close more of those gaps.

Please see this recent post for more info on the ballot measure and draft lists of some of the projects that could be funded. The Metro Board will decide next spring or early summer whether to put the ballot measure before voters.

Counterpoint: bike share has the capacity to change Los Angeles but will anyone use it? (Daily Trojan) 

The op-ed points out that many USC students already own bikes and tend not to use them for long-distance travel. It also questions whether there’s adequate bike infrastructure to persuade people to use the bikes in SaMo and downtown L.A., where Metro’s pilot program opens next year.

Fair enough questions but I’m not sure that bike share — or anything — really has the capacity to fundamentally change L.A., as the headline implies. The name of the game, I think, is to provide L.A. County residents with an array of transportation options so we don’t have to drive everywhere, which means traffic would go from bad to worse.

Recent HWRs: 

Nov. 20: how to address all the short trips county residents, more reaction to Reason Foundation’s traffic plan.

Nov. 19: the Reason Foundation’s $714-billion plan to fix traffic in Southern California.

Nov. 18: A new mobile fare app in S.F., scramble crosswalks and aerial tram (using airplane bodies) proposed between Vegas and L.A.

Nov. 17: can transit beat traffic, electric cars and total global emissions, fossil fuel programs vs. climate goals

Nov. 16: L.A. transit vs S.F. transit, a cartoon car neatly explains sprawl, traffic and parking woes and determining the environmental impact of Uber and Lyft.

You can also follow me on Twitter for my non-transpo thoughts and I have a photography blog, too.





15 replies

  1. I’m not one of those skeptics that say the people mover at LAX will fail because it doesn’t give front door access to all terminals or complain that people will have to walk to their terminals, but let’s be realistic here: will this ease traffic congestion at LAX which is already looking like a third world airport today?

    The answer is no. The airport will still be crowded with congestion of cars, buses, shuttle vans, taxis and ride-shares unless rationalization happens.

    There are two ways I would like to see LAX rationalize the traffic congestion at LAX:

    1. Instead of “departures” (upper) level and “arrivals” (lower) level, it should be changed to “autos” (upper) and “buses/shuttles/taxis/rideshare” (lower) levels. The traffic needs to be segregated by mode of transportation because the current chaos of traffic is mainly because you smush in every type of vehicle in to the same level and the vehicles that need to make multiple tops around World Way (namely, buses and shuttles) cause huge traffic as they share the same road with other cars.

    2. The buses and shuttles that serve the nearby private offsite parking lots, hotels, and car rental companies need to be rationalized. They’re all in the Century Blvd. strip near LAX anyway, why do we need one shuttle van for the Parking Spot in Century Blvd and another shuttle for the Hilton LAX when they’re right next door to each other?

    • This is exciting stuff. Earlier this year rode from The Bronx to JFK…. required a cab, a train, and a transfer. My ride was about an hour. Seems like once this is built I could do better from Downtown Los Angeles.. Lets go!

    • The current separation of roadways into departures and arrivals is the only sensible arrangement. Ticketing and passenger screening are on the upper levels of the terminals; baggage claim is on the lower levels. If the roadways were anything other than departure/arrival, there would be a lot more vertical pedestrian traffic (with luggage) trying to get between their transportation and the correct point in the terminal. Yes, sometimes when traveling light I ask to get picked up on the upper level, but for the most part people don’t want to lug their belongings up and down, and the elevators and escalators at LAX have a hard time handling the vertical traffic that’s already there.

      • “but for the most part people don’t want to lug their belongings up and down”

        You do realize that in most other countries in the world as well as American travelers that visit them that have much more airport traffic than LAX has no problems with people with luggage being dropped off at the bottom level or even in an underground subway station and having them go up the escalators and elevators to ticketing level?

      • A different perspective is that most people who travel to airports these days are travelling light with just their carry on in order to avoid checked luggage fees. Furthermore, unlike the yester-years, luggage these days are much more advanced with roller wheels and spinners to glide through the area more quickly with less effort. Hauling luggage up and down escalators and elevators are easier than ever.

        Furthermore, these apply already in other US cities:

        When you’re using the Q10 bus to go to JFK, you’re dropped off at the lower level. So you have to make your way up to ticketing anyway.

        When you’re taking the E line to connect to the AirTrain at Jamaica to go to JFK, you have to go up a level. So when you’re going to the airport, you have to make your way up anyway.

        When you’re taking the Silver Line bus to go to Logan, you’re dropped off at arrivals. You have to make your way up.

        When you’re taking the L train to O’Hare, the train station is at the lower level. You have to make your way up.

        When you’re arriving at SFO, you have to make your way upstairs again to hitch a ride on BART. You have to make your way up to get to San Francisco.

        Going up and down the escalators to catch your mode of transit is normal in the rest of the US.

        LA is the only city that because of sheer laziness of the people not wanting to haul around luggage up an escalator, that they’d rather deal with horrendous traffic jams at the airport for the sake of getting front door access to their terminal.

        But LAX travelers still have to go up an escalator anyway when they reach inside the terminal to get to TSA and the gates after ticketing. Many have carry-on luggage with them and they’re perfectly fine in going up the escalator here. And when they arrive at LAX, they have to make their way downstairs with their carry-on luggage too to get to arrivals in order to collect their checked in luggage if they have any.

        And they do the up and down with luggage when they arrive at other cities. So the only excuse LA has is not “people would rather blah-blah-blah” but simply just laziness.

      • People have no problem going up and down with luggage in airports that are designed for vertical passenger flow (wide escalators, spacious and frequent elevators). That’s not how LAX is designed. Even with the little vertical traffic there is today, sometimes you wait 5 minutes for an elevator. Multiplying this vertical traffic by repurposing the roadways would require a reconfiguration of each and every terminal to add escalators and elevators.

      • “Multiplying this vertical traffic by repurposing the roadways would require a reconfiguration of each and every terminal to add escalators and elevators.”

        You should actually take the time to read LAWA’s upgrade plans for LAX, readily available at http://www.lawa.org/laxdev/ProjectFactSheet.aspx

        1. In the future, LAX will not have Terminals 1-7 + TBIT. They will be upgraded to North terminal, TBIT, and South terminal, and will be consolidated based on airlines alliances (oneworld, Star Alliance,Skyteam, and others)

        2. Upgrades for elevators and escalators are already in planned or being done today (http://www.lawa.org/uploadedFiles/LAXDev/News_for_LAXDev/Fact_Sheet_-_Elevator_and_Escalator_Modernization.pdf)

      • A different perspective: Yes, public transit in many airports serves only one level of bi-level terminals, either for physical necessity (fixed guideways) or operational efficiency (buses). And transit users are likely to travel light, precisely because transit becomes cumbersome when traveling heavy: when I travel alone with a carry-on I often take the green line to LAX, but when traveling with 3 children and luggage I’m more likely to take a taxi or shuttle. The vast majority of passengers reach the airport by private car, taxi, or shuttle, because that’s what’s practical for them. A short route between your vehicle and your destination within the terminal is not laziness, it’s efficiency.

        LAX frequent flyer: The LAX elevator and escalator modernization plan is about refurbishing existing conveyances, not increasing capacity.

    • I concur with the idea of changing arrivals and departures into levels for different types of vehicles. LAX is becoming too crazy with so much traffic that it takes over 30 minutes or more just to make the loop. I’d even go further by demolishing some of those central terminal parking structures and building a large bus terminal there, like a one large place within the airport complex for all FlyAway, Metro, and perhaps even Greyhound and Bolt buses.

  2. LAX has gotten in the way, it seems, of any transit expansion into or near the airport. Its really frustrating. as long as I can I will not use this airport for anything just for that reason. And here burbank is hoping, no wishing that the red line was extended onto its property. If only they would help fund that extension… would be nice.

  3. I’ve said this before on THE SOURCE and I’ll say it again: Any rail connection to and from LAX is better than none at all. Although I’m still mystified that LAWA would force Metro to build an extra station at 96th Street/Aviation to connect to the Airport Metro Connector (and therefore added cost), it has to be better than the current setup.

    As for Jarrett Walker’s story in Human Transit, cities (and in some cases suburbs) vary based on population size and the mass transit in place. I live in New York City and the Big Apple (Apple Grande in Steve Hymon’s lingo) has, in essence, two downtown–Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan. But the Big Apple also has its outer boroughs–the Bronx (where I live and where Yankee Stadium and the nearby courthouses are located in Bronx County), Brooklyn (the largest borough population-wise and where a thriving downtown on the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues where the Barclays Center [home of the Nets and Islanders] is located, not to mention the large rail hub [nine subway lines and the Atlantic Terminal for the Long Island Railroad]) and Queens (the second largest borough in terms of population and the home of the 2015 National League Champion Mets!)–and each borough has its own downtown and/or places of importance. [I’m excluding Staten Island because, other than the free ferry between it and Manhattan, it is pretty much isolated from the rest of the city but still home to nearly a million people with its own rail line that stretches the length of the island.] When the subway first opened in 1903, it was only one line and it went from City Hall in Lower Manhattan to the southern edge of Washington Heights at 145th Street. Today NYC Transit has over 20 lines and 469 stations that serves just about all areas in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

  4. This is a weirdly terrible design, keeping the rail line as far from the terminals as possible, going out of its way to preserve parking garages, and even placing the pedestrian overbridges in the least convenient locations possible. I hope some of that can be fixed before construction.

    Still better than nothing. At any rate it connects the Crenshaw Line to the Consolidated Rental Car Center, which is very convenient for those of us who are *not actually going to the airport* but need to rent a car. (Airport car rental places have the best hours.)

  5. “when I travel alone with a carry-on I often take the green line to LAX, but when traveling with 3 children and luggage I’m more likely to take a taxi or shuttle.”

    The problem with this assessment is that it’s missing key data. We live in a scientific and analytical world where such statements like these need to be backed up by proof in order to be valid.

    Firstly, do you have any numbers differentiating business travelers who likely to be carrying lighter as opposed to leisure travelers who are likely traveling with family members at LAX? How many people using LAX today are business travelers vs leisure travelers? Do you have any statistics to show what percentage of travelers at LAX are carrying light or heavy? Do you think it’s 50-50, or do you think that there are more business travelers at LAX over leisure travelers?

    It is also difficult to establish the data pattern of travelers who are more experienced flyers, those who rack up millions of frequent flyer miles, know how to pack light, and have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry to speed through security and immigration, versus those that only fly one every few years and pack everything into their suit case except for the kitchen sink.

    “The vast majority of passengers reach the airport by private car, taxi, or shuttle, because that’s what’s practical for them.”

    Is this in general or specific to LAX only? If LAX, I can understand because public transit access to LAX pretty much sucks. But as for other airports around the world this is not the case. Only in third world countries, LAX included where there’s no public transit leading directly to the airport do you see massive traffic jams leading to the airport.

    “A short route between your vehicle and your destination within the terminal is not laziness, it’s efficiency.”

    You use of the word “efficiency” can be taken different ways. It is “efficient” that you get front door access to your terminal. It is “inefficient” in that in order to have such benefit, bad traffic jams along World Way is the norm that if catching a flight in a hurry, one can risk missing their United flight because it took that person close to an hour just to make the World Way loop to Terminal 7.

  6. I do not know whether it’s juust me or if perhaps everyone else experiencing problems with
    your website. It appears as though some
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    • Hi there —

      I haven’t had any other comments about this. Generally speaking, in the past when there has been problems it has often involved Internet Explorer.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source