One of the most frustrating things about our developing-but-still-minimal rail transit system in Los Angeles is the lack of north/south connectivity. While most of the lines already built or currently under construction run east/west (such as the Purple Line Extension now moving west along Wilshire Blvd.), there are few direct north/south routes, especially in the central part of the city…which means north/south travelers still have to rely on slower, more crowded buses and other options.
Thanks to the recent passage of Measure M, however, and also probably thanks to the coming of the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles, Metro is pushing to plan and possibly accelerate one major piece of north/south rail connectivity – an extension of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line from Exposition Blvd. to Hollywood and Highland, which would also provide a connection with the Red Line subway for extended access to the San Fernando Valley. Along the way, the new line would also connect with the Purple Line subway (or at least the Red Line at Wilshire and Vermont.)
According to Metro’s presentation at the first of four community meetings on the proposed Crenshaw Line Northern Extension, held at the Westside Jewish Community Center last Thursday, studies for a north/south extension of the Crenshaw line were first done in the early 2000s. But because the final route for the Purple Line Extension had not yet been finalized, it was considered premature to plan connection points for the Crenshaw line…and everything north of Exposition Blvd. was put on hold.
Later, after Purple Line stops were finalized at La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega, a Crenshaw Line extension was considered again in 2009, this time looking at potential Purple Line connectivity at each of the new stops, as well as possible routes from the Purple Line north to a Red Line connection at Hollywood and Highland.
Now, however, as construction on that first segment of the Crenshaw line is finishing, the Purple Line Extension construction is also well underway, and Measure M has made some funding available for the Crenshaw Line extension, planning is resuming in earnest and five possible alignments are being considered, just to cover all the possible configurations.
The options now include a potential Purple Line connection at La Cienega Blvd., Fairfax Ave., La Brea Ave., or, skipping the Purple Line altogether, a connection directly to the Red Line at Vermont Ave. From whichever of those aligments is chosen, routes could then run north past Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Beverly Center on La Cienega Blvd., along Fairfax Ave., along La Brea Ave., or involve a change to the Red Line subway further east, at Wilshire and Vermont.
In general, the goals are to increase connectivity between other rail projects already built or under construction, and to better tie together parts of the city from the South Bay to the San Fernando Valley.
According to Metro officials and the map below, one reason this particular area is ripe for such a project is that there are a wide variety of land uses in the 17-square-mile area being studied, with a broad mix of residential, commercial and other kinds of destinations. The study area includes at least portions of the Mid-City, Koreatown, West Hollywood, Mid-City West/Miracle Mile, and Hollywood communities.
Also, according to Metro, there is a large population in the area to support the new transit line. In fact, the area outlined above includes nearly 185,000 residents, which is more than the combined totals of several other major cities.
And finally, there are a number of major destinations that could be serrved by the line, depending on the route chosen, including Crenshaw Blvd., Midtown Crossing, LACMA, Cedars Sinai, the Beverly Center, the Pacific Design Center and Hollywood/Highland.
According to the Metro officials at Thursday’s meeting, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the possible route choices. For example, according to Metro studies, potential Crenshaw Line riders do tend to move north and west during their travels, and job density is greater in the westerly sections of the study area (especially around Cedars Sinai), which would tend to favor the western-most alignment options.
On the other hand, however, the La Brea alignment would provide the most direct route and fastest travel time between Crenshaw/Exposition and Hollywood/Highland.
Meanwhile, the easternmost route – traveling from Crenshaw/Exposition north and east to the Wilshire/Vermont Red Line station – would require the least amount of new construction (since it would rely on transfers to the already-built Red Line to move people from Wilshire to Hollywood/Highland). But it would also provide the longest and slowest path, by far, to Hollywood and the Valley, and that transfer at Wilshire and Vermont to a Red Line subway would not be as convenient for riders as taking just one train to their final destination.
Here are some other comparative considerations for the five options being studied:
Also addressed at Thursday’s meeting was the question of why this segment of the rail system would rely on light-rail instead of a larger, heavy-rail subway. The answer is both flexibility and cost. While a full-scale subway line would run underground for the entire distance, said Deputy Project Manager Alex Moosavi, light rail can run above-grade, at grade or below grade…or any combination thereof, depending on the route and specific stops. It’s also cheaper to build than a heavy-rail subway, and it provides greater connectivity with other modes of transport, including buses.
According to Thursday’s presentation, it’s important to note that while the alignment question for the Crenshaw Line extension is front and center right now, construction may or may not be quite a way off. According to the Metro website, Measure M allocates $2.24 billion to the project, with a planned groundbreaking date of 2041 and completion in 2047. But as Metro Community Relations Director Jody Litvak explained at Thursday’s meeting, the Measure M funding is only part of what the project will require, and there are efforts underway – by both Metro and the City of West Hollywood – to identify other sources of funding and to possibly accelerate the project schedule. To do either of these, however, Litvak said project planning will have to be completed as soon as possible, so the project is “shovel ready” whenever funding is secured.
Finally, in a question and answer session after the main presentation on Thursday, the Metro officials provided some additional information:
- It is quite possible, depending on funding and acceleration decisions, that the project could be completed in phases, with at least one phase (from Exposition Blvd. to the Purple Line) done by the 2028 Olympics. (Litvak noted that almost all of Metro’s major transit projects – with the exception of the Green Line – have been completed and opened in phases.)
- Once funding is in place, and everything else is ready to go, the project could be constructed in 8-10 years.
- If the project is not built all at once, and/or is built on the longer-term schedule and not opened until 2047, Metro customers will have to rely on improved bus services (which the NextGen bus project is addressing) and other modes of travel for north/south connectivity. But, said Litvak, none of those options are perfect. “If there were a magic bullet, we would have solved it by now,” she said.
- Although the Wilshire/Vermont alignment seems the least popular so far, Metro is seeking further public input before eliminating it.
- As with other major transit projects, Metro does not plan to include parking along the new rail line. The reason, said representative David Meager, is that land in the area is just too expensive, and any parking Metro has built or leased in the past also tends to attract non-transit riders. Also, Meager noted, only 6% of transit riders use cars to reach transit lines.
Currently, Metro is actively seeking public input on the alignment question. In addition to two community meetings held last week (the one at the JCC on Thursday, and another at Virginia Road Elementary School on Saturday), there will be two more meetings on Tuesday and Thursday of this week:
If you can’t make it to one of the meetings, or would like to provide additional comments and other input, these additional contact options are also available:
After collecting community input this spring, Litvak said Metro will spend the summer evaluating comments and other information, and will schedule another round of community meetings in the fall to present its findings and preliminary decisions…which will then be presented to Metro’s board of directors for a final decision next winter.
What happens after that point – including decisions about project start dates and construction timelines – will depend on what happens with the ongoing funding efforts over the next year or so.