Things I’m thinking about transit

San Diego relocated their baseball stadium from the 'burbs to downtown. Photo by Mark Whitt, via Flickr.

This is one of our occasional posts in which I express actual opinions…

1. Loved CicLAvia last month but I didn’t see anyone from Metro in any of the booths selling TAP cards to the masses. The cards are very useful and convenient — and I think it’s fair to say that not everyone has a TAP card yet, at least from what I see on buses and trains and what anecdotal evidence has burped out of last month’s gate-locking experiment. Big events such as CicLAvia are a good chance to get the cards distributed!

2. The Dodgers should be playing in a downtown Los Angeles ballpark that is part of the city and is easily accessible to mass transit — not sitting on an isolated hill surrounded by mall-like parking lots. The upcoming sale of the team is a chance to make that happen before a new owner sinks a lot of money into the current ballpark and developing some of the surrounding parking lots. If a downtown football stadium would benefit L.A. (and I think it would), then a downtown baseball stadium with many more games each season would be even more profitable.

Yes, I know there is a lot of sentimental attachment to Dodger Stadium among the natives (I’m a transplant). It’s a nice ballpark. But it’s not Fenway or Wrigley — the two baseball stadiums that should be preserved because they’re actually part of real neighborhoods in Boston and Chicago, respectively. The new ballparks built in the past two decades across the U.S. suggest that something could be built here that honors the past and that brings L.A. into the modern age.

3. It’s kind of interesting that none of the announced candidates in the mayor’s race in L.A. have ever served on the Metro Board of Directors. Metro is one of the nation’s largest transportation agencies and the mayor of L.A. has an automatic seat on the Board as well as the right to appoint three others to the Board. In other words, overseeing Metro and planning transit across L.A. County is a huge part of the mayor’s job.

4. I think it makes sense to first bulk up service in the evening hours on Metro Rail before adding late-night service. The next few months will be a good chance to see if the demand for more rail service at night is there. I have to admit: I’m not a late-night bar/club-goer, so it’s hard for me to say if there’s a huge demand in L.A. at 2 a.m. for rail service or if it’s something that a vocal few really want. I also know many of you disagree with me on this one.

5. I feel like I should have a strong opinion about high-speed rail in California. But I don’t. I do think the p.r. efforts on behalf of the project the past couple of years have not been good — especially the repeated proclamations about cost that didn’t seem to have any basis in reality — with the cost having gone from $33 billion to $98.5 billion. I think it’s very hard to get excited about a project with a $80-billion-plus funding gap and thus far no firm solutions how to solve it. The most realistic way to pay for it, in my view, would involve some type of user fee or tax spread across the state, but I don’t see how that’s politically possible at this time. Or maybe ever.

25 replies

  1. As Steve demonstrates there’s not a lot of sentimental attachment to the Dodgers from transplants, but from this native angeleno who’s attended games at Dodger Stadium for 40 years, let me illustrate expletive-free where I stand on the issue: You’ll take my beloved Dodgers downtown only when you pry them from my cold dead fingers.

  2. The footprint of Dodger Stadium would fit nicely on the site of the obsolete and nearly-unused Sports Arena. A site that is an easy stroll through Exposition Park from the Expo Line, can make better use of the horribly underutilized parking surrounding the Coliseum, has decent freeway access from the 10 or 110, and would provide economic development in South Los Angeles (it would be a HUGE boost for the Figueroa Corridor south of LA Live/Convention Center.

  3. Dodger Stadium is now the third oldest ballpark in baseball and a premier example of mid-century modern architecture. The majority of the fans do not live near the mass transit to take them downtown. The Staples Center is not in a downtown neighborhood – it anchors a shopping district created to service its fans. That is just the reality of LA.

  4. I agree with many of the comments and just wanted to add some touches based on the item numbers:

    1) Getting TAP cards out to the public is vital. The TAP vending machines should be set up at major bus stops, such as Santa Monica & Fairfax and any of the Rapid stops on the Wilshire 720. If a customer can purchase and validate a trip faster, then the whole service moves faster.

    If you can help it, experiment with setting up the TAP readers at the front and back doors on the Rapid buses (as you have on the Green line). That way the one person fumbling for change isn’t holding up the twenty others trying to board.

    2) Why move the stadium when you could simply route the planned Connector to go to the existing stadium? No more shuttle that no one wants to board — just ride from Pasadena or Long Beach all the way to Dodger Stadium? Make Elysian Park a place to go any time, not just a landing zone before a ball game.

    skip to 4) It’s not about bulking up evening service. You could run the same frequency if you add more carriages. Your goal is to get clubgoers to take transit so they don’t drive when they drink. Thus it’s easy enough to have them wait 15 minutes at 2 am instead of not using the service at all.

    Heck, you could even have a lull: midnight, 12:30, 1, then 2 and 2:15. That way maintenance can happen in phases but still be done via track switching.

    5) I’m mind-blown that I can’t take a train directly from LA to SF. That’s the equivalent of Boston to DC — everyone drives it a lot, and they’d appreciate not having to think about it. I agree with the other folks: bring back even the basic train service with minimal stops (even if it’s just the LA-Oakland run) and see what happens.

  5. steve –

    2 points

    – the first being re the DODGERS. One of the finalists for the CORNFIELDS development was to move DODGER STADIUM there and make the Ravine into a park with some development. Unfortunately this revolutionary idea was too forward thinking for the powers that be. is there a way to resesitate it as an option? maybe could help.

    the second – re the HIGH SPEED RAIL – there is a book RAILROADED that lays out a previous railroad boondoggle. I am curious as to why NO investigative reporter has not dug into the fact that there used to be effient rail service between LA and SF on the Union Pacific ‘s COAST DAYLIGHT and SAN JUAQUIN DAYLIGHT that both provided efficient daily train service. THe San Juaquin was on much the same route as proposed by the HSR authority. Why not use the funds to work (or strong arm) with Union Pacific to upgrade the current tracks so that an articulated higher speed train can run. Might be able to pay for it solely with the current federal grants and bond issue.

  6. Great post. I completely agree on the dodger stadium. But, like many others, I disagree on the issue of late night service. While I think more frequency is always a good move, I don’t think more frequent evening service can be correlated with demand for later night service. Demand for transportation can only be seen once a system, or in this case, improved level of service, is actually implemented. How can people use something that isn’t there? In a broader sense, I see this as a very similar issue for Amtrak (and passenger rail in general) nationally. People argue that Amtrak is not well used used, therefore, further improvements to the system are not justified when the very reason people don’t ride Amtrak is because of the lack of said improvements which would actually make the system useful. Pardon me if this seems like a rant. This issue is just frustrating that’s all. The very issues often cited for holding back transit improvements nationwide are the result it itself holding back, resulting in a vicious cycle.

  7. To extend hours, you need enough time for maintenance. BART found that, by pushing back closing time on Fridays one hour, that they would have to delay opening Saturday one hour and it caused a Title VI violation, which MTA is hypersensitive about. Most concerts at LA Live, ball games, etc. end at about midnight. The last train passes by Hollywood at around 1 am which is enough for a late show at the Arclight or a performance at the Pantages or Kodak Theatre. I agree this leads to the absurd situation that service is greater at night than during the midday, and a better solution might have been to run all Metro Rail and Metro Liner at 15 minute headways until close, but night service is not well used, especially on weekday nights.

  8. If you demolish the Sports Arena adjacent to the Coliseum, ground lease the property to the Dodgers, they build a brand new stadium sitting atop an underground parking structure that can be used for football and baseball games, soccer matches, etc., and generate income for the Coliseum commission in the process, it would be win-win.
    a) Public transportation-adjacent, meaning the Expo line.
    b) Coliseum gets a revenue stream to stay afloat.
    c) Chavez Ravine becomes a downtown-adjacent residential version of Playa Vista, complete with Steve Soboroff and Rick Caruso as developers.
    LA’s high density commercial was originally master-planned with the letter “T”, meaning the upright pylon was Wilshire Blvd., while the crossbar was Figueroa.
    That would still be the case.
    Thanks Steve for the impetus.
    Timing for your thoughts is also perfect, with a new owner due on the horizon fairly soon.

  9. I actually wrote a similar story to the Mayor several years ago about this hilltop connection we desperately needs to take back the love Dodger’s owner has abandoned. It will make the Park and sense of connection to the neighborhoods if it becomes more friendly to visit in a public transit system. This will be one of the items that needs to me put on the terms for the owners to the Dodgers. There are visionaries that will do good in implementing this connection our Dodgers deserve and for the neighborhoods.

  10. Couldn’t agree more. Move the Dodgers downtown to a 40,000-seat ballpark adjacent to LA Live that’s designed along the lines of Ebbets Field. Then rip up the asphalt at Chavez Ravine, dynamite Dodger Stadium and build some low-density, low-income housing where the stadium used to be. Like it was, oh, 60 years ago.

  11. Yeah create a gondola or another transit system to get from Downtown to Dodger Stadium but don’t just abandon Chavez Ravine. It’s a monument you just cannot replace ever.

  12. How can demand for rail service past midnight be proven if we don’t provide it first? Providing more frequent service in the evening doesn’t get any post-midnight riders on the train, so that demand will never be shown.

    I know a lot of people in Pasadena (myself included) who are frequent WeHo clubbers, yet we always have to drive there because there’s no Red or Gold Line service until 3am. Providing more frequent evening service doesn’t “activate” the post-midnight transit demand.

  13. Always been a fan of the ballpark in Chavez Ravine, but I agree the transportation to it is horrible. I’d like to see a gondola from Chinatown station that could be operated only when events are happening in Dodger Stadium. This would provide a much needed boost to Chinatown and it is only about a half mile as the crow flies up a steep hill and over a freeway. Perfect for a gondola.

  14. Before we move the Dodgers to a new stadium, I’d like to see what we can do with the NFL at the convention center. That will be a good test of whether or not the Dodgers can move. (And frankly I do like Dodger Stadium.)

    From what I’ve heard, the new Farmers Field IS designed for other events to take place there, so it won’t be “empty” the rest of the year.

    And it will be very near the Blue Line/ Regional Connector, so they need a walkway or bridge over to Pico Sta.

    Regardless of who ends up paying for it, I do think there are ways to improve transit to Dodger Stadium. I like the bus-only lane idea, and eventually perhaps the Downtown Streetcar can be extended.

  15. Before we extend the hours of any rail line, we must make sure that there is enough time to do routine maintenance before the line opens the next day. The need for maintenance is why almost no subway systems (notable exceptions are Chicago and New York) operate 24 hours a day. Apart from that, I think extending the service span would have more of an effect on ridership than increasing the frequency. Since you are not in a hurry at night, the 10 vs 20 minute frequency will not entice you to take transit if you don’t already. An ending time of 2:30 vs 12:30 might, however.

    Speaking of 10 minute headway, am I right in concluding Steve that this means the Red Line will operate more frequently at 11 PM than 11 AM (when it currently operates every 12 minutes). In my mind, that is nonsensical.

    In terms of the football stadium downtown, unless other events can be booked to fill it (concerts, maybe a soccer team, etc.) it’s not going to do anything for downtown on the 355 days it is vacant. A baseball stadium, however, is occupied 81 days a year, and during the time of year when people like being outside. Dodger Stadium does nothing for the city of LA; in fact, I was amazed when I went to my first game after moving here and seeing how close it is to downtown LA.

  16. I don’t agree that sports stadiums belong in downtown areas. Density is what drives transit, walking, and other low-impact modes; sports stadiums are by definition extremely un-dense land uses. They’re inefficient land uses in other ways as well… HUGE peaking problems, often empty, and not particularly versatile.

    I agree that Dodger Stadium is pretty inaccessible, but I think there are other ways to address that. What about a funicular up and down to the stadium? The area nearby in Echo Park is actually pretty dense, and a lot of people could walk, if it wasn’t for that giant hill… so solve THAT problem. Give over some lanes for exclusive bus access, too, so that the Dodger Express doesn’t have to grind through traffic. Keep cranking up the price of parking to incentivize carpooling and alternative modes, until you can get rid of some of the parking lots. Heck, build one structure the same height as the stadium, and return most of the lot to parkland or residential use (lots of people lived in Chavez Ravine before the stadium was built).

    But I’m already very upset about the football stadium, especially when we’re on the brink of having GOOD transit access to a landmark stadium in Exposition Park! I can’t fathom the concept that it could be *cheaper* to build a whole new stadium at Downtown land prices than to refurbish the Coliseum into something workable for modern football. Instead, I think people are still thinking about Downtown Los Angeles as an abandoned place that no one’s really using, rather than the vibrant community it has become… which could be fatally disrupted by plonking down an enormous trip generator that operates on such peaks and valleys.

  17. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but Dodger Stadium — the stadium and its location — is a central part of the Dodger experience, every bit as much as Vin Scully.

    It may not be Wrigley or Fenway, but ironically those are the only stadiums in the league that are older than Dodger Stadium at this point.

    I do concede, however, that it’s a bit of a transit mess. The bigger problem, I’d argue is that there’s too much parking. It would help to cut down on the parking supply and boost shuttle service.

    Carter Rubin
    Contributor, The Source

  18. Late night (12:30 AM – 2:30 AM) service Fridays and Saturdays on the Metro Red Line is likely to be viable: Hollywood Boulevard frequently experiences gridlock from La Brea to Western on weekend evenings, with backups on the north-south arterials that cross it. Also, as true locals know, the eviction of families from Chavez Ravine & Solano Canyon to build Dodger Stadium was a huge injustice, a racist redesign of the neighborhood that happen at the same time as apartheid neighborhood demolitions in South Africa. Moving the Dodgers to a transit-accessible location with nearby restaurants and nightlife not only makes sense from a business and traffic perspective, it would also reduce air pollution and right an old injustice.

  19. I agree on almost all of these items except for #4. I think they should offer more trains for half of the time they’re planning on running more trains, and then run the extra trains after hours until 2. With more ridership comes more trains. With my trains comes more ridership. One of the great things in LA is knowing you’ll be getting to where you need to get to at no matter what hour (buses), ideally that’ll eventually be true for all Metro rail. With 24/7 mass transit, or close to it, it’ll be even easier for people to rid their car, or at least never use it.

  20. I whole-heartedly agree on the Dodger Stadium issue. Out of all the ballparks I’ve visited, this is the absolute worse in terms of transit accessibility. However, it was purposely done this way, which is very upsetting. Metro shouldn’t have to spend so much additional cash to provide service to Dodger Stadium on their bill. Dodger Stadium would be more fun if it was transit accessible……like Staples Center.

  21. Hi Steve,

    Great list. It could have been a few posts, though I understand why you might want to corral your opinions together.

    As a native, I completely agree with you about Dodger stadium. The newer MLB parks, which are generally more urban, and smaller in size, have an energy about them and the surrounding neighborhood that Dodger Stadium lacks. I think there is a real chance of this happening–Chavez Ravine is a better location for football, and the approved AEG stadium concept near Staples is a better location for baseball, for all of the reasons you stated. If that sort of swap could be pulled off, there is a lot of money to be made.

    Re late night service, I disagree. Asking people to leave a bar, restaurant or event before midnight on the weekend to catch the last train is de facto excluding people from transit service when it could have the highest potential to prevent drunk driving or at the very least save everyone the hassle and cost of cab. More frequent service does not answer the question: But how will I get home?

  22. Fascinating idea about Dodgers Stadium, Steve. Right now it’s certainly very hard to access.

    Gridlock before/after a game (whether you’re in a car or on a Dodger Stadium “Express” bus) does NOT add to the enjoyment factor.

    • Thank you, David.

      I also think the surrounding parking lots really hurts the overall ambience of the place. When you look at what they’ve done in San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle — to name a few — how can we not do that or better?

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source