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Downtown L.A. Streetcares May Make A Comeback

By Aaron Blevins, 10/27/2011

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Welcome back, “yellow cars”.

It may take until 2015, but streetcars are slated to return to Los Angeles, where the mode of transportation, coined “yellow cars”, enjoyed high ridership in the 1950s.

A proposal for streetcars downtown is currently being considered. (photo courtesy of L.A. Streetcar Inc.)

Fueled by a public/private partnership, a more than $100 million project is in the works to bring the streetcars to downtown L.A. Planners are still determining the initial route, but have narrowed it down to two after starting with more than 60 possibilities. Regardless of where the route is, organizers expect it to bring hordes of economic development opportunities.

“It’s a lot of new development, a lot of new jobs,” said Eric Metz, an associate with Urban One, the project management company. “However you slice it, it’s a big development downtown.”

According to project documents, $1.1 billion in new development is expected, including $730 million in new residential construction, $210 million in new office construction and 9,300 new jobs.

The routes being studied include alignments on Figueroa Street, 11th Street, 9th Street, Olive Street, Grand Avenue and Broadway, among others. Metz said the project would likely use alignments that travel the historic streetcar lines.

He said the project has been in development for almost a decade, having spawned from the Bring Back Broadway initiative. Organizers with Bring Back Broadway cultivated the idea, Metz said, and downtown property owners formed LA Streetcar Inc. to facilitate the project.

“The streetcar is the main component of [Bring Back Broadway],” he said.

The cost of the project, which could range from $100 million to $125 million, depending on the route, will be paid through a public/private partnership, though that has yet to take form, Metz said. He said $10 million in redevelopment money will be used, and the federal government will also pitch in.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is conducting the environmental impact report, with help from consultant HDR Engineering. Metro project manager Laura Cornejo said the organization is looking at various criteria to determine a route. The next phase of the study will include more details as well as the benefits and challenges of building specific routes, she said, adding that Metro is pleased to be involved.

“It’s a great opportunity to partner with the city of Los Angeles and bring back a transit mode that once very prevalent downtown,” Cornejo said.

She said Metro is assuming that they will not be the operators once the system is up and running. Metz said organizers are not sure who will operate it, though it could be the city, Metro or a private entity.

He said the project has generated a lot of interest, and organizational meetings have been well-attended. Another update meeting has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 at Caltrans, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles. Metz said additional interest could eventually spur an expansion of the project beyond downtown, and that could be good news for fans of the old Fairfax Trolley.

“The hard thing is building the first alignment,” he added. “There’s going to be a very strong desire and demand to expand it out.”

Metz said there shouldn’t be additional safety concerns with the streetcars on the road. He said the streetcars are basically big busses that don’t move very fast, but they transport more people more efficiently. They will be connected to overhead catenary wires.

“It’s very sleek and attractive,” Metz said.

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