massive mass transit expansion in LA? what?!?!

Please read this article:

LA? Really? The sprawling city of low density neighborhoods, no urban or pedestrian culture and car-obsessed people is building how many miles of rail? And in Chicago the CTA can’t get the Circle Line going after a decade of planning it?

Los Angeles neighborhoods are quite high in density compared to most Chicago neighborhoods. Westside LA transit usage is also surprisingly high even though it’s all bus service. Wilshire Boulevard has articulated buses running on 90 second headways much of the day. So LA plans to build their second metro line, while Chicago has eight of them, two of which are drastically underused.

Besides, the Circle Line is the answer to a question no one asked. The few guys at CTA who thought it was a good idea are all gone now.

Buses do work well for short trips, and the main muni system on the West Side, Santa Monica’s “Big Blue Bus” is set up so nearly all the routes terminate at UCLA. Along the way they take in just about everywhere else in West L.A. or Santa Monica so getting around without a car is fairly easy as long as you don’t plan to go further afield (like downtown, Hollywood, West Hollywood, etc.).

With regard to the NYT article and the Crenshaw Line, I think they got that wrong; IIRC the Feds are lending us the money for that, to be paid back from the Measure R sales tax passed in 2008.

Sadly, though, at this point it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the West Hollywood loop on the subway, after all. At least, it’s off the table for the time being, but the politics of these things has a way of changing.

LA has a subway system? I’m actually surprised they have one at all, much less expanding their current service.

Most of it is not a subway – it’s at street level, or elevated – and most of it is pretty recent.

And, of course, it certainly doesn’t go to most places, but it works pretty well where it does go.

The LA Red Line, I believe, is entirely underground, and is fairly heavily used, with 143,000 average weekday boardings. This is busier than all but two of the eight lines in Chicago. The Blue, Green and Gold lines are what’s known as “light rail,” meaning they’re basically trolley cars, although typically coupled together into trains during peak periods. Though not as busy as the Red Line, their ridership is comparable to lesser used lines in Chicago - see the last page of this report. I agree with Mr Downtown that the Circle Line is a misbegotten notion and am trying to talk the boss into writing something about it.

As an Angeleno transplanted to Chicago (OK, I’m really a LA County suburbanite but I do live in the city of Chicago now), I thought I’d put in my two cents.

LA, which gets a bad rap for being the poster child of sprawl, has managed the impressive feat of being simultaneously fairly dense – lot sizes are small and there are more apartment buildings than people think – and car-oriented, which makes it a sheer joy to drive and park in. I mean, people forget that Los Angeles developed around a massive streetcar system, which accounts for its relative density throughout the city basin. Note here I’m not talking about the Orange County suburbs, which are generally a postwar development and are cookie-cutter suburbia like the rest of the country.

The Blue Line is supposed to be one of the most heavily used LRT lines in the country. They’re having capacity issues already. They’re now using three double-length articulated cars in each train, making each one effectively six cars long. They’re stuck now; they can’t add more trains because it would cause too much congestion at the at-grade crossings, and they can’t add more cars because some of the platforms can’t accommodate longer trains.

We live in an apartment. As for parking, we’re fat and happy because we have two sheltered spaces. But in our last place we only had one, and it definitely is a hassle. On the evenings before street cleaning day, it could be extremely difficult to find a place for the extra car.

The most heavily used light rail operation in the country is run by the the MBTA in Boston, consisting of the Green Line plus another short streetcar line. Average weekday ridership is 241,100. The LA Blue Line had an average of 77,538 weekday boardings as of October 2010; LA light rail ridership overall is 154,100, which puts it in a rough tie with the SF Muni for second busiest light rail operation in the U.S. Boston light rail is by far the most heavily traveled system on a per-route-mile basis according to this chart in Wikipedia.

Chicago is a declining city while LA is still growing bigger each year.

Chicago could easily make some minor changes to their rail lines, such as connecting the brown and blue lines up north, so riders wouldn’t have to go downtown and come back up or take a bus that takes forever.

Even back in the day, Chicago had restrictive rules about where street cars and El lines could go. Thus the present day trains were put into, what were once, once back alleys and places that few people, at the time objected to.

Unless you have a completely industrial area, to put an new El line or subway you’re going to have lawsuits dragging on for at least ten years before construction would start.

Chicago has been seriously talking about a third airport since the mid 60s with no action. O’Hare already lost out to Atlanta because it can’t grow. Soon it may lose out further to Dallas/Ft Worth.

The Los Angeles MTA Metro Rail lines consisted of heavy rail (the fully subterranean Red Line and Purple Line) and light rail (Gold, Blue, and Green Lines) that are a combination of surface, subway, and elevated lines. All use dedicated track right-of-way, not combined use in-road track or electric catenary bus as trolleys and trams do. The LA metropolitan area also is served by the Metrolink commuter system, similar to the San Francisco CAL Train and BART systems. Despite being necessarily car-dependant (as many people live in the exburbs of the Inland Empire) Los Angeles boast one of the best utilized and on time mass transit systems in the nation, and expanding the system is key to reducing congestion. LA has had a number of significant problems expanding the lines, particular the attempt to extend the Red Line out to UCLA, which would require boring under Bel Air and Beverly Hills; legal challenges purporting mythical “gas pockets” have stalled development in that area.

Mass transit in Los Angeles suffers from the same challenges as public transit in any municipality that isn’t so stacked to the gills that only the terminally insane attempt to maintain car ownership, to wit that providing depot-to-destination service is a limiting factor. For instance, I could take the Metrolink to the city I work in, which would only take forty minutes (versus a 30-35 minute commute via car); however, getting from the station to my office via bus would ad over an hour. Nonetheless, when it works, it is nice. Mass transit in LA is clean, efficient, timely, and well-policed. In the occasions I’ve had to take it downtown it is almost always preferable to driving an attempting to park.

As andrewesque points out, the core of Los Angeles actually developed around an extensive streetcar system which was absorbed by and eventually dismantled by National City Lines, alleged (with some justification) to be a front for General Motors. Regardless of the causes, the expansion of Los Angeles metro area stretching from Santa Monica to Los Feliz (with Glendale and Pasadena being the main suburbs) to its present extent going from Ventura to Orange County as far inland as Corona, Riverside, and Moreno Valley doomed a tram system to be inadequate, just as the interstate highway system facilitated such distributed suburban development. Nonetheless, for all the screeching about urban sprawl, Los Angeles is really no worse for its population density than any of a number of large and medium size American cities; Omaha, Cincinnati, and Kansas City, to name a few, have a far worse distribution per density and longer (distance-wise) average commutes.


You’d be surprised. Since my girlfriend moved in with me here in Culver City, she has a better Walkscore than she did living in downtown Boston.

but let me ask you LA fans something:
if you’re a tourist visiting LA would you even think about using the public transportation system? you would if you’re visiting chicago.

and also:
isn’t the ultimate goal of mass transit to get people to give up on owning a car? Chicago already has a sizable number of people who could afford to own a car but decide not to. This number could be easily multiplied by a few extensions to the ‘EL’ that would make it easier to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood. Would you even consider not owning a car in LA?

My parents live in Studio City, a neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles, and have a walk score of 88. And they do walk everywhere in their neighborhood. That doesn’t even count the fact that they are within a few minutes of the Universal City metro red line station, so they can easily get to Hollywood or downtown without a car.

Meanwhile, I live in a fairly close-in suburb of San Francisco, and my walk score is only 54.

There are large parts of L.A. that are still very car-dependent, no doubt. But plenty of areas are not, and that often surprises people who don’t know the city.

Just chiming in to echo what some of the above posters have already said - the subway/rail in L.A. is actually pretty decent - it just doesn’t go to that many places so if you use it you’re probably going to end up taking a bus (or several) after you get off the train anyway, which sort of sucks.

I would not recommend it for tourists. While most (correct me if I’m wrong) of Chicago’s attractions are mostly downtown/lakefront, Los Angeles’ attractions stretch across much of it’s roughly 500 square miles, from the Valley to Long Beach; from the oceanfront to Downtown. And that doesn’t even include a trip to Disney. Also keep in mind that one of Los Angeles’ attractions is getting away and hiking in the less-mass-transit-friendly mountains.

“Ultimate goal” suggests an ethos or doctrine that I don’t think exists amongst the people who manage the disparate municipal transit services. I’ve always considered mass transit as nothing more than another option. Depending on the circumstance, one option may be more convenient than another. For instance, although I drive to work in Venice every day, we would rather take the bus to go to the actual beach on a sunny weekend because the parking is so hellish and traffic is so congested on those days.

Interestingly, that was the original plan for the 2 freeway (through Beverly Hills), but it wasn’t gas “pockets” that stopped it. The people of Beverly Hills just felt that freeways were “meant for other neighborhoods.”

I would says that’s right for the typical tourist, who doesn’t have that much time. For an extended visit in L.A., however, it’s doable, and maybe even preferable, to rent a car for some days and use transit on others. It’s probably the best way to really see the city and its people, through all of their many facets.

Actually, I think that’s a fallacy, and one of my pet peeves. The ultimate goal of mass transit is NOT to get people to give up on owning a car. It’s simply to provide an alternative form of transportation which is better than a car in some circumstances. For some trips it’s faster than a car. For some trips it’s more convenient because you don’t have to find parking. For some trips it’s the only way to go because the person doesn’t have a car, or doesn’t have a driver’s license. Etc.

I’ve lived in cities with very good public transit, and still had a car because some trips required it. That doesn’t mean that the goal of the public transit system was not met.

ETA: Or, to put it another way, what **B. Serum **said.

Spot on. When I was going to UCLA I took the bus, because there’s one line (#2) that goes there directly from East Hollywood, and even though I had a car and parking there, it was more convenient than driving across town on Sunset in morning rush hour. I could read papers, sleep, etc. for 45 minutes. And now, at least two days a week I take the Red Line subway downtown to work, even though there’s free parking for me in the building there.