By Ken Alpern, October 1, 2013
ALPERN AT LARGE-History came full circle at Hamilton High School last Thursday night, as a new generation of transportation-minded volunteers met to discuss the benefits and shortcomings of the Expo Line, and of the challenges facing LA City transportation policy. Perhaps I was the only one present who was part of the grassroots group known as Friends4Expo that used to meet at the Hamilton High Library, but it was still history, nevertheless.
Most were from the neighborhood councils of South Robertson, Venice, Palms and Mar Vista, and most had a more nuanced perspective towards bus, rail, bicycle, automobile and pedestrian transportation issues than that which existed at Friends4Expo.
More on that "nuanced" thing below, but first a mention of the history of when Friends4Expo met quarterly at the Hamilton High Library to figure out strategy to do the outreach and persuasion necessary for an Expo Line to be approved by the Metro Board. At that time, transit and bikeways and walkable streets were considered silly and/or irrelevant to daily existence by most Angelenos (or at least those who were politically empowered).
After all, a mere decade ago there was little to no consideration of rail, bus or bicycle transit, or of walkable streets--Supervisors Yaroslavsky and Burke, and Mayor Riordan, kept telling us that we were out of touch, and that we should just settle for an insufficient Busway and not hold out for an Expo Light Rail Line. After all, there was no money for an Expo Line (even if the Federal Transit Administration in Washington did like the idea).
Amazing what a decade of demographic, political and traffic changes can do.
With older Angelenos either departing the City or departing this existence, and with an influx of younger Angelenos and/or older Angelenos "converted" to the idea of transit, the issues to be confronted now aren't IF there will be an Expo Line but what TYPE of Expo Line will we have to enjoy.
Traffic is worse but also less tolerated, and mobility is now equated with quality of life. Bicycling is having its own renaissance, and the notion that "no one walks in L.A." is rapidly becoming reflected of an outdated song instead of an eternal truism.
Unfortunately, we now face an era where the Expo Line is only halfway completed (Phase 1 to Culver City), and has to compete for funding with cost overruns from its first phase and from the 405 freeway widening project. Betterments to both Phase 1 and Phase 2, particularly around key stations, are in order. In particular, Expo Line Phase 2 to Santa Monica shouldn't be sacrificed for the 405 widening project.
The fact remains that if Phase 2 of the Expo Line is on schedule and under budget, which is consistent with all reports to date, then that money should stay with the line. The need for legal defense against a neverending barrage of lawsuits, which began much earlier than anyone expected during Phase 1 efforts, should be put to rest. The time is NOW to spend on Expo Line betterments, and to improve the Expo Line experience.
And "betterments" is no longer a term synonymous with "grade separation". While many will and should continue to bemoan the lack of foresight of the Westside and the Expo Construction Authority to arrive at a consensus of elevating the line over Overland Avenue, that train has left the station (pun intended). There will be no tunnels that the experts and engineers do not approve, and there will certainly be an Expo Line.
With the California Supreme Court having dismissed the legal opposition to the Expo Line, it is "safe" for the Westside political representation of the Expo Construction Authority (in particular, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz) to pursue the betterments that are glaringly in order for the Expo Line to achieve maximal capacity and access in the least amount of time.
For too long, those represented at last Thursday night's meeting--South Robertson, Palms, Mar Vista and Venice--who fought vigorously for the Expo Line have not received enough consideration for betterments to allow them enhanced access to the line. It's been "all about Dorsey High" and "all about Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park" because of legal battles in the past--legal battles that are now OVER.
Yet will there now be any fiscal, planning and engineering benefits for those communities who spent over a decade advocating for the Expo Line? In particular, with the Expo Line parking lot in Culver City being full by early to mid-morning, isn't it only fair for South Robertson and the Westside to have an adjacent parking lot at or near Robertson Blvd.?
Much of the focus for the Culver City parking lot and station (the current western terminus of the Expo Line) has been Venice Blvd., but what of the north-south feeder routes (in particularly, Robertson Blvd.)? It has been noted that Robertson Blvd. is used by many to access commercial centers outside of Los Angeles, but what of commercial development within Los Angeles?
Regardless of which city an expanded or new parking lot would be in at Culver City or in Los Angeles, it's FULL NOW and the line has only just begun its operations. Some will go to the parking lot at the Expo Line station at La Cienega, but it should be noted that many commuters arrive either too early, or leave too late, to reliably, safely and easily access connecting bus routes.
The Venice/Robertson station at Culver City is the key access point to the Expo Line for those living in "the lower Westside", which includes Del Rey, Westchester, the Marina, and even portions of Venice. These regions will always have relatively poor and indirect access to the Expo Line--and neither the Venice Rapid Bus Line nor parking on the current and planned Expo Line is at all sufficient to take advantage of this light rail line.
The Palms Neighborhood Council has also come out squarely in favor of its own parking lot by its rail station for Phase 2, and yet has no such lot planned. And it is doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the parking lot at the future Exposition/Sepulveda station will prove woefully-insufficient (and it bears repeating that the supposedly "transit-oriented" Casden Sepulveda development had NO further parking dedicated to the Expo Line).
I mentioned before that this crowd was more "nuanced" towards transportation than the last generation of visionaries and citizen planners who met at Hamilton High School ten years ago. They are more "nuanced" in that they were pro-rail, pro-bus, pro-bicycle and yet were also pro-car and pro-parking.
Their neighborhoods fought for in the past, and want better access and connectivity now, to/from the Expo Line. That means parking, bicycle lots and rental/sharing programs and a highlighted, promoted Venice Blvd. Rapid Bus Line (particularly championed in the past by the Palms NC as "Expo to the Beach") with its own series of first-rate bus shelters and other amenities, and better bus service and shelters on Robertson Blvd.
They also were very unhappy at how the bicycle/automobile balance was too shifted in favor of bicyclists at the expense of motorists, and concerns about mobility and safety of all parties were repeatedly expressed. The need for bicycle paths and routes to be on residential streets adjacent to (and safer than) major thoroughfares appeared to enjoy considerable favor to a group that was favorable to bicyclists but didn't want to "sock it" to motorists and hurt both groups of commuters.
Sidewalk repairs and ficus tree replacements, and a final resolution to the long-sought and oft-discussed Metro Rail to LAX connection, were also high on the agenda. Ditto for FINALLY asking developers to pay for their fair share of transportation mitigations for their projects...including parking and bus shelters.
The past generation of Expo Line supporters finally won the day because they were FOR something, and it's hoped that Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and the rest of the Expo Line Authority can now safely and confidently also be FOR something.
This new generation of transportation advocates, who entirely favor the Expo Line, are also FOR something, and they deserve political representation and support just as did the last generation.
Work on the Expo Line is NOT done, it's NOT time to move on and wrap it up Expo Line planning, funding and construction, and with the legal expenses and hurdles over for the Authority it's time for it and Metro to create the first-rate Expo Line that we always wanted, and still do want, it to be.