Debate: Should Leimert Village get its own subway stop?
The editorial board recently wrote that the MTA shouldn't upgrade its plans for its Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line to put the stretch through Park Mesa Heights below ground. It's just too expensive, the board argued, noting that the project's cost was already projected to overrun its budget. And while the board supported having a station closer to Leimert Park Village, it suggested moving the one planned for Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, rather than building an additional station. In Thursday's Op-Ed pages, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas puts forth a different argument. Here are the issues.
It is inconceivable to many of us who live, work and worship in South Los Angeles that the Crenshaw/LAX line would bypass the heart of the community by not having a station in the village. Rail stops have been shown to reinvigorate the neighborhoods in which they are placed. Just think about Hollywood and Highland, which was a blighted area before redevelopment money and a subway stop transformed it. Leimert Park deserves that kind of boost, and if the decision isn't made now, it will be too late.
The MTA's plan calls for an underground station near the shopping mall and bus stops at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, less than half a mile from the center of Leimert Park. Ridley-Thomas wants to build a second underground stop at Vernon Avenue, a little more than half a mile down Crenshaw, for about $120 million.
Rerouting part of the line underground
It would also be a mistake not to address in advance the potential traffic nightmare that would ensue if the line isn't put underground in Park Mesa Heights.
The Park Mesa Heights piece of the motion I wrote is easily understood. Without it, traffic will be unacceptably snarled in an already busy area.
[A]lthough the line could make it harder for cars and pedestrians to cross that part of Crenshaw, it will also make businesses there more accessible to transit users in the rest of Los Angeles, helping them attract significantly more customers.
[Note: Running the Park Mesa Heights portion of the line underground also addresses safety issues in a part of town with nearby schools and children crossing the street. But Ridley-Thomas didn't bring it up in his Op-Ed, so it's been left out of this debate.]
For generations, the residents of South L.A. have supported transit projects throughout the county. The community, for example, voted heavily in favor of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax that was levied in the county for transportation projects. Seeking a stop at Leimert Park and requesting that the Park Mesa stretch of the line be underground isn't asking for an advantage or a favor; it is simply asking for a fair share of available resources.
Ridley-Thomas argues that there are plenty of dollars available through Measure R, the sales-tax increment devoted to transportation projects, for both upgrades he's seeking. But if the MTA heads down that path, it should tread carefully. Shifting dollars from other corridors to Crenshaw/LAX would violate the spirit of the ballot measure and the MTA's master plan.
A station at Leimert Park Village would cost an estimated $120 million. It would be located, depending on where the entrance is built, somewhere between six-tenths and eight-tenths of a mile from the next closest station, which is planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the Crenshaw mall. The MTA says that its policy is that stations should be no closer than one mile apart.
It's not common for the MTA to build stations that close together, but it's hardly unprecedented. A bigger hurdle is the project's cost. Agency engineers are struggling to bring down the cost of the current design to meet the project's $1.7-billion budget, and they may have to pare or delay numerous projects if the state continues to have trouble issuing bonds to fund its share of the region's transportation projects.
An exception should be made in this case. For one thing, the money is available. An analysis by the MTA staff, completed last week, identified up to $2 billion in funds from low-priority maintenance and system enhancement projects that could be redirected to the Crenshaw/LAX line without affecting any new transit or highway projects.
The least expensive approach would be to move the planned station at King closer to Vernon. Ridley-Thomas makes an effective case for an additional station, but he should support it with a credible funding plan that doesn't advance his project at the expense of other communities' needs.
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / May 4, 2011
Graphic: Paul Duginski / Los Angeles Times