Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everybody Ride the Sunset Streetcar

You may not be aware that streetcars will be returning to downtown Los Angeles in a soon as five years, but they are.

From the Los Angeles Streetcar website:

"Streetcars are designed to be a constant fixture of urban transportation options for residents, employees, and visitors; they are very different from the Metro rail transportation and subway system that Los Angelinos are used to. A streetcar, unlike light rail, travels in the flow of traffic on rails that are embedded in the road. Automobile drivers traveling in the same lane as the streetcar rarely notice that they are driving on top of rails. Although traveling at speeds similar to those of a bus, streetcars are the preferred downtown circulators due to the comforts offered by fixed-rails during their short trips. Because the streetcar runs on a fixed route, riders can be assured that the route will never change, and appropriate technology, kiosks, architecture, and guideways can be integrated into the urban environment to provide route guidance."

If you have been to San Francisco, you have probably seen the old streetcars from around the world carrying passengers between the Castro, downtown and Fisherman's Wharf. What we will likely see here are the newer modern streetcars like those seen in Portland and Seattle.

Some of you are saying, "Don't we have buses already that go to these places"? Well, true. However, there are "choice" riders who won't use a bumpy uncomfortable bus, but do like more the comfortable ride that streetcars bring. Streetcars also have been shown to attract development and revitalize neighborhoods.

From the Los Angeles Streetcar website:

"Buses are excellent local and regional public transportation options, but they will do little to spur redevelopment and economic investment in Downtown LA. This is due to the inherent flexibility of bus service, as routes change regularly to accommodate varying needs; in addition, buses contribute to nerve-racking pedestrian experiences due to heavy street-level emissions and noise pollution that discourses active use of sidewalks. Streetcars do the exact opposite. They provide developers and business owners certainty that the routes will not change, and are considered preferable to buses by residents, visitors, and employees as they offer more amenities, highly reliable routes and timetables, and enhanced urban experiences. Buses and streetcars do, however, work together to connect access points within regional transportation networks. For example, sidewalks can be designed to specifically accommodate both vehicle configurations; in return, a transit stop effectively doubles its value within a regional transportation network."
The planned downtown alignment runs down Broadway.

This led me thinking about other parts of the area that might benefit from Streetcar service, especially areas that desire rail service, but are unlikely to see heavy or light rail in the next few decades, but for whom streetcar service could be up and running in the next few years.

Ventura Blvd. between Universal City and Warner Center came to mind. Also, I imagined connecting Venice Beach and Santa Monica north/south to the Expo Line and Purple Line. I am sure you have your own ideas.

However, what I'd really like to propose for your thoughts today is a Streetcar connecting downtown and Hollywood via Sunset Blvd., through Echo Park and Silver Lake. The first leg could connect downtown and the Red Line. Extensions could go further along Sunset Blvd. to the Sunset Strip and along Santa Monica Blvd. to Century City via the unused right-of-way in Beverly Hills. 

There would actually be two streetcar lines using the same tracks on the West and East end, but running on different streets in the middle.

Both Lines would run from Union Station to Sunset Junction.

Line 1 would run on Santa Monica Blvd. between Sunset Junction and San Vicente.

Line 2 would run on Sunset Blvd. from Sunset Junction to the Strip and then south on San Vicente to Santa Monica Blvd.

Both Lines would be reunite at San Vicente & Santa Monica Blvd. and then head to Century City via the unused right-of-way in Beverly Hills.

The tourists will love it, of course. More importantly, regular commuters will use it.

When someone says, "this town was built for cars", show them this map below and remind them that it was RAIL that built up Los Angeles and California. Just look at what we lost fifty years ago. If we had not tragically dismantled the streetcar system, but improved it over the last several decades, we'd have an amazing system already in place now. (Please click on image below to see whole map. You may want to keep kleenex nearby for weeping purposes.)

However, we move forward and the upcoming return of streetcars to Los Angeles is something to celebrate along with the expansion to Metro Rail that Measure R funds will bring. All hail as we leave the car-only transportation culture behind. Los Angeles is transforming into the world class metropolitan city is deserves to be.


Eric Tooley said...

Brilliant idea! I live in Silverlake and would use this line often.

Hauser & San Vicente said...

Streetcars on Sunset Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd would mean no more street closures--ever--for things like the Gay Pride Parade, Halloweeen, Sunset Junction, etc. What lane do they go in? Right lane? And then how long do the streetcars sit stuck in right-lane traffic near Dodger Stadium, at Alvarado, in vast stretches of Hollywood, etc. Buses replaced streetcars in LA in large part because they are manueverable on heavily trafficked streets. And as someone who grew up in parts of San Francisco with streetcars, the notion that drivers "rarely notice that they are driving on top of rails" is laughable; you rarely notice anything else.

Anonymous said...

completely agree that there needs to be a train along this route, but it should be underground, heavy rail ... a proper subway line connecting from union station to sunset/vermont (then trains continue along red line tracks

Anonymous said...

I was struck by the quote: "buses contribute to nerve-racking pedestrian experiences due to heavy street-level emissions and noise pollution that discourages active use of sidewalks. Streetcars do the exact opposite."

That is 100% correct. But sadly, we will continue to have L.A. buses run curbside, spewing emissions and making noise, while the comparatively clean and quiet streetcars are going to be segregated to the middle of the street - forcing the disembarking rider to cross multiple traffic lanes to reach the sidewalk.

Talk "exact opposite". Lets take a pedestrian friendly mode of transit and make the experience completely pedestrian unfriendly. Once again, L.A. gets it wrong.

Dan Wentzel said...

As for what to do about special events, that can be worked out in the design and community input stages. The streetcars should run in transit only lanes that only streetcars and buses can use.

We can no longer engage in social engineering in favor of automobiles. The glory days of the car culture are forever behind us. And buses don't cut it in the 21st Century.

A subway will hopefully be coming to Santa Monica Blvd. through the Westside Subway extension, but there is no chance of getting a subway through Echo Park Silver Lake any time within the next few decades. While I support an underground subway, a streetcar in a transit-only lane could be up and running within 5 years.

How this affects "traffic" is old transportation thinking. Who do we want to design our cities for? People and the neighborhoods they live and work in or for single-occupancy automobiles driving through them?

Even without a streetcar, there should be a transit only lane on this route and other transit only lanes throughout the city.

The order of transportation planning should be about people first, and vehicles second:

1) Pedestrians
2) Bicycles
3) Public Transit (Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Streetcar, Rapid Bus, Local Bus)
4) Shared Private Transit (Carpools, Vanpools, private buses)
5) Non-Shared Private Transit (single-occupancy automobiles).

This will be considered sacrilegious to those who delusionally hope for restoration of a high-quality "car culture" in Southern California, but single-occupancy automobiles should be a lowest transportation planning priority.

Anonymous said...

What about the blight from the low overhead cables? What about road accidents causing blocked tracks? What about road closures due to events like parades, marathons, bikathons, traithalons, etc? What about the slow MPH the streetcars will be required to go for safety? Underground is the best choice and use of resources.

Although people may like the nostalgia of streetcars, they are very impractical in todays world. Subways avaoid all street traffic completely. Buses are able to detour,go around accidents and go at higher speeds than street cars.

Dan Wentzel said...

"Blight" is a matter of opinion. I think the wires in San Francisco add to its charm.

There are tradeoffs to all transportation choices.

Buses do not attract choice riders. They just don't. Streetcars offer a higher quality ride.

Underground is always preferable. However, if Silver Lake and Echo Park want to wait for underground rail service they may wait several decades. Right now there is no organized group advocating for it. There are 30-50 years worth of transportation projects which are currently being advocated for.

Streetcars are not impractical. Portland and Seattle are proving they are useful. When they return to Downtown in a few years, I have a feeling Los Angeles is going to like them and want more of them.

In the meantime, we should create a network of transit-only lanes in busy corridors.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment about the streetcars causing blight...Until you visit Portland or Seattle, and see a streetcar in a modern setting, your "opinion" is just the rant of an uneducated idiot.

Dan Wentzel said...

"Until you visit Portland or Seattle, and see a streetcar in a modern setting, your "opinion" is just the rant of an uneducated idiot."


Whoever this comment was meant for, I have seen them, and the new ones in Croydon in London.

I cannot wait until the new trams in Edinburgh, Scotland start running so I can see those too.

Los Angeles has a little bit of everything. Many people didn't understand what a heavy-rail subway would look in Los Angeles till the Red Line opened. Many people didn't understand what a light-rail line would look like here until the Blue Line opened. Many people didn't know what a bus rapid transit busway would look like until the Orange Line opened.

When the modern streetcars return to Broadway, I imagine there will be several areas that would like them.

Echo Park and Silver Lake can make a choice -- a subway in 50 years with or without a streetcar line within five years.

UKlocal Movers said...

I’m really amazed with your posting skills as well as with the layout on your blog site. Is this a paid style or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the pleasant quality writing, it is rare to see a great site such as this one these days.I recently came to know about http://uklocalmovers.co.uk/, their Man and Van Croydon are very effective.
Man and Van Croydon