Transportation headlines, Wednesday, September 25

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ART OF TRANSIT: The view down to Fifth Street from the Bunker Hill Steps in downtown Los Angeles, via Metro’s Instagram account.

Century City tower site runs into quake fault questions (L.A. Times) 

City of Los Angeles planning officials approved a 39-story tower in Century City without requiring a more comprehensive mapping of the Santa Monica Fault. Metro did such an investigation as part of the environmental studies for the Purple Line Extension and found that parts the fault ran under Santa Monica Boulevard and, thus, a station should not be built under that street in the Century City area.

Key excerpt:

Experts say structures built on top of faults can be torn in two during a large earthquake as the ground splits. Los Angeles is sliced by multiple active fault lines. The Santa Monica fault, which runs about 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean to Century City, is considered active by the state. Seismologists believe it is capable of producing an earthquake greater than magnitude 7.0.

But California has not yet drawn the fault on its regulatory map. As a result, the Century City property is not covered by the state’s building ban known as the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act.


The MTA’s study of Century City cost $4 million and was extensive. Geologists for the transit agency performed a kind of underground sonar, extracted 56 soil borings and performed 192 tests that push a sensor into the ground, said geologist Martin Hudson, an MTA consultant.

The seismic experts confirmed that this area of Century City is in the middle of a complex zone of earthquake faults. In addition to the Santa Monica fault, to the east is an extension of the Newport-Inglewood fault, which produced the devastating 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

Quake safety concerns prompted the MTA to move its proposed subway station south, to Constellation Boulevard, where officials said there was no evidence of earthquake faults.

To put it a different way, the state has published maps that show the general location of known earthquake faults. But it’s often up to cities and/or developers to map those faults more precisely — and some apparently do not. In the case of the subway, Metro did the work — although both the Beverly Hills school district and City Council has challenged the veracity of the Metro effort.

The Wall Street Journal puts it this way in a story on the controversy over whether proposed skyscrapers in Hollywood sit atop the Hollywood Fault:

Since 1972, California law has banned building directly on top of active earthquake faults capable of rupturing the surface. Such faults could rip buildings apart as the two sides of the fault slide past each other in a quake.

But state geologists, charged with mapping thousands of miles of active faults, still haven’t mapped them all—including the Hollywood fault—which has left L.A. city officials to rely on older and less-detailed maps to make decisions about development.

Of course, both stories need some perspective. Despite the many earthquake faults running under California — both known and unknown — the state has successfully weathered many earthquakes.

That said, there have been notable examples of horrific damage to both human life and property: the 1994 Northridge quake killed 60, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake killed 63 in the Bay Area, the 1971 Sylmar quake killed 65, the 1933 Long Beach quake killed 115 and the 1906 San Francisco quake killed approximately 3,000 people, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Thinking outside the rail on transit (

Writer and long-time critic of rail transit and density, Joel Kotkin takes another stab at persuading the masses that we’re dumb for building transit. His argument this time: not enough people work in downtown L.A., transit won’t solve traffic jams and that transit really only works in cities in the eastern U.S.

Of course, his arguments are easy to counter: downtown L.A. remains the region’s number one job center (perhaps the tall buildings and crowds at Union Station and 7th/Metro Center and on buses are just a coincidence), transit doesn’t solve traffic jams in most major world cities (see: Moscow, New York, Chicago, London, etc.) and that the reason rail transit carries so many people in the eastern U.S. is that those cities have exponentially more miles of rail than cities west of the Mississippi River.

Non-profit CicLAvia receives $500,000 grant for car-free events (L.A. Times)

The money from the Wasserman Foundation should be enough to help pay for CicLAvia events over the next two years. That’s great news!

5 replies

  1. I disagree with both Kotkin and Metro.

    LA isn’t just about Downtown. You can cite DTLA as being the most dense and is an important job center and what not, but you cannot and is also very stupid to forget that there are pockets of business centers thriving through out the Southland. Look at the Westside for example. There’s all sorts of business and residential activity there too. Or the South Bay. Residences and businesses there too. Not everyone fits into this “let’s live in the suburbs, commute to Downtown LA” stereotype. If anything, the whole city is a mixed bag of many different types of commuting patters ranging from “I live in Orange County, I work in LA County,” “I live in Torrance, I work in Gardena,” to “I live in Koreatown, I work in Santa Monica,” to “I live in Culver City, I work in Marina del Rey.”

    And where does car commuters get left out. It’s the ones who fit the “live in Culver City, work in Marina del Rey” demographic types that are stuck in traffic with cars. It’s the ones that have jobs in Gardena and live in Torrance that are stuck with cars. That’s why the Westside and the South Bay is so horrendous with traffic jams: everyone using cars for short trips that otherwise can be done with excellent rail transit. And it’s only going to get worse because more and more higher density construction is going on both in businesses and residences. Condo construction, office towers, there’s all sorts of plans being laid out on the Westside.

    We shouldn’t be taking an one-size fits all approach when building mass transit. Mass transit development should consider all sorts of commuting patterns range from the “live in OC work in LA County” to “live in Culver City, work in Marina del Rey” type, and hopefully, encourage the latter to be done with sensible mass transit. Once you encourage that to happen, then businesses and higher density living in these areas will thrive more, just like Downtown LA.

    When building mass transit, It’s not just looking at where density is now like DTLA, you have to look at where the density is going to be in the future too, like the Westside and the South Bay.

  2. Well the last census shows that the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana megalopolis has a higher density than the NYC-Long Island-Northern New Jersey megalopolis. If density is key to transit, there is no arguing against us being a perfect place for rail transit. We are too far behind, let’s catch up to our density peer back east!

  3. With so much former P. E. right of way sitting empty except for the many trees down the middle of many streets in Los Angeles why not put parts of the Purple line above ground. I know it’s considered a subway but so is BART. Most of BART is above grade except in San Francisco proper. The right of way along Santa Monica Bl. was removed about 15 years ago. It’s time to renew it and save money building mass transit in Los Angeles. Other locations that come to mind are Highland Ave. in Hancock Park; both San Vicente Blvd’s; Venice Bl., Van Nuys Bl. to name a few.

  4. Well, with more rail services, the traffic in LA region may not get better; on the other hand, without more rail services, the traffic is probably going to get worse, I’m 90% sure about that. If I can only choose between “not getting better” and “getting worse”, for sure I’m going to pick “not getting better.”

  5. Are there any examples of skyscrapers constructed after 1994 collapsing or being condemned as a result of an earthquake? Anywhere in the world?