On Sunday, December 4, members of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association (including both residents and local business owners) met with representatives of Metro, its subway construction contractor, Skanska-Traylor-Shea, City Council Member David Ryu, and a few residents of the La Brea-Hancock neighborhood, to discuss details of and concerns about Metro’s recent proposal to locate a long-term subway station construction portal in a neighborhood-adjacent center island on Wilshire Blvd.
Metro’s original construction plans called for portals to remove dirt from and deliver materials to the new subway tunnel and the Wilshire-La Brea station at the Metro staging sites at the SW and NW corners of Wilshire and La Brea. But at its bi-monthly Construction Community meeting on November 3, Metro said it was considering a new plan, which would create an additional portal in a center island on Wilshire, stretching from Sycamore Ave. to the mid-point of the block between Orange Dr. and Mansfield Ave.
The “semi-permanent” island/portal would, according to Metro, provide a couple of advantages for the construction project. First, it would allow excavated dirt to be removed from two locations at once, which would speed up that process and spread out truck traffic. Dirt from the subway tunnel would be removed at the staging-area portal, while dirt from the station excavation could be removed from the center-island portal. Also, both during and after excavation, the center-island portal would allow separate delivery access to the two parts of the project (tunnel and station).
The second advantage, according to Metro and Skanska representatives at yesterday’s meeting, is that the center-island portal would maintain a single, stable opening in the street, creating more predictable traffic patterns for area commuters. Without the center island portal, Skanska representatives Billy Parent and Brian Freund said, Metro would have to frequently remove individual concrete panels from the street to access underground areas for excavation and deliveries. And that process could frequently change traffic routing as often as daily, or even multiple times in one day, depending on the phase of construction.
The two efficiencies together, said Freund, could speed up the construction of the Wilshire-La Brea station by as much as 4 or 5 months, overall. (Though it wouldn’t affect the opening date of the Purple Line, since all stations in the new segment must be finished before trains will begin running.)
Despite these advantages, however, neighborhood residents and business representatives expressed serious concerns about several aspects of the proposal.
First, the new island would prevent westbound traffic from turning left into the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and eastbound traffic from turning north into La Brea-Hancock, making access from Wilshire Blvd. more difficult for both residents and visitors. Neighbors also noted that the resulting slowdowns of Wilshire traffic would likely force more through traffic to 8th Street and 6th Street, both of which have already become overburdened with drivers avoiding Wilshire.
The second major concern expressed at the meeting was for neighborhood-serving businesses, particularly those located in the mall at the SE corner of Wilshire and Sycamore (including the Hancock Park Veterinary Clinic, Apollonia’s Pizzeria, Jinya Ramen Bar and Mathnasium). The proposed portal would have 12-foot high barriers around it, making it difficult for passing drivers to see, locate and access the businesses, which have already suffered severely from recent construction blockages. The new barriers would further reduce business visibility and access, especially from the north side of the street, and would lengthen the period of suffering for the business owners…who were originally promised by Metro that the construction obstructions would all be gone by the end of this month.
Also, according to Sycamore Square President Conrad Starr, two new businesses in the mall – Best California Insurance Services and the CyberCity LAN Center – signed leases for their spaces in the last few months based on similar promises. And, unlike the older businesses in the mall, they would not benefit from Metro’s Business Interruption Fund, because they do not meet Metro’s longevity requirement.
After listening to the lengthy discussion at yesterday’s meeting Council Member Ryu complimented the SSNA on its concern for, and involvement with its neighborhood businesses, saying “This is what community is all about.” He also reminded residents that Metro’s proposal – like a similarly-proposed alternate full-closure plan for Wilshire Blvd. last year – is still just a proposal, and Metro is still in the process of gathering community input on the idea. He offered to meet with neighbors, along with representatives from Metro and the Department of Transportation, to discuss the concerns, and potential mitigations, in the next couple of weeks. Metro’s original proposal was to begin construction of the new center island and portal in January, 2017, but that could change depending on the outcome of the neighborhood negotiations.
At the end of the discussion, the SSNA board voted unanimously to oppose the portal proposal, as currently presented, but board members said they are very willing to meet with Ryu, Metro and the DoT to discuss possible mitigations and alternatives.