Forget the monorail. LA needs real transit by Sepulveda Pass
Highway 405 through the Sepulveda Pass is one of the the most crowded corridors. For workers, students, and anyone else trying to get between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside during rush hour, the road is grueling, with cars plying the Santa Monica Mountains.
Unlike most congested urban Los Angeles routes, there is no alternative to public transit to sit still in traffic. Still. After years of discussions and plans, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to hire contractors next month to develop plans for either a metro or monorail line through the collar.
It’s arguably the biggest and most impactful transit project on the horizon for Los Angeles. It’s the most important missing link in the regional transportation system, and done right, it could enable the next generation of Angelenos to work, play and travel without a car.
So why are we even considering a monorail?
Of course, monorails were cutting edge transportation technology – 50 years ago. In 1968, Metro’s predecessor agency proposed a network of electrified trains on skyways. Sketches of the plan show trains that resemble Disneyland’s monorail entering elevated stations connected to offices by elevated walkways.
Nowadays, we mostly see monorails shuttling between tourists. amusement parks or airports, although the technology is used for public transport in China.
Supporters of a monorail argue that it could be built faster and more cheaply than a metro. It’s an argument for the opportunity, to get something, anything built – it doesn’t matter if it’s the right project. But Los Angeles has made this mistake before, sacrificing long-term user needs and the transit system for political expediency. This is one of the reasons you can’t take a direct train to LAX today.
And there is no guarantee that a monorail will be cheaper or easier to build than a metro. The proposal from LA SkyRail Express, a partnership that includes Chinese company BYD, puts the price at $ 6.1 billion. It’s unclear how much more it might cost to connect a monorail on the 405 with key destinations, like the UCLA campus.
Haven’t we learned the fallacy of putting train tracks in the middle of a highway? It is an unpleasant experience for passengers, who have to wait for their train on a noisy and muffled platform. And a monorail built on a 10+ lane highway surrounded by buffer zones and surface streets would be difficult for commuters to reach. The most efficient public transport lines drop passengers off close to their destination.
There is an understandable reluctance to tunnel into the Santa Monica Mountains instead of using the highway path through the Sepulveda Pass. It’s expensive. Estimated at $ 10.8 billion or more, it would be one of the costliest transit infrastructure projects in the country.
However, a metro would be a faster commute for passengers. It could stop at the UCLA campus and could connect to the D Line extension (formerly known as the Purple Line) currently under construction. Passengers could take a single train from downtown to the mid-San Fernando Valley. Metro couldn’t do this with a monorail, which wouldn’t fit into existing rail lines.
Several regional leaders have expressed skepticism about a monorail. Nonetheless, Metro’s board is expected to approve two deals to explore competing ideas: a $ 63.6 million contract with LA SkyRail Express for the monorail concept and a $ 69.9 million contract with Bechtel and its partners for the metro concept.
The idea of paying for pre-development plans for both a monorail and a metro is new. Metro chief executive Phil Washington wanted to shake up the agency’s usual project development process, which tends to suffer from delays and cost overruns. Metro decided to solicit ideas from the private sector on how best to build the Sepulveda Pass line, and the agency pledged to study two different modes of transportation. Competition between companies and fashions could help identify obstacles and opportunities early in the process – and perhaps save money and time.
It may make sense to pay more now for additional study and analysis to avoid pitfalls later. Still, as long as the monorail remains an option, there is a risk that political leaders in the region will be wooed by the opportunity and the shiny new object. We’d rather they take a long-term view: if LA is to invest billions of dollars to build transit lines for the next century, let’s build the fastest, most useful, and most user-friendly system possible. It’s the rail, not the monorail.