Last year, a proposal to improve a Metro-owned right-of-way running through South Los Angeles made a major jump forward when Metro received $15 million in federal grants to begin converting the blighted corridor into an active transportation path stretching from the Crenshaw Line out to the Los Angeles River. The news was welcomed by the Chair of Metro’s Board of Directors, Mark Ridley-Thomas, in whose County Supervisorial district the new active transportation path will be located. However, it was received somewhat more roughly by transit activists, some of whom felt that even a temporary improvement to the corridor would jeopardize its future use for rail transit. I, for one, am excited that South L.A., so often neglected, misunderstood and ignored, is set to receive the rail-to-river pathway that residents have identified as a genuine need.
If one wants a glimpse into the extent that South Los Angeles is generally ignored by its electeds, one need only look at the Measure R2 priorities recommended by the “Central Cities” Council of Governments (which is, after all, just Eric Garcetti’s City Hall). Despite the studies that have been completed on the Harbor Subdivision, and despite that a subway down Vermont appears in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan, Garcetti has prioritized extending the Crenshaw line north up to Hollywood/Highland station, and funding the Downtown streetcar project. Of the remaining priorities, most are citywide initiatives that appear to amount to a siphoning of funds away from Central and South Los Angeles by the San Fernando Valley and Westside. South L.A. in particular appears to get very little, not even a recommendation to fund the shortfall in the rail-to-river path project.
There is no reason that this community should be forced to be patient with an unmaintained rail corridor for decades until Metro gets around to establishing service on Slauson, but, to be sure, there is also no reason that Metro actually should wait decades to do so. This is a corridor primed for rail service, that would serve existing local need, improve regional mobility, and that could be had for relatively cheap. By all indications, though, it has been shunted down into the lowest ring of priorities, and likely on the strength of some more outdated SCAG analyses.
The Harbor Subdivision ROW snakes from Union Station to LAX and back again, ending deep in the South Bay. A section of the ROW is already being used by the Green Line and the portion of the Crenshaw Line from Hyde Park south to the Green Line will utilize the ROW as well. In 2009, SCAG studied the entirety of the corridor, focusing on its potential as a means of connecting DTLA and the airport by regional or express rail. The South L.A. community rejected the non-local options, as well they should have. The regional and express options, if they had gone forward, would have turned their back on a transit-dependent population in order to privilege use of the system by South Bay Commuters and tourists. 200,000 people live within a mile of the Slauson corridor of the Harbor Subdivision, extending from the Florence/West station of the Crenshaw Line to the Slauson station of the Blue Line. Many of those residents, as SCAG and Metro noted, are already users of public transportation, and the 5.2 mile corridor runs through some of the densest neighborhoods in the county.
Here’s a close-up. The Crenshaw Line appears in pink and the Alameda option of the WSAB is shown in light green. The dashed line is the path that a Slauson LRT through South L.A. would follow. It would share tracks with the Crenshaw Line from Aviation/Century to Florence/West, at which point the Slauson Line would follow the Harbor Subdivision northeast to Slauson Avenue.From there it could travel east, primarily at-grade with targeted grade separations, before joining up with the Blue and WSAB lines at Long Beach Avenue, and following the WSAB tracks through DTLA to Union Station.
Even as local light rail service, the benefits would be pronounced. With 5 miles of track along existing ROW, we would serve a corridor of high need, provide connections between 3 rail lines (and the Silver Line) and vastly improve the connection between downtown and the airport. Once the regional connector is completed, travel from the Union Station hub to LAX will involve taking the Blue Line to the Green Line and then transferring to the People Mover. Cut-throughs using the WSAB, or the current Expo and Crenshaw Lines may ultimately prove to be faster, but they would also bring the trip up to four transfers. Taking the Slauson Line from Union Station to LAX, by contrast would be a two seat ride, with only a transfer to the LAX People Mover at 96th/Century station.
It is worth noting that in the Harbor Sub alternatives analysis, SCAG recommended fully eliminating an option that would involve interlining with the Blue Line and then running up Alameda to Union Station. This was due to a number of factors, primarily the lack of capacity at both Little Tokyo station and the Gold Line crossing of the 101 freeway. Little Tokyo station is now in the process of being relocated underground as part of the Regional Connector project, and just last year Metro’s WSAB Technical Refinement study proposed a nearly identical alignment for that line as the one that SCAG eliminated for the Harbor Subdivision. While the route hasn’t been fully refined yet, it would involve a separate crossing of the 101 and an aerial station above the new Little Tokyo station. SCAG’s analysis should be taken back into consideration. The Union Station connection that they dismissed outright is about to be considered for a Measure R funded line, and the potential for interlining the two exists.
One consideration would be that the existing Blue Line Slauson station (which is south of Slauson Ave) would need to be moved to the north side of the intersection. This may be necessary even if the WSAB alone is constructed. If the Slauson Line were constructed, the station at Slauson/Long Beach would become an important focal point of travel in and through South Los Angeles. Reconstruction of the station would offer the opportunity to improve the functionality of junction and to provide extra amenities for the high transfer volume that would occur there. In the picture below, the Blue Line Slauson station is elevated on the south side of the street. The rail running from the foreground is the Harbor Subdivision ROW track, and the at-grade crossing parallel to the Blue Line is being studied for use by the West Santa Ana Branch project.
The rail-to-river corridor is a good project that will provide safe active transit space in an area where that is an asset in short supply. Metro’s own design criteria for alternate uses on its ROWs mandate that they preserve the capacity for future transit usage. This could amount to putting in place temporary materials, with the underlying assumption that a Slauson Light Rail project would result in tearing them out. But again, this would be unfair to the community, which would be made to choose between two vital assets. While the feasibility of building the Slauson Line is not endangered by the rail-to-river project, nor by its exclusion from Measure R2, we are missing out on a perfect opportunity to concert our efforts. Rail-to-river funding could be apportioned out of funding for the Slauson line, and designed in such a way that they could coexist. We will know in the coming weeks whether or not the Slauson Line remains on Metro’s radar.