Transportation headlines, Monday, Cinco de Mayo

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Jennifer Keith. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Jennifer Keith of the Jennifer Keith Quintet performing in the Fred Harvey Room on Saturday during the Union Station 75th Anniversary celebration. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Union Station’s complexity grows 75 years down the line (L.A. Times) 

A super interesting essay by architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on the history of Union Station and its future. As he points out, by the time that Union Station opened in 1939 — after several legal battles — rail travel already had taken a big hit and it was clear that auto and plane travel were the way that most people were going to be moving around the region and country, respectively.


As a piece of urban design, however, Union Station was ruthlessly modern, a powerful engine for an urban-renewal plan that displaced hundreds of residents of L.A.’s original Chinatown and served as a precursor to later “slum clearance” efforts in Chavez Ravine and on Bunker Hill. In facing almost due west, the station not only announced the end of the line for American territorial expansion but helped the city turn its back on the Los Angeles River.

It didn’t seek to undermine the growing car culture. It actively supported it. The 200-foot gap between Alameda Street and the station’s front doors was a suburban distance, not an urban one, leaving plenty of room for parking.

More to the point, by going up when and where it did, Union Station influenced the location of key highway interchanges in and around downtown. As Matthew W. Roth writes in “Los Angeles Union Station,” a new book published by the Getty Research Institute, which has also organized an anniversary exhibition on the station at the Central Library, “the consolidation of track operations at Union Station set in motion the process of bridging the Los Angeles River with a freeway — and, in turn, the routing of the freeway network.”

As Christopher points out, Union Station is already far busier now than it was when built owing to the steady stream of Amtrak, Metrolink and Metro trains and buses (among others) that enter and leave the station each day. He praises Metro’s stewardship of the station (the agency purchased the station in 2011 from a private holder) and says crowds are likely to increase as the Metro system expands — not to mention the possible arrival of high-speed rail in the future.

Here is the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s story on the 75th anniversary on Saturday.

Struck on the street: four survivors (New York Times) 

The harrowing tale of four New York Times staffers — including Executive Editor Jill Abramson — who have been hit by vehicles in the New York area. Excerpt:

We are the lucky ones and we know it. We all lived. We enjoyed the support of family, friends, colleagues and countless talented doctors, nurses and physical therapists. We had good health insurance. The first cop who stopped to help me said: “Lady, if the truck had rolled over you two inches higher, all of your major organs would have been crushed. You wouldn’t be here.”

Our stories share certain similarities: We looked up at faces looking down, asking if we were O.K. None of the drivers who hit us were charged by the police with any misdoing — significant because part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan is stricter enforcement of traffic laws. Passers-by, belying the reputation of our area, rushed to help. And we were all deeply moved by the support of our friends and co-workers.

Still, though we have all mostly recovered, we travel around our city with a sense of permanent vulnerability. Nearly four years after she was hit, Denise Fuhs, a news design editor, put it this way in an email account of her accident: “I still cannot cross very many streets without looking both ways about four times and looking over my shoulder a dozen times while crossing. If a car gets too close, or if I think a driver turning my way doesn’t see me, I panic, sometimes freeze.”

I’ll repeat what I have written many times in the past. I don’t think anyone could argue that enough is being done in our region — or any other — to protect people in crosswalks. Of course, many people struck by cars are not in crosswalks and that is a serious problem. But the crosswalk is the one place where we know that pedestrians will constantly appear and it must be treated as a sacred space given the thousands of pounds of difference between a vulnerable human being and a steel vehicle. I see far too many vehicles turning right through crosswalks with people in them and I see too many cars rolling across the white line. That should be a heavy fine — the kind of heavy fine that ensures that most people will not risk it or violate crosswalk laws more than once.

Environmental study on 710 freeway extension will be released in 2015 (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

A very short article that notes that the study will be released in February and that the public comment period has been doubled from 45 days to 90 days. Here’s Metro’s statement that was released on Friday.

New details on Los Angeles region’s 2024 Olympics bid (Inside the Games) 

As much detail as I’ve seen on the emerging bid for L.A. to host the 2024 Summer Games. The region must first win the right to be the bid city representing the United States and is up against six other regions, including San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Boston.

The big news is that the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games is proposing to use Exposition Park and a revamped Coliseum as the main Olympic Village. There would also be a cluster of activities on the Westside and along the L.A. River — a lot of venues are already, will be under current plans or could be transit adjacent depending on whether projects are accelerated. Check it out:


The Expo Line already serves Exposition Park and the segment to downtown Santa Monica is forecast to open in early 2016 and the Regional Connector in 2020. The Red Line already goes to Hollywood, the LA Live is already served by the Blue and Expo lines and will be linked to the Gold Line by the Connector. The Blue Line already goes to downtown Long Beach. Perhaps the big questions involve the Purple Line Extension; the third segment to Westwood isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2036 unless the project is accelerated. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019 but the Airport Metro Connector not until the late 2020s unless it, too, is accelerated.

Democrat Oberstar, who led House transportation panel, dies (Bloomberg) 

Sad news. Rep. James Oberstar led the charge to expand federal funding for transportation and infrastructure and sat on the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for his entire 36 years in Congress. Excerpt:

On Aug. 1, 2007, an interstate highway bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing 13 and setting Oberstar on a campaign to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure and pay for it, at least in part, with higher gas taxes. He called for a $500 billion investment, nearly 60 percent more than the $285.5 billion in spending authorized at the time. His proposal got nowhere in Congress.

A cyclist himself, Oberstar promoted federal grants to help municipalities develop bike paths.

Intense partisan battles in the past decade ensured that Oberstar’s proposal went “nowhere.” He eventually lost office in Nov. 2010 wave of Tea Party victories.

The irony is that no one really disagrees that America’s infrastructure sorely needs updating and expanding. This is a subject tackled twice in the New York Times Week in Review section on Sunday.

First, from columnist Frank Bruni in his article headlined “America the Shrunken:”

We’re laggards, slackers, and everywhere you turn, the evidence mounts.

American schoolchildren aren’t anywhere near the head of the international pack, and American adults, according to one recent study,lack the technical skills that peers in many other developed countries have.

American bridges crumble. American trains crawl. American flights leave from terminals that pale next to many Asian and European counterparts. Joe Biden acknowledged as much three months ago when he compared La Guardia Airport to a third-world country. I’ve been to La Guardia and I’ve been to Guatemala, and if I were Guatemala, I’d sue for defamation.

We seldom build big things anymore. We just talk about building them and usually decide to take a pass or to wait, whether it’s a high-speed train in California or another tunnel between New Jersey and New York. And while each of these demurrals has a reason, the sum of them has an inescapably defeatist bent. We’re tentative. Timid.

Next up, columnist Thomas Friedman in his column headlined “It’s not just about Obama:”

Our biggest problem, though, is not Europe or Obama. Our biggest problem is us and our own political paralysis. The world takes America seriously when they see us doing big hard things together — when we lead by example. If we want to do more nation-building abroad, then we have to come together on a plan to do more nation-building at home first — including infrastructure investment, replacing income and corporate taxes with a carbon tax, a major new push for both energy efficiency and properly extracted natural gas, skill-building and immigration reform and gradual long-term fiscal rebalancing. That’s how we build our muscle and weaken Putin’s.

What is most scary to me about the world today is the fact that we are doing neither smart nation-building abroad to make the world more stable nor smart nation-building at home to make America more resilient and strong. We need both to be safe. We need more leverage from nation-building at home to have the staying power to lift others, but we also need those foreigners to provide a solid, unified foundation so our leverage can work. It’s hard to replace a flat tire, when your jack is broken or is sitting on quicksand. This is not just about Obama.

I agree that it’s more difficult to get things done on a federal level these days — D.C. often seems stuck.

That said, look at what’s happening in L.A. County. Through the passage of the Measure R half-cent sales tax in 2008 (during a recession), Metro has three rail projects under construction and two more on deck, not to mention a host of other programs including bus replacement and the Blue Line overhaul. Federal grants and loans are helping fuel that. Taking the initiative locally was a big first step. The question is whether an expanded federal push would help regions across the city rebuild and revamp themselves for the decades and centuries ahead.

I think the answer is probably ‘yes.’


6 replies

  1. LA is going to get shamed if they host the Olympics right after Tokyo which won the host city for 2020. It’ll be going from one of the best mass transit system in the world to one of the worst mass transit systems in the world.

  2. I really doubt if anymore subway routes are approved by the MTA. They are way to expensive to build as compared to light rail. It would be great to rebuild the old P. E. line down Santa Monica Bl. to the beach but I believe Beverly Hills will stand in the way although I don’t know what they have planned for the old existing right of way that has sat empty for years. Beverly Hills is currently causing a multitude of problems concerning the Purple Line running thru the city. The Crenshaw Line most likely will never go as far as Wilshire Bl. because there is no Purple Line Station planned for Crenshaw. Perhaps that is part of the deal struck with Henry Waxman. He alone put a stop to the Purple Line for years. And it was only with his approval that it is being constructed now. How the Crenshaw Line could be connected to a viable Santa Monica Bl. line is questionable without going underground. The best route northbound would be the middle of Highland Ave. but I fear there would be to much political pressure not to allow that. Fallowing San Vicente Bl. would deem the line almost useless for West Hollywood residents that must travel east and west on Santa Monica Bl.

  3. Don’t congratulate yourself too much on rail expansion. The first phase of the Expo line cost $900 million and still sits in traffic. Without signal preemption or grade separation our rails are glorified buses. It’s only good if it’s done right.

  4. Maybe if LA wins the right to host the Games in 2024 the Feds will contribute a large sum of money to get the LAX people mover built and extend the subway to Westwood.