The Real Reason DTLA Is Getting a Streetcar

It’s not because there’s a shortage of transportation options

The city council on Tuesday approved the environmental report and final route for a proposed downtown streetcar that would offer a one-way loop from South Park to Bunker Hill. The $282 million project is short about $200 million to start construction, though Metro has some Measure M money that will help, and the nonprofit Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc. is trying to secure more funds from federal grants and public-private partnerships. If everything falls into place, you could be riding this thing by 2020.

The route will take the electric train along Figueroa near L.A. Live, restaurant row on 7th, the Jewelry District of Hill Street, the historic theaters of Broadway, and along the new apartment buildings on 11th Street.

The route
The route

Courtesy of LA Streetcar Inc.

More transportation options are almost always a plus, but some have griped about the need for a slow-moving streetcar that only moves in one direction, especially since DTLA is blessed with numerous subway and light rail stops—it’s getting three shiny new underground light rail stations in three or four years—as well as bus routes a-plenty. Tourists and folks in high-heels may hop on the streetcar to get to Bottega Louie after a Lakers game; LAS Inc. estimates daily ridership at about 6,000.

A less-discussed impetus for the streetcar is its effect on development and property values. As evidenced in a 2010 video touting the streetcar (it’s been in the works for years), boosters highlight Portland’s successful streetcar and its effect on the cityscape.

“Twenty years ago, you could probably buy dirt down here for $10, $15, $20 a square foot,” developer Mark Edlen says in the clip. “At the peak in 2007, the value of land down here was probably $300 a square foot.”

Another developer says retail businesses exploded after the streetcar’s arrival; from half a dozen in the Pearl District to over 400.

The DTLA streetcar will be treading on streets that have been riveted by development and gentrification for at least a decade. There’s little room to develop along Figueroa, 7th, Broadway, and Hill. Possibilities for change exist on 11th Street, which is still pocked with empty lots and one-story buildings. Our hope is that the streetcar kicks off a renaissance south of 11th all the way to the 10 freeway—an area mostly devoid of life.