The Downtown LA Streetcar Should Travel on 9th Street
July 12, 2012 3 Comments
I’ve written a couple times about the streetcar being planned for Downtown LA. First, examining all of the suggested route options and then praising the selection of the locally-preferred-alternative. As I said in those pieces, I think the LPA that was selected is good, but after looking at it further, it’s certainly not best. Upon more reflection I’ve come to believe that taking the route east on 7th Street instead of 9th Street would be a particularly unfortunate decision for both mobility and development reasons and wanted to explore the options further. (Click here for a pdf of both routes from the city.)
7th Street Doesn’t Gain You Much
The key reasoning behind taking the streetcar up to 7th Street is access to the 7th Street/Metro Center station. That’s all well and good, but what does this actually get us? We must first remember that this portion of the route will be a one-way loop headed east and then turning north on Hill.
With this in mind, it will certainly be useful for travel from Staples Center/LA LIVE/Convention Center to connect to the Metro Red/Purple lines. However, with a probably similar fare, the more frequent combined northbound service from the Metro Blue/Expo lines at Pico is probably a better bet anyway. It’s a block or two further from LA LIVE, but closer to the Convention Center and Staples south entrances.
What about the other direction, though?
There won’t be southbound streetacr service from 7th Street to South Park, so you would not be able to take the streetcar from the Metro Center to these venues without doing a huge loop to the other end of Downtown and back. The streetcar connection to 7th Street / Metro Center only gives you an after event connection to Metro Rail, not a before event connection.
The Metro Red and Purple Lines still meet the streetcar route at Pershing Square and the Expo/Blue/Gold lines will meet it at a Regional Connector Station on 2nd Street, so there’s no increased accessibility, and the only real benefit of having the streetcar meet the Metro Center would be for anyone who wants to go to a final destination along the route between the 7th/Hope and 5th/Hill and can’t walk the maximum of 3 short blocks from the Metro station to get there.
7th Street is Congested and Only Getting More So (but this is a good thing)
7th Street is currently one of the more congested streets Downtown. It’s full of cars and busses going in both directions, pedestrians, and bikes. Soon, there will be a bike lane project going in, which could mean some operational difficulties with the streetcar (this is why they are still including 9th St. in the study) and will result in less available street space. When planning the use of this street, we should focus on pedestrians, bikes, and busses that already serve the area. Adding a streetcar to the mix will be complicated for little gain.
By contrast, 9th Street is a one-way eastbound road with far less traffic (especially during rush hour). The streetcar could move relatively freely here, and could even run in the leftmost lane for an easier left turn onto Hill. On 7th, it would require a special signal to allow it to cross traffic lanes while turning left from the far right lane, halting all other vehicles at the intersection.
7th Street is Relatively Developed
One of the major goals of the streetcar is to contribute to new development. Not to say that we’ve “made it,” but compared to much of the area around it, 7th Street has experienced a boom of new restaurants and retail. These developments are contributing to more in the pipeline, while 9th Street is still lined with expansive parking lots that would become much more valuable to developers with the streetcar passing by out front.
That being said, there are some exciting new developments coming to 9th Street as well that could open around the same time as the streetcar and contribute to an amazing new corridor. The 9th Street route would already pass by Ralphs, FIDM, Grand/Hope Park, and some scattered residential buildings. The biggest new project will be the hotel and restaurant in the Trinity Auditorium building. This could be a major ridership generator if the streetcar passed by outside.
7th Street Misses Much of the Action on Broadway
The streetcar was originally envisioned (and is still mostly designed) to bring life to Broadway. It was part of Councilman Jose Huizar’s “Bringing Back Broadway” initiative before being spun off into it’s own non-profit, but it’s still the centerpiece of the Broadway plan.
Much of the recent action on Broadway has happened on the south end of the corridor between 7th and Olympic. With a route that travels on 7th Street, this entire section of Broadway will only have access to one direction of travel, with the streetcar traveling north on Hill up to three long blocks away (the north-south blocks Downtown are much longer than the east-west blocks).
The LA Brewing Company, the Broadway Bar, the Orpheum Theatre, Two Boots Pizza, and the extremely popular Umamicatessan are all on this stretch of Broadway. So is (will be) the Sparkle Factory, the residential Eastern Columbia Building, and perhaps most importantly the Ace Hotel (and renovated theatre) taking over the United Artists Building. The Ace Hotel guests may be among those most apt to use the streetcar, but the 7th Street route wouldn’t effectively serve the hotel (or any of these other destinations) except in one direction.
A 9th Street route would allow visitors to either Broadway or South Park/LA LIVE to take the streetcar both ways between these destinations, while the 7th Street route would cut this section of Broadway off from any trips originating in South Park. A 9th Street route would allow people in this section of Broadway to travel west to South Park or north to other parts of Downtown and back again. It would also pass within view of the Golden Gopher and D-Town Burger Bar while northbound at Hill at 8th (hopefully also spurring development on this block of 8th).
While this list of theatres, restaurants, hotels, and residential buildings sounds impressive, it’s easy to see if you’re in the neighborhood that this area is still in need of more. For the streetcar to be effective at promoting development, it must connect other recent developments and be considered an easy way to get both to and from current and future destinations.
It must also be noted that from a mobility point of view, this bustling section section of Broadway and 9th is currently a good walk away from Metro Rail. Having easy access to the northbound route will connect it directly to all of the Downtown Metro Rail lines (Red/Purple at Pershing Square and Regional Connector at 2nd).
As I look at the neighborhoods and explore the possible routes on foot, it becomes more and more clear that the 9th Street option would be the best able to accomplish both the mobility and development goals of the project. Traveling all the way north to 7th Street would not bring much benefit to the project (and the project would not bring as much to the area) as the mutual benefit we could see with a 9th Street route.
Finally, while all proposed maps for the study show the streetcar turning left on 1st Street and heading over to Grand, where it will pass by the Music Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and possibly even extend down to the Broad Museum, the most recent update I’ve heard is that this is actually not probable with the funding they’re looking at. This is unacceptable. I know that funding often gets in the way of plans, but this route is one of the cheapest options presented, and all previous discussion had centered on whether to connect the route to Union Station or to the cultural establishments on Grand. Now, it looks like planners are resigned to neither. So, the route would circle from Hill to Broadway at 1st Street… passing only everybody’s favorite giant pit that might someday be a new courthouse.
To be honest, most of the ridership will probably come from “destination” riders going to/from the Music Center, LA LIVE, or somewhere on Broadway, and not people needing to get just a few blocks away. Skipping out on both the Music Center and Union Station would be a huge negative.
Of course they have their own fundraising to do, but they also have large and wealthy donor bases, many who could support the streetcar project with ease… I’d like to see the Music Center, Disney Concert Hall, or even Eli Broad himself step in and help (if not with money directly, then with fundraising support). This may also be a great idea for a neighbor.ly campaign. A specific campaign to extend the streetcar and connect to the cultural destinations on Grand could prove extremely successful.