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A Cost-Benefit Analysis Of Building A Subway Along Wilshire Boulevard

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I. Description of Wilshire Blvd

In every city, there are always streets or main avenues that are considered the most populated or crucial to public transportation. Wilshire Boulevard has been considered the backbone of Los Angeles, or even the "Fifth Avenue of the West":

(Figure 1: the plan for Wilshire in the early 1900's)

It is one of the most traveled boulevards in California, running 16 miles from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles east to west and ending at Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. Wilshire Boulevard connects five of Los Angeles' major business districts, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, and consists of at least three famous "miles": Miracle Mile, the stretch between Fairfax and La Brea, Park Mile, and Millionaire's Mile. Its importance to multiple portions of the community lends to its width, which stretches to at least 4 lanes all along the boulevard, with its widest portions being in Westwood and Holmby Hills. Two of its intersections, at Westwood and Veteran (see fig. B), are considered the busiest in Los Angeles. For all these reasons, Wilshire is fundamental to connecting the West Side of Los Angeles to the East "downtown". At the same time, it is one of the most congested and delayed streets of all Los Angeles.

II. History of Wilshire Blvd

One of the largest contributing factors to Wilshire's present-day traffic lies in the history and approach to transportation in the twentieth century, beginning with the advent of the automobile and the streetcar.

(Figure 2: Streetcar lines extended well over the Los Angeles County)

Streetcars were beneficial to poorer neighborhoods as the first mode of public transit in the 1940's, but in those days of cheap gasoline and wide-open streets, it made more sense to drive your own car. As a result, the demand for streetcars was weak, the companies leaked money and one by one they folded. By 1961, the last streetcar line, the Long Beach Red Car, was no longer in operation.

(Figure 3: 1961-The last Red Car train)

Generally, streetcar lines were seen as hindrances to merchants and other cars on the road, and Wilshire Boulevard was no exception. Even now, recommendations have been made to convert side lanes into bus-only lanes, which have been met by heavy opposition by people from the commercial and residential districts that have developed along the street.

With the advent of the 60's came not only the demise of the last streetcar line, but also the Watts Riots and consequently, the first hint of transit racism. Without service to the less privileged, South Central Los Angeles became embittered by the meager public transportation services and the assumption in California that all households could afford automobiles. The Watts Riots were the first racial and class disruptions of the 1960's:

"one of the chief byproducts of the unrest was the embrace by the wealthy and white middle class of the city's de facto segregation. Whether it's called NIMBYism, racism, or neighborhood preservation, a lot of people were in no mood after the riots to make it easy to come to the Westside from East and South L.A...against a backdrop of riots in 100 cities, the hapless Rapid Transit District (RTD) tried to sell a target for more culture clashes: an ambitious $2.5 billion plan for a new mass-transit system..."The Hancock Park people were mortified that the same population that rioted in 1965 could come and have immediate access to their neighborhood," said James Watt McCormick of the Coalition for Rapid Transit, a subway advocacy group. "The imagery used at the time was the guy hopping off the subway and grabbing your TV out of your house and disappearing on the subway." (Glaser)

Though race and class biases remained large concerns in people's minds, Southern California finally recognized its desperate need for a rail system in the 1980's. Los Angeles County voters passed Proposition A in 1980, which detailed a half-cent sales tax to pay for a rail system.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority used this tax to improve connections to South Central; in 1980, County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn pushed to build the first light rail, the Blue Line, which connected Watts to Downtown and Long Beach and was completed in 1990. In 1995, the Green Line, which connected Watts to Redondo Beach and Norwalk, was finished, and South L.A. has since had much better access and mobility to the rest of Los Angeles.

(Figure 4: present-day Green Line)

However, West Los Angeles, which contained several large employment centers, remained unconnected due to political legislation, which was drawn up as a result of previous race and class fears. The 1980 proposal included a subway along Wilshire Boulevard that would be the system's backbone, but the actual line that was built turns away from Wilshire east of downtown and heads North towards Hollywood and San Fernando Valley. (Kasindorf) The detour from the original plan was a result of the March 25th, 1985 methane explosion at the Ross Dress-for-Less store on Wilshire. The Los Angeles City Council had a task force investigate and identify two methane risk zones.

On June 14, 1985, Congressman Henry Waxman proposed an amendment to the authorization of funding for the subway provided that first, tunneling didn't occur in risk areas designated by the task force. Second, the city council transportation committee had to have a panel review the safety of the subway system plan. They needed to build around the western-lying risk areas, and "the southern detour fizzled because engineers discovered hydrogen sulfide underground, a truly toxic gas that escapes from old oil wells. Barred from Waxman's district, the Red Line made it only as far west as Western." (Berkowitz) There have been accusations that Waxman was serving his district neighborhoods' remaining wariness of other communities, but regardless of Waxman's motives, the legislation was upheld and a subway was never built along Wilshire Boulevard further than Western (see figure C).

III. Plans for Wilshire Blvd

However, as the Los Angeles population boomed, so did cars and the need for transit. The political climate began changing, and Waxman's neighborhoods, Holmby Hills and Hancock Park's concerns about minority "invasions" died down as their concerns about gridlock increased (see

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