For a city that revolves around the automobile, it can be very difficult to get around town by car — and I’m not even talking about the traffic. I’m talking about decisions (or lack of them) made by our transportation officials over the years that have made it even harder to drive through the city. I have a series of proposals that I think will make our streets easier to transverse, as well as much safer. I will present them every now and then.
My first proposal is so simple that I’m stunned no one has done it — get rid of those unprotected mid-block crosswalks. These things are deathtraps. I can’t imagine the thought process behind putting a pedestrian crosswalk in the middle of a four lane street without a traffic light or a stop sign to protect walkers.
There was a story a few years ago of a driver hitting a couple of children using one of these crosswalks in Hancock Park. On countless occasions I have been driving in the right lane, with a car stopped in the left lane blocking my view of a pedestrian. Fortunately, I never came close to hitting anyone, but if I had been driving a little faster and a little more carelessly, there could have been a tragedy. I witnessed such a near-disaster — as I sat in a car in the left lane, the driver in the right lane, who was driving carelessly and too fast, had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a crosser.
Pedestrians don’t help matters, either. Angelenos are raised with the notion that walkers have he right of way. I often see people crossing the street without even looking at oncoming traffic. I make sure every car sees me as I run across the street when I use these crosswalks.
There is a very simple fix for this — install traffic lights at all of these crosswalks. These could be triggered by pedestrians — they would press the walk button, and the light would sync-up with the other traffic lights. Such lights are already in place on two parts of Fairfax — in Little Ethiopia and near Cantor’s.
Such a solution would make the streets safer for drivers and pedestrians. To me, this is just common sense.
In addition to being a great time-waster, YouTube is a treasure trove of old videos about Los Angeles. I will be featuring them from time to time. This one is a World War II era film called “Our Town Today,” highlighting the city’s war efforts, as well as a very crowded table of people trying to solve the city’s problems:
As a guy who likes history and architecture, I love before and after photos, seeing how areas have changed over the years. I found this really great website called Yesterday LA, which promises “a tour of LA through vintage postcards.” It does not disappoint. I focused on Miracle Mile because that is my neighborhood. I like when the “after” photos are taken in virtually the exact same spot as the “before” photos, so I tried to do just that.
Looking east on Wilshire on the north corner of Curson Ave, right near the La Brea Tar Pits:
Looking east on Wilshire on the south corner of Curson Ave:
Looking east on Wilshire on the north side between Curson Ave and Masselin Ave:
Looking east on Wilshire on the median at Hauser Blvd:
Looking east on Wilshire on the north corner of Burnside Ave:
One of the first things I noticed about my new Miracle Mile neighborhood when I moved here in June was all of the food trucks that lined Wilshire Boulevard at lunchtime. There were at least ten every day. It was a great thing — people who worked in the office buildings could just step to the curb and get good food at a reasonable price.
As the months went on, I noticed fewer and fewer trucks, and more cars parked in the spaces that the trucks used to occupy. I didn’t think anything nefarious was going on until one day I saw fliers on each of the cars. They said that the cars belonged to the restaurants across the street in Museum Square, and that they were parked there every morning so the food trucks could not. I took a closer look at the cars. For lack of a better word, they were all pieces of crap. They were from the 1990s, all with sun-bleached hoods and roofs, probably picked up by the restaurants for a few hundred dollars. They also all had tickets on them.
I did a little research, and indeed, they fliers were correct. The restaurants were trying to stem the business they were losing to the trucks by parking cars there, so the trucks could not. They apparently don’t care about the cost of the tickets (my estimate — around $1000 per day, based on 18 cars at $50 per ticket), figuring they are losing more than that from the trucks.
Sadly, it appears the restaurants have won the battle. The trucks now park unmolested a few blocks east. But they have the last laugh — while they are probably making just as much money as before, the restaurants are still racking up the tickets. However, every now and then a truck manages to squeeze in between the cars in the old location.
Check out this video of the operation:
It doesn’t seem fair that the restaurants have forced the trucks away, but as long as the restaurants are paying their tickets, they are not doing any wrong, legally anyway. Morally it’s a different story.
Right now it is the Wild West for food trucks — they are no regulations at all. The city is working on regulating the trucks, which the folks at the food truck association are actually in favor of. That’s smart of them. I’m sure those regulations will include where they can legally park, and the trucks need that.
I wonder if they could set up special food truck zones. Actually, the spot on Wilshire where the trucks used to park is perfect for that. It is in front of two office buildings that provide parking for guests. And there is plenty of street parking elsewhere in the area. Perhaps it could be “Food Truck Parking Only” from 11am-2pm or something like that. There are probably plenty of areas in the city where that could be done.
But what about those nearby restaurants? Don’t they deserve some protection from the trucks taking their business? Well, I think if they serve good food at good prices (which some people say they do not), they’ll be fine. Two businesses there have already failed, soon to be replaced with a Starbucks and a hamburger joint. I’m sure they will do well whether the trucks are there or not. And the trucks certainly deserve to be there.
A couple of years ago Los Angeles magazine held an NCAA-like bracket competition to determine what readers thought the best thing about Los Angeles was. In a brilliant marketing move, Amoeba Records basically hijacked the contest and urged people to vote for it. It won by a landslide. While Amoeba is indeed a good store, a San Francisco-based used cd/dvd store is clearly not the best thing about our city. I’ve come up with my Top 10 list, presented in no particular order. What do you think?
Is there any other city in the world that has the name of its most famous neighborhood on a mountain, towering over everything? It makes me happy every time I see it. I like how it is visible from so many different places around town. Not to brag or anything, but this is the view from my balcony. It makes me smile every morning.
To me, palm trees symbolize Southern California more than anything else. These streets lined with palm trees, and fortunately there are hundreds all over town, are simply stunning.
Ah, the beach. With miles and miles of coast, no beach ever seems crowded. It’s nice that you can be at the beach from anywhere in the city is around 20 minutes (assuming there’s no traffic, of course!).
Walk of Fame
I don’t know about you, but I can’t walk down Hollywood Boulevard with my head up — I am constantly looking down at the stars. I don’t care if I look like a tourist. It’s just really cool. It always bothered me that Abbott and Costello are not next to each other, however.
I know a lot of people are not fans of mid-century architecture, but I am. Buildings in LA range from classic houses like this one (Schindler’s Buck House on 8th Street), to those cool coffee shops, bowling alleys and car washes, to “dingbat” apartments to office towers. Built forty or fifty years ago, they symbolized the new spirit of Los Angeles, and they still do.
It’s what we all talk about, what everyone else in the rest of the country envies about us. I don’t know about you, but when winter storms are sweeping the North and East and we are basking in sunny, 75 degree weather, I feel really good.
The hills just rise out of the ground, surrounding us with their beauty, setting a boundary for a city that seems to go on forever. This particular view, one of my favorites in the city, is from Pan Pacific Park.
Old Food Stands
If Los Angeles has a signature food, it would be the burgers and hot dogs we get from classic old food stands scattered throughout the city. Pink’s of course is the most legendary. But there are many, many others. Be sure to check out Molly’s on Vine near Hollywood Blvd. After 81 years, it is set to close in a few months to make way for an office tower.
Speaking of food, it doesn’t get much better than the Farmers Market. Up until a few months ago, I lived across the street from there for more than four years. The place was pretty much my refrigerator! And in a city where no one walks and people protect their privacy, it’s nice to walk around there and just be around other people.
Here’s the story I heard — the owner of the house put up a statue of David. His neighbors got angry, so he put up 19 more. Whenever someone comes to visit me, I always take them there just to see their expressions. I am never disappointed. Make sure you go there (the corner of 3rd St. and Muirfeld Road in Hancock Park) during the holiday season. The owner puts Santa hats on the statues among other over-the-top decorations.
As I mentioned in my previous post about a monorail system for Los Angeles, connecting the Valley to the system is crucial. I found this video that advocates building a monorail in the Los Angeles River. It sounds ridiculous, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The right-of-way is already there, there will be no disruption in building it, and it goes all the way through the Valley, past downtown, and down to Long Beach. Watch and enjoy:
Yes, monorails. I have been obsessed with monorails since I road the one at Disney World as a kid. A recent trip to Seattle convinced me that they are a feasible option for mass transit. I read somewhere that every vision of the future included monorails zipping high above the ground. The future should be now in Los Angeles.
We actually would have already had a monorail system if not for an idiotic decision back in 1963. The fine website The Monorail Society writes:
The Alweg Monorail Company, which had gained world-wide recognition for its demonstration monorail at the 1962 Seattle Century 21 Exposition, was looking to establish a major foothold in the world of urban rail transit. “We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles.” So wrote Sixten Holmquist, then President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems in his June 4, 1963 letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He went on to detail the financing aspect, “this is a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues.” The entire system came to $105,275,000, “plus any applicable sales tax.” Alweg also agreed to conduct feasibility studies for expansion of the system over the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan area if the offer was accepted.
So basically this company was going to pay for the monorail itself, and then get paid back through the revenue it generated. How could the city say no to such a virtually risk-free offer? Well, the website reports that LA politicians were excited, that is until Standard Oil got involved. Suddenly, support dried up — another example of automobile interests winning out over public transportation in our city.
This is an artist’s rendering of what the stations would have looked like:
Pretty cool stuff. And it could have been ours, for free. Undoubtedly, had the initial lines been built, more would have followed, so by now we would have an extensive system of monorails serving every corner of the city. What a missed opportunity.
But it’s not too late to correct that mistake. We should immediately stop digging subways and building light rail (although they might as well continue with the Expo Line to Santa Monica), and begin focusing on monorails.
Monrails are perfect for our climate. Subways are great for cold-climate cities like New York, Montreal, Moscow, etc. But there’s no need for Angelenos to go underground and escape the weather to wait for a train. Why wouldn’t we want to stand on a platform above the street, and be out in the glorious sun?
Then there is the construction. Digging up a street and putting a subway tube underneath is a lot of work, and would severely disrupt our already jammed-packed street grid. Sure, installing monorail supports would close off some streets, but it would take much less time to put the supports in place than digging up a street.
Conversely, the cost would be would be less. The Wilshire subway is estimated to cost anywhere from $4 billion to $9 billion dollars. I have no idea how much a monorail down Wilshire would cost (one that extends all the way to the ocean, by the way), but I imagine it would be far, far less than the subway.
Opponents might say, “I don’t want our streets cluttered up with ugly train tracks, blocking the light from the street.” That won’t happen. Those people might be thinking of the elevated subway tracks of such cities as Chicago, where the streets below are dark and univiting. Monorails are not like trains — they run on just one rail (hence the name), so the tracks are much thinner. We would have two lean tracks (for one train running in each direction) overhead. They will not block the sun.
Here are a couple of views of the Seattle monorail:
In this section, the supports are actually on the sidewalk:
So here is my plan for Los Angeles. I would have one monorail running the length of Pico, from downtown to the ocean. This would service Staples Center, the convention center, and the possible new downtown football stadium so people would not have to drive.
Another line would run the length of Wilshire. Still another would begin at Union Station, running up Sunset. That line could have a detour into Dodger Stadium that the train would take on game days. Other days it would continue straight. That line would then turn onto Santa Monica where it begins at Sunset Junction. That train would run to the ocean, with a detour into Century City.
But those are only the east-west lines. This system would be useless without north-south connections. I would run monorails on Vermont, Western, La Brea, and La Cienega, with transfers to the east-west lines. The La Brea line would also run through LAX, so no more driving or begging friends for a lift to the airport!
I’m not forgetting the Valley. A monorail could be run in — wait for it — the Los Angeles River! My next post will feature a video of how simply it could be done.
These plans would be modified, of course. Monorails running on Wilshire and Santa Monica might be redundant after the two streets meet in Beverly Hills, so maybe the Santa Monica line ends in Century City. Maybe a Vermont line is not needed because of the existing subway. Maybe a limited line is needed for tourists on Hollywood Blvd. And maybe lines are needed on other streets that have concentrated populations. The transportation experts who know way more than I do would make those decisions.
But this is the basic plan. It would be cost-effective and bring our city into a new era. The Wilshire subway that dead ends at the Veterans Hospital in Westwood is slated to be complete in 2036. That’s just one tunnel. I’ll bet this extensive system can be up and running many years sooner than that.
Then there is the coolness factor. Monorails just look cool — plain and simple. They are also energy-efficient and quiet.
As Ray Bradbury wrote more than a decade ago lamenting that fateful decision in 1963:
On New Years Day 2001, let us pour 10,000 tons of cement into our never-should-have-been-started, never-to-be-finished subway, for final rites. Its concept was always insane, its possible fares preposterous. Even if it were finished and opened, no one could afford to use it. So kill the subway and telephone Alweg Monorail to accept their offer, made 30 years ago, to erect 12 crosstown monorails–free, gratis–if we let them run the traffic. I was there the afternoon our supervisors rejected that splendid offer, and I was thrown out of the meeting for making impolite noises… Subways are Forest Lawn extensions. Let’s bury our dead MTA and get on with life.
After decades of debate, last week the MTA finally chose a route for the long awaited and much heralded “Subway-to-the-Sea.” One problem (well, there are many, many problems) is that the subway doesn’t go to the sea at all. It dead ends at the Veterans Hospital in Westwood.
The board voted unanimously to run the line on Wilshire, downtown to the hospital, with a stop somewhere in Century City. And that’s it.
The board did consider a route that would extend the subway all the way to Santa Monica, but ultimately decided it wasn’t “cost effective” enough. The same goes for a spur that would have taken a detour through West Hollywood.
The estimated cost of this project is $4.36 billion. But that’s in 2009 dollars. The price will surely go up depending on when construction starts, and how long it takes. Right now the MTA is looking at 2013 to break ground. When it’s all said and done, the subway could wind up costing upwards of $9 billion. The money comes from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase we approved in 2008.
“We’ve discussed the subway as I understand it for 50 years,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also a member of the MTA board. “A lot has been said that this project will never happen. And now the only question is when.”
Ah, when. That is the magic question. The subway will open in three phases — the first one to Fairfax in 2019, the second one to Century City in 2026, and finally in Westwood in 2036. That’s 25 years! However, if additional federal loans and other financing can be obtained, a plan called the 30/10 Initiative to speed the construction of Measure R projects, the entire subway would be built at once and would open to Westwood in 2022. Even still, a very, very long time for a subway that basically goes nowhere.
Aside from the subway not extending to its natural conclusion, the main issue with this line is that is is too limited. The only people who will take this subway are those who live within a few blocks of Wilshire. That is a very small segment of the Los Angeles population. No one is going to drive to take the subway. Aside from the fact there is no place to park all day, once people are in their car, they tend to drive the rest of the way.
Eliminating the West Hollywood spur was shortsighted. That would have been a crucial north-south connection to what is essentially an east-west route. That would have opened up ridership to hundreds of thousands of more people.
If this subway line is part of an extensive system that will eventually criss-cross the entire city, then fine, build it. But what are the odds of that? It’s going to take 25 years to build this one subway tunnel. How long would it take to build a system that would reach everybody? 100 years? By then we’ll all have jetpacks (although shouldn’t we have them already? It’s 2010, for crying out loud!).
I am not against public transportation. Every great city has it. Building subways is just the wrong way to go for Los Angeles. So what’s the right way? More buses? No, that will just clog up the streets more. Light rail? No, cars and trains shouldn’t share the road. I have a simple solution that can be built quickly and much cheaper than digging up our streets. A solution that could have an extensive system in place in our lifetime. I’ll provide the details in my next post, but it’s so simple, all you need is one word — one rail, actually — monorails.