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Derailing the Subway Myths

February 24, 2009


I like to get around by train whenever practical, and I’m also a proponent of making train travel a more viable option in Los Angeles. Fortunately, our current mayor has been a nominal supporter of building the much needed Purple Line from Wilshire/Western to Santa Monica. The “Subway to the Sea” was a major campaign promise during Tony V’s previous mayoral bid in 2005, and Subway plans over the past 4 years have made gradual progress, including the lifting of a federal subway funding ban and the passage of Measure R. Even though it appears Tony’s got a virtual lock on reelection, it was still a bit distressing for me to see other candidates spewing misinformation about the subway. Let the debunking begin.

“…The vital funds we need to get L.A. moving [should not be spent on the subway]”

Freeways, roads and car-oriented planning have proven not to be an effective solution to congestion. “HOT” lanes, toll lanes built on existing freeways, hold little promise for meaningful traffic relief unless you’re willing to part with ungodly sums of money.

It’s true that building subways won’t magically make congestion go away. But a properly constructed subway can provide a dense corridor with an anchor point for effective transportation, which also includes buses, cars, bikes, and (potentially) taxis. I know dozens of people who work on the Westside, absolutely hate the stress of commuting by car during rush hour, and would prefer to ride in on a subway if one existed.

“The only thing this proposal has going for it is alliteration. It would take too long, cost too much, and span just a few miles along one road in a city comprising 469 square miles.

The proposed subway route is roughly 12.5 miles long, and actually follows two roads. And while the city does indeed have an area of 469 square miles, some of those are covered by completely unpopulated mountain ranges, and others are Tujunga. This Google earth view shows how truly dense the entire Wilshire Corridor really is.

“Plus, when the Big One hits, who wants to be trapped 30 feet underground where hydrocarbons abound and exits do not?”

Believe it or not, the subway is actually one of the safest places to be during an earthquake. The Red Line suffered no damage during last year’s earthquake as well as during the ’94 Northridge quake. Other subway systems in earthquake prone areas have fared just as well; BART’s Transbay tunnel survived the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake while the road above collapsed. As it turns out, earthquakes don’t release their energy on underground trains, the waves are only felt closer to surface level. It’s the same principle that causes ocean waves to break only near the shore. Incidentally, freeways are one of the worst places to be during an earthquake.

And the subway is not filled with hydrocarbons. Most hydrocarbons are fossil fuels, and the subway is powered entirely by electricity. There may occasionally be chlorine in the subway, but not hydrocarbons.

“It would be nice if our current rail system reached the ocean. I like Pico or Venice Boulevard or along the 10 Freeway”

If the only goal of our rail system is to connect Downtown with the ocean, we don’t have to build any more lines – the Blue Line already connects with Long Beach, and while the ocean there is well hidden under the immense load of garbage washed out by the LA River, it’s still there. It’s silly to build a train just to go to the ocean, but the Wilshire route makes sense because it has high density along its entire length.

There isn’t money [to] get this project done. And it doesn’t do any good to have it partially completed.

First of all, funds have already been secured to build the subway to Westwood through Measure R – granted, this is using an extremely slow timeline, but the money has been reserved specifically for subway use. And even a partially completed subway will be quite useful – even a subway to Fairfax will serve a densely populated district of offices and apartments, as well as LACMA or the Page Museum.

I don’t think even the supporters of ‘Subway to the Sea’ say we are talking 25 years before we see this thing… I will be pushing for all the other more practical and realistic traffic congestion solutions.”

Let’s continue with this logic. Suppose you’re really hungry, but the nearest place to buy food is 100 miles away – the food is so far away that you might as well not eat at all, right?

It’s true that the current timetable for subway construction is slow. The next mayor should be doing everything in his power to speed the construction up. The subway should have been built 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that it’s shouldn’t be started on now.

Now, here’s Villaraigosa’s statement on the subway:

“A Subway to the Sea was one of my earliest campaign proposals, and under my administration, we have finally laid the foundation for the construction of this long-awaited project…

“Now that we have secured a local source of revenue, I intend to continue my work with officials in Sacramento and Washington to leverage more funding as soon as possible.

“I remain open to any of the routes currently under consideration by the MTA, with an emphasis on connecting the most people to as many jobs as possible.”

How nice that the guy who gets it is almost completely assured of being the next mayor. It almost makes me feel better about the dubious democratic nature of his prospective win.


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