Since last winter, Metro has held several meetings around the community to seek input on possible routes (known as “alignments” in transit-speak) for an extension of the Crenshaw light rail line, which will soon be carrying passengers back and forth from LAX to its current northern end at the intersection of Crenshaw and Exposition Blvds. The future extension of the line would run north from Exposition Blvd., along a route yet to be determined, to connect with the Red Line at Hollywood and Highland.
Because the three or four community meetings held so far have been mostly informational, without extensive public comment periods, neighbors in one local area – Carthay Circle – requested an additional meeting where they would have more opportunities to provide feedback…since one of the proposed alignments could run along San Vincente Blvd. through their historic residential neighborhood. And last Wednesday, December 11, Metro complied.
At the meeting, David Mieger, Executive Officer for Transit Corridor Planning at Metro, explained that planning for the Crenshaw Line Northern Extension is still in its very early stages, and reviewed some of the basic information that Metro has worked out so far:
- With current funding sources, construction wouldn’t begin until 2041…but Metro is looking into additional funding sources (perhaps in cooperation with the City of West Hollywood), that would allow construction to begin up to 20 years earlier.
- No matter when construction starts, Metro is doing the planning for the project now, so it can be “shovel ready” if and when additional funding becomes available to accelerate the schedule.
- The first stretch of the Crenshaw Line, from the LAX area to Exposition Blvd., is scheduled to open sometime in 2020.
Initially, explained Mieger, five routes for the Crenshaw Line Extension had been studied, with the goals of capturing the most potential riders and serving the most popular, and most numerous, destinations along the way to Hollywood. The original alignment options proposed were :
A – Heading north up Crenshaw to San Vicente, then following San Vicente to Santa Monica Blvd., and then moving east along Santa Monica and north to Hollywood and Highland.
B – A similar route following Crenshaw and San Vicente, but then heading north to Santa Monica Blvd. (north of Beverly Blvd.) via La Cienega Blvd. instead of San Vicente.
C – A route heading north on Crenshaw to San Vicente, and then turning north on Fairfax at Olympic Blvd. It would then follow Fairfax north to Santa Monica Blvd., and then turn east and eventually north into Hollywood.
D – A similar route that would turn north from San Vicente at La Brea instead of Fairfax.
E – A route that would head north on Crenshaw, and then turn east – instead of west – along Olympic Blvd., to Vermont, and would run north along Vermont to connect with the Red Line at Wilshire and Vermont instead of Hollywood and Highland.
This map shows the originally proposed options:
Mieger explained at the Carthay meeting, however, that since the initial meetings, and based on both further thinking and public feedback collected at those meetings, there have now been some changes in the proposals.
First, because the “E” option, running east along Olympic Blvd., would be so close to and so parallel with the Red and Purple lines on Wilshire, it was deemed a bit redundant, and has now been eliminated from consideration.
Second, Mieger said that based on public feedback in the first set of community meetings, a new “hybrid” alignment (see “A2,” below), combining elements of the old A, B and C routes – has now been thrown into the mix. That potential route would move up Crenshaw to San Vicente, along San Vicente to Fairfax, Fairfax to Beverly Blvd., west on Beverly to San Vicente, and then follow the “A” route as previously laid out along Santa Monica Blvd., and from there to Hollywood.
So the potential alignments now being discussed look like this:
But Mieger also pointed out that each of these routes still have their pluses and minuses. For example:
A – San Vicente:
Advantages: The street is wide and was originally laid out to accommodate the old Red Car rail line down the middle of the boulevard. The route also hits several major destinations – such as Midtown Crossing, the Beverly Center and Cedars-Sinai – which could potentially draw many riders.
Disadvantages: Mieger noted that the street is much different now than it was when the old Red Cars ran, and the wide median along San Vincente is now home to much-needed green space and many mature trees, so it would require a lot of design work to figure out how to run trains there now. Also, because intersections at La Brea, Wilshire, etc. are so busy with other kinds of traffic, a new rail line would have to run under or over those intersections instead of at grade, which would significantly increase the cost. In addition, there are some major underground features – such as a big drain under Fairfax at San Vicente, oil rigs near the Beverly Center, underground waterways, and yes, the new Purple Line subway, which would require Crenshaw Line tunnels to move even further underground. Also, this alignment would spend the most time along San Vicente, which – as the residents at last week’s meeting pointed out very emphatically – is largely residential and not commercial for much of the route. And finally, those residential districts are also officially historic, including several designated Historic Preservation Overlay Zones.
A1 – La Cienega:
Advantages: This route gets closer to the Beverly Center and other business districts than the full San Vicente route would, which would potentially increase ridership.
Disadvantages: This route also gets closer to the oil wells and other engineering challenges in the Beverly Center area.
A2 – Hybrid:
Advantages: This route, Mieger said, may actually combine the “best” of the originally proposed Fairfax alignment, and avoid the worst issues on the originally-proposed San Vicente alignment – yet it still hits places like Cedars, the Beverly Center, and the Pacific Design Center…while avoiding as much of the Carthay-area residential district as possible.
Disadvantages: There would still be some work required to go under or over major intersections.
B – Fairfax:
Advantages: Mieger said this alignment follows a subway line that was proposed years ago, but never built, so there is some historic support and study to draw on.
Disadvantages: The Fairfax route contains much less population density than the more westerly options, and the right-angle turn it would have to make at Santa Monica Blvd. would also be nearly impossible from an engineering standpoint (trains don’t handle sharp corners well). Also, because of the street configuration at Fairfax and Santa Monica, a Crenshaw Line station would probably have to be located a block or more from that major intersection, which would be inconvenient for riders.
C – La Brea
Advantages: Mieger said this is the most direct route north to Hollywood from Crenshaw and Exposition, as well as the least expensive, and would result in the fastest travel times between the two termini. Also, there will be a Purple Line station at Wilshire and La Brea, which would provide a convenient connection for Crenshaw Line riders.
Disadvantages: The La Brea route touches the fewest major destinations of all the alignment options, and also runs through comparatively low-density residential neighborhoods, meaning it has the lowest potential for ridership among any of the five currently proposed routes.
In his presentation, Mieger was also careful to note that because of current traffic levels, the challenging features mentioned along each route, and the fact that busy intersections cannot be crossed at street level, all the proposed alignments would involve either underground travel or elevated crossings for at least parts of their transit.
After Metro’s presentation on Wednesday, each member of the audience was given a chance to stand, express his or her individual alignment preferences, and comment on their major concerns.
Individually, residents expressed support for several of the various alignment options, but without exception everyone present also expressed a strong opinion that there should be no above-ground rail line along the residential sections of San Vicente Blvd. through the Carthy area. Also, almost everyone who spoke said the alignment should stick to commercial corridors, and that putting an at-grade train line along the residential section of San Vicente would destroy valuable trees and green space, as well as jeopardize the historic neighborhood character that residents have fought long and hard to protect.
Beyond those bedrock sentiments, however, there were some differences of opinion, with some residents saying that they wouldn’t object if the train ran underground through the area, but with others expressing fear that an undergroundroute under San Vicente could result in the loss of mature trees, and perhaps even some homes, along the alignment. And still others said they worried about gentrification. (Resident Jonathan Bennett suggested the project is just a “Trojan Horse to re-zone the area.”)
Many residents at the meeting agreed with neighbor Anna Cherekovsky, who said very clearly, “If you go up San Vicente, you’re going to ruin it.” And also neighbor Joe Viola, who said his preferred route would be “anything doesn’t touch Carthay Circle,” while lamenting that “all this intrusion is an attack on everything we’ve worked for” – which prompted an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.
At the same time, however, a few people did see some bright spots in the proposals…and at least a few residents also expressed hope that passing the new train line through the notoriously awkward “asterisk” intersection – where San Vicente, Olympic and Fairfax converge – could result in a much-needed re-engineering of that area.
And at least some people seemed heartened by Mieger’s final words that running an at-grade line through the Carthay area is looking less and less likely. “There is no feasable way to build above ground through Carthay Circle,” he said, “without aerial [expanses], and that was never our intention.”
Questions and Answers
The final section of the meeting was a Q&A period in which the Metro representatives answered some lingering questions. These included:
Why can’t a Crenshaw line extension go straight up Crenshaw to Hollywood?
According to Mieger, there are several reasons, including the fact that there’s no Purple Line station to connect with at Wilshire and Crenshaw…and also that Crenshaw itself dead-ends at Wilshire, with nothing but low-density residential areas between there and Hollywood – so the ridership potential on such a route would be very low. The route would also have to pass deep under the Purple Line tunnels at Wilshire, making it much more expensive, which just doesn’t pencil out with the low ridership potential.
Why is there no Purple Line station at Wilshire and Crenshaw?
Mieger said the decision was made years ago during Purple Line planning not to put a station at Crenshaw for several reasons. First, it’s quite close to the station at Wilshire and Western. Second, it’s a very low-density residential area (so station usage wouldn’t be worth the cost). And, third, the local residents didn’t support it…in the same way, Mieger said, that the Carthay residents are currently voicing their opposition to an above-ground rail line along San Vicente in their area. (Metro, he said, looks at many factors when deciding on transit routes, and community support is definitely a key factor…very important to the Metro Board of Directors’ final decision. “My job is much eaiser,” Mieger said, “with community support.”)
Which route has the Mid-City West Community Council endorsed?
None so far. While the MCWCC has discussed the project, it is reportedly still studying the options.
If the route runs under San Vicente, instead of at grade, would mature trees still be jeopardized?
Mieger said trees would have to be removed only at station areas, not along most of the route.
Would vibrations from trains running underground be dangerous for nearby homes?
Mieger said the only place in all of Metro’s subway system where underground vibrations might have been an issue was next to Disney Hall downtown…and special mitigations were done in that location to prevent any issues. The tunnels run too deep, he explained, for vibrations to be felt in homes or most other buildings above the tunnels. And even if trains run at ground level, Mieger said, the noise is about the same as busy traffic…with the addition of some noise from the crossing gates.
Why didn’t Metro consider a line directly up La Cienega from the airport area?
Mieger noted that such a line wouldn’t connect with the Crenshaw line as it’s already built. Also, he said, such a route would miss many big activity centers before it got to Wilshire Blvd…and it would have to pass through and be supported by the city of Beverly Hills, which has not been enthusiastic so far when it comes to Metro rail projects. Also, while Mieger didn’t mention it at this meeting, Metro has pointed out at previous meetings for the Crenshaw Line Extension that while Beverly Hills has not expressed interest in the project, the city of West Hollywood has…and may even be able to help find the additional funding that could get the project started much earlier than it was originally planned. (West Hollywood did send representatives – including Mayor Pro Temp Lindsay Horvath – to Wednesday’s meeting, but they did not speak at the event.)
Has the alignment already been decided, and are neighbors just being “placated” with this meeting?
Mieger reiterated that the planning process for the Crenshaw Line Northern Extension is still in its very early stages, so no decisions have been made yet, and the feedback being collected at community meetings (of which there will be many more) will be very important in making the final decision. According to Mieger, Metro representatives hope to narrow the route choices down to perhaps two recommendations to take to the agency’s Board of Directors in early 2020. If the Board agrees with the choices, Mieger said, then both options would undergo a full environmental review before a final decision is made.
Meeting moderator Daniel Tellalian said the goal of last week’s gathering was to “get as much public comment as possible by January,” and urged people to not only speak up at the meeting, as many did, but also to fill out public comment cards that would become part of Metro’s official record for the project. He urged people to also e-mail comments to [email protected], call (213) 418-3093 with comments, attend future community meetings where feedback is collected…and then, next year sometime, also attend and speak at the Metro Board Meeting where the project will be discussed and voted on.
[This story was updated after publication to clarify certain timeline details.]