After years of stops and starts, a plan to resurrect streetcar service in downtown Los Angeles is sputtering forward once again. Councilman Jose Huizar is working diligently to get an advance on $200 million earmarked for the circulator system from last year’s successful transit initiative, Measure M. With $85 million already committed from local property owners and possibly a few hundred million from the federal government, Huizar hopes to see streetcars once again running in DTLA by 2020 or 2021.
When the idea of bringing streetcars back to downtown began to foment over a decade ago, there was hope they would charge the city center’s nascent revitalization. Since then, tens of thousands of residents have moved in and new towers and construction cranes dominate the skyline.
This urban success story has made the streetcar less of a necessity to some. While a streetcar loop will likely goose property values even more and spur additional development, its use as a practical method of transportation has been a nagging question. Like Portland’s streetcar, L.A.’s will travel with car and bus traffic, meaning it won’t move much faster than a spry pedestrian. L.A.’s city center already has two subway lines, two light rail lines, dozens of Metro bus lines, and its own DASH bus routes; basically, this part of the city could compete with San Francisco or Chicago for transportation options.
There are certainly arguments to be made for a downtown streetcar—from revitalizing under-utilized Broadway to increasing business between L.A. Live and the cultural corridor on Grand Avenue—but it’s becoming clear that downtown is not the Los Angeles neighborhood that could most benefit from a streetcar. Here are some suggestions for other areas begging for a new way to move people around:
Developer Rick Caruso once floated extending his streetcar at the Grove all the way to the Beverly Center. We haven’t heard a peep about that in years, but a streetcar would do wonders for WeHo. The city may get a north-south rail line, but it won’t be for at least a decade or two. Traffic is killer, but traveling on an east-west streetcar on Santa Monica Boulevard sounds more tempting than the 704 bus. West Hollywood has been hungering for fixed rail for years and would most likely kick in bucks to lay tracks across Boystown.
Speaking of the Grove, a north-south streetcar along Fairfax Avenue—and connecting with the mall—would be a tourist magnet. The line could either begin at the future Fairfax subway station on the Purple Line, or even go further south to the La Cienega Expo Line stop. Running parallel to Little Ethiopia, CBS Studios, the Grove, and moving north to West Hollywood, the streetcar would serve a dense area sorely missing rail service. Before an explosion in the 1980s diverted the Red Line to Vermont Avenue, it was supposed to traverse Fairfax.
While Vermont Avenue is expected to get its own subway, light rail, or bus rapid transit, busy Western Avenue isn’t getting squat. A streetcar along Western could connect the Expo Line station to the Purple Line station, service the Wiltern theatre, and serve as a connection to Hollywood. Riders currently have to take crowded buses or switch to the Red Line at Vermont Avenue. If any major thoroughfare needs the revitalization that a streetcar could bring, it’s Western.
It’s a damn shame that the Expo Line terminates at Fourth and Colorado, instead of moving south towards Venice Beach. That issue could be remedied with a streetcar that runs south from the Expo station along Santa Monica’s Main Street connecting to Rose, Abbot Kinney, and Venice Beach. We don’t want all these tourists—and tech workers—clogging up the roads with their own cars, do we?