CITY ON THE MOVE
What will L.A. transit be like when the Olympics arrive in 2028?
As the 1984 Summer Olympics approached, few questions loomed larger in Los Angeles than traffic.
The region, a rail transit dead zone, was already notorious for gridlock. Southern California’s extensive streetcar network, once the largest in the world, had been ripped out decades earlier. And the ribbon-cutting on the first modern rail line was still six years away.
But for all the anxiety about apocalyptic congestion, traffic during the 1984 Olympics was painless, thanks to a vast public effort to reduce congestion. Angelenos telecommuted or worked flexible schedules, public transit agencies ran an extensive network of shuttles, and trucking companies changed their delivery schedules to avoid peak hours.
The 2028 Olympics will arrive in a changed region, three decades into an ambitious era of rail expansion. The Metro passenger rail network is now 105 miles long, linking the beaches of Santa Monica and Long Beach to the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. Six counties are now connected by more than 500 miles of Metrolink commuter rail.
A sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in November will fund another massive transit expansion, enhancing bus service and bringing rail lines to the Sepulveda Pass, the San Fernando Valley and cities southeast of downtown.
“In 1984, we had bupkes in terms of rail,” said Dave Sotero of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “Now we’re going gangbusters.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said rail transit will be key to avoiding gridlock during the 2028 Olympics. By then, the county’s population is expected to near 11 million, or about 36% higher than in 1984.
Many of the key Olympic event locations — USC, downtown and Santa Monica — are already connected to the Metro rail network. By 2028, stations are slated to open within a mile of several more venues, including UCLA and Inglewood. Other projects in the works are aimed at improving rail travel for Angelenos and out-oftown visitors.
Here’s a look at three rail projects that officials say will enhance the region’s transit network before the 2028 Olympics:
Seamless trip through downtown
A 1,000-ton German boring machine known as “Angeli” is churning
eastward beneath downtown, digging twin tunnels aimed at addressing one of the Metro system’s most obvious flaws: Any light-rail trip that passes through downtown requires at least two transfers.
The $1.75-billion tunneling project, known as the Regional Connector, will reorganize the Blue, Expo and Gold lines into two lines that will connect Long Beach to Azusa and East Los Angeles to Santa Monica.
Currently, riders have to board the Red or Purple Line subways to bridge the gap between Union Station and a transit hub on 7th Street on the western edge of the central city. The project will provide a oneseat ride for passengers whose trips cross through downtown.
The Regional Connector should smooth travel for crowds watching beach volleyball in Santa Monica, water sports in Long Beach or the 26 Olympic and Paralympic events downtown, officials said.
Though the Regional Connector promises seamless travel, its construction has been anything but. Officials have grappled with schedule and budget woes as costs for utility line relocation soared. The opening date has shifted later, to 2021, and the budget has risen 28% above estimates.
Rail to the airport
The next light-rail line scheduled to open in Los Angeles County will run south from the Expo Line through Leimert Park, Inglewood and El Segundo. The 8.5mile route, known as the Crenshaw Line, is slated to open in 2019.
But Angelenos will have to wait five additional years for the most anticipated part of the line: A rail connection to Los Angeles International Airport.
A new station at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard is being designed to address one of Southern California’s most infamous planning problems.
By 2025 or so, travelers and airport workers will be able to step off the Crenshaw Line a mile and a half east of LAX and board a smaller, automated train that will shuttle between a consolidated car-rental facility, a ground transportation hub and the terminal area.
The aerial train, which transportation officials call an “automated people mover,” is expected to cost about $1.5 billion and will be funded by the city’s airport department.
The Crenshaw Line is funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects that county voters approved in 2008.
West L.A. subway
The Purple Line subway will shave the trip from the Westside to downtown Los Angeles to half an hour and is key to the region’s Olympics bid.
Transportation officials have vowed to finish the line 11 years early — just six weeks before the 2024 Olympics. (“If it doesn’t happen before 2024, you can fire me,” Metro Chief Executive Phil Washington said earlier this year.)
The 2028 Olympics will provide four years of breathing room for an agency that often struggles to open major projects on time.
Metro will open the Purple Line to the Westside in three phases: from the current terminus in Koreatown to the Miracle Mile by 2023; to Century City in 2025; and the final phase, to West L.A., sometime before 2028. The project is currently ahead of schedule, officials say.
Transportation officials are now concerned about President Trump’s proposed budget, which axed the program that would fund the Purple Line’s third phase. They fear it will be difficult to meet the 2028 deadline if Congress doesn’t approve a funding agreement within the next year.
A Senate committee passed a bill in July that restored the grant program that would fund the Purple Line, but the proposal still needs support from the full Senate and the House of Representatives.
Still, officials are optimistic. Metro has secured three packages of grants and low-interest loans for transit since the Republicans regained control of the Senate in 2010: $830 million for the Regional Connector and a combined $3.7 billion for the first two phases of the Purple Line.
An Olympic legacy
Remnants of Southern California’s Olympics years still linger across the region.
The most visible reminder of the 1932 Games appears on street signs across the city. Olympic Boulevard, a thoroughfare formerly known as 10th Street, was renamed in 1929.
In 1984, the Olympics provided the ultimate test for a suite of new transportation technologies The Times described as a “panoply of Space Age electronic gadgets.”
Those tools — including sensors embedded in the street, meters on freeway onramps and video cameras to capture traffic flow — later became ubiquitous.
Traffic during the 1984 Olympics was famously light, in part because of the scare tactics that officials used to warn commuters off the freeways. The same strategies formed the playbook for another potential traffic apocalypse a generation later: Carmageddon.
City engineers also connected a handful of intersections near the Coliseum to each other by remote control, theorizing that traffic signals that could talk to each other could move traffic more efficiently.
After the Olympics ended, the traffic light synchronization project plodded on. Whenever money became available, engineers connected more signals to a central computer system housed beneath City Hall in a space that was formerly a nuclear bunker.
The last of the city’s 4,398 traffic signals was synchronized in 2013, 29 years after the Olympics.
WORKERS prepare for the machine known as “Angeli” to break through a dirt wall at the Grand Avenue Arts/Bunker Hill Station.
FOR ALL the anxiety about congestion, traffic during the 1984 Olympics was painless. Angelenos worked f lexible schedules, transit agencies ran a large network of shuttles, and truckers changed their delivery times.
CARL LEWIS, a multiple gold medalist in track and field at the 1984 Olympics, joins city officials at a news conference welcoming the Games back to Los Angeles.