710 GAP STUDY: I know some readers believe that my recent post about the ongoing 710 study was perhaps one of the worst things ever published on the internet. And that I was condescending, to boot.
Here’s one recent email from a reader:
More window dressing to try and cajole the effected groups. This is never going to fly. We will fight you every step of the way.
I certainly don’t intend to be condescending. On the other hand, I did mean to as forcefully as possible set the record straight that the 710 gap project is far from a settled issue despite what some people are saying. That was demonstrated Thursday when Metro announced that seven of 12 project alternatives were being dropped from the ongoing study, including two that involved roads going through or under the San Rafael neighborhood of Pasadena.
Again, I want to emphasize: No project has been selected by the Metro Board of Directors, who are the ultimate deciders. And the Board has a long, rich history of acting independently of Metro staff.
I think the problem with the 710 study goes back to the very nature of the project. Oftentimes when Metro launches a project, there’s a particular set of alternatives that the agency wants to study. So there’s a starting point that’s easy to grasp–for example, Metro wants to study extending the subway deeper into the Westside as well as possible alternatives.
In the case of the 710 gap studies, the agency started from scratch with — I believe — the noble idea that it would completely reconsider the 710 gap problem and potential solutions for it. Without anything specific on the table, it was naturally hard to attract much attention to the early planning efforts.
As a result, a lot of people — and by no means am I blaming them — were unaware that Metro was studying the 710 issue until they learned that one of the alternatives under review could potentially impact them. As we all know, no one likes surprises.
As someone who covered this agency as a reporter and who now works for it, I sincerely believe there is no attempt underway to to steer the public toward any particular alternative. If anything, it’s the opposite. The agency decided to study all options based largely on their performance, putting aside for better and worse the equally critical issue of whether each of those alternatives was practical and/or politically viable.
Hopefully everything calms down on Aug. 29 when a technical advisory committee is scheduled to meet and eliminate some of the alternatives on the table. As I wrote the other day, I also believe the 710 gap does have real impacts in terms of traffic and I hope that everyone — even those with the strongest of opinions — can engage in the studies so that when they’re finished we will all have a better idea of what project, if any project, may help improve the current situation.
One other note: I’m well aware of the state audit critical of Caltrans for its management of about 500 homes it owns in Pasadena and South Pasadena. I want to stress that it’s Metro, not Caltrans, that is the lead agency on the current 710 gap project planning and that these are two separate issues (although serious issues, for sure).
In addition, some media stories about the audit have quoted people saying that a potential 710 tunnel could cost $15 billion. That figure is incorrect. In July 2011, Metro staff and agency consultants estimated the cost of a 7.96-mile tunnel to be between $2.7 billion and $3.5 billion, with the most likely cost being $3.25 billion; here’s the report. Those estimates were based, in part, on the cost of building similar tunnels elsewhere in the United States and world.
DODGER STADIUM: After reading 150 reader comments on the L.A. Times website, I think it’s safe to say that readers have a better grasp of the Dodger Stadium traffic issue than staff bloviator Bill Plaschke, whose solution involves making the stadium smaller — and who seems unaware of this crazy concept called mass transit.
Then again, media gets into games for free and information about the Dodger Stadium Express service offered by Metro to the stadium is not on the front page of the team’s website; a reporter would have to click at least twice to get more info. BTW, the team’s description “The Dodgers offer Dodger Stadium Express bus service from Union Station in downtown LA” is misleading. Metro provides the service, which is paid for with a state air quality grant and which has about 338,000 boardings since the service began in 2010.
Interestingly, many Times readers say the best way to improve the traffic situation at the stadium is to provide more mass transit options. Specifically, many would like to see a bus-only lane between Union Station and the stadium for the Dodger Stadium Express. The city of Los Angeles, of course, would have to approve of such a lane. The issue would be whether removing a lane would put too much of a squeeze on traffic in other lanes — the same argument that has been used early and often to kill bus lane proposals.
Other readers would like direct rail access to Dodger Stadium. I don’t see it happening, at least not at a time when transportation funding is so limited. Such a rail line — whether it’s a light grade line snaking up the hill from downtown L.A. or a subway stop (never mind that no subway runs anywhere near the stadium) — would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, based on the costs of other rail lines in the area. A rail station at the stadium would serve only the stadium — there’s nothing else there except for vast fields of parking lots.
So, it’s a big ask of taxpayers, especially considering the Dodgers play 81 regular season games a year and those games are generally at night. What function would such a train or station serve the rest of the time? Not much, unless suddenly thousands of residential units pop up in the parking lots, a scenario that seems politically far-fetched. I know some people like the idea of a tram to stadium from Chinatown, but — and skiers know this already — trams lack the capacity to handle giant crowds.
Obviously the stadium is much beloved by Dodger fans and dealing with the delicate issue of moving the stadium into downtown proper and closer to transit is probably a headache that most officials would rather avoid. You know where I stand, Source readers: hire some world-class architects to design a true downtown ballpark that is close to transit and will preserve the best features of the current stadium.
In the meantime, I think bus-only lanes are probably worth a shot — but they’ll only work if a lot of people take transit. At the current stadium, The Car is The King and anything that gets in its way will likely be thrown out at first base.