Making the LAX Transit Connection
April 23, 2012 1 Comment
This week, Metro’s Board of Directors is scheduled to discuss sending the “Green Line to LAX” project into the draft environmental study phase. This means that a few options are going to be studied in much more depth. There’s also a proposal to rename the project “Metro Connector to LAX,” which is a great idea, as it has the potential to serve both the Green and Crenshaw lines (and possibly even additional future lines).
I’ve been to the meetings for this project and have meant to write about it for a while. Fortunately, the alternatives being recommended for further study are those I would have suggested, so now I can focus on the merits of this much smaller group of alternatives.
First, the BRT is not a reliable option in my opinion. I’ve used the bus connector in Boston and it worked well enough, but I don’t think it will really command the ridership here in LA. The terminal horseshoe can be both busy and hectic at times, and will inevitably result in undue confusion, bus bunching, delays, and low ridership. But it’s a required study as the obvious cheap option.
As for the other three options, I think they’re are certainly merits to each. The Automated People Mover is a good way to pick people up at various locations around the airport and transport them out to the nearby transit station. What it isn’t designed for in this study, however, is intra-airport circulation. LAX is, admittedly, designed almost as eight separate mini airports, and transit from one to the other is not often required, but can be convenient for certain connections between terminals. This project, in any regard being studied, would not really help transit between the terminals, and the best solution for that is a separate APM that is located inside security. The APM circulator is certainly the most convenient option for commuters who are passing by the airport on the Metro lines, because the Metro vehicle itself won’t actually go into the airport. Airport travelers would get off at the Aviation/Century station and transfer to the APM to get to the airport terminals.
For commuters going to and from the airport, however, the most convenient options would be to have the Metro lines go directly into the terminal area. The two Light Rail Transit options include rerouting the lines in a modified trunk or adding a new branch from the Aviation/Century station.
There are definite strengths to both, and it seems like it will really rely on what else is planned at the airport. If this can be planned along with a circulator in the airport, I think the modified LRT Trunk is the best option. It will be accessible by both the Green and Crenshaw lines and won’t require any doubling back of the route like the branch would. The airport becomes a stop in the middle of the line and would not add more than a couple minutes to the trip for non-airport commuters. There will be, however, only one airport stop, and users will need to easily get around the horseshoe to their specific terminal destinations. The best way to do this would be locate the LRT station near one of the terminals, with an underground APM that connects to that station and each of the other terminals. That’s likely far too expensive, so there are certainly other APM options to study as well (though going from an unground LRT to an elevated APM may prove to be a further inconvenience).
[UPDATE: Another important factor that makes this the best option is potential future airport expansion. There are plans to expand LAX in multiple directions, and this singular airport stop means that it will be compatible no matter how the terminal configuration is changed. A separate APM can be configured and expanded to match the airport's plans. With an LRT branch, we are locking ourselves in to the current airport configuration and not allowing for access to any expanded terminals. -Thanks to Y Fukuzawa, commenting on The Source]
If there is not a guaranteed connector within the airport, a single station within the horseshoe will be inconvenient to nearly every terminal. Without a sure plan in place for intra-airport transit, we should go with the LRT Branch
Its important to build the branch so that it connects to both the Green Line (from the south) and the Crenshaw Line (from the north). This is noted by a dotted line on the diagrams. It would allow the airport stations to become part of both lines.
A loop in the terminal area would mean trains continue into the terminal, make three stops, and then head out and continue on their route. This is good for operations simplicity, but bad for travel time of anyone who is commuting through the airport. The two station option would mean trains need to reverse direction after the second station. The operator would have to switch to the opposite end of the train, and any time saved with one less station may be negated in this process anyway. In either case, the 3-4 (including Lot C) stops will add a lot of time for through commuters on the Crenshaw line.
I advocate routing both the Green Line and the Crenshaw Line through the airport because I think it’s important and beneficial for both to have a direct connection (otherwise many LA area destinations would require 2-3 transfers to get to or from the airport, rather than 1-2), but this would create an undue burden for non-airport commuters on the Crenshaw Line. The best solution in this case would most likely be to route every other train on the Crenshaw Line through the airport. The opposite trains would continue on Aviation Blvd. as if the LAX branch did not exist. Depending on ridership, the frequency of trains entering the airport vs. bypassing it could be adjusted.
As this project moves into the draft environmental study phase, these are all important points to consider. In addition, I think it’s important to make note of the potential for other lines coming from the north, whether an extension of the future Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor or something similar to the proposed Green Line Coastal Corridor Extension from the late 1980s, or some combination of both. Whatever the solution is for connecting Metro to LAX, it can’t preclude these additional connections in the future. Both the trunk and the branch options should be able to accommodate this with a junction north Aviation and Westchester (where the northern junction [dotted line] would be in the branch diagrams).
In the end, my preferred option would be to run the modified trunk under the airport. I understand, however, that this is the most expensive option and would require the creation of an additional and separate intra-airport circulator. Depending on your perspective, as an airport commuter or a pass-through commuter, the LRT Branch or APM may prove to be an acceptable second option, respectively.