The Promise Of A Streetcar In LA Is Slowly Moving Forward


A Streetcar in Portland

When tourists think of LA, they often picture Hollywood or Venice Beach, and not the skyscrapers or bustle of downtown LA. Some may not even know that LA has a downtown, which serves as the central business district of the city, with more than 500,000 people coming to work Downtown each day. In addition to the business center, downtown LA is also the hub of the city’s Metro transit system and it freeway system. Downtown LA (DTLA) boundaries are carved out by the freeways it connects. DTLA has been undergoing a revitalization. Currently there are 50,000 residents living in DTLA, five times as many as a decade ago. In the not too distant future, DTLA will also hopefully have a streetcar to serve residents, workers and tourists who all use the area.

Historic Streetcars of the 1920's

Historically, during the 1920’s LA had a rail system that rivaled NYC as the most comprehensive in the U.S. At the time, downtown LA was a very popular place with large bank buildings, ornate theaters and fancy department stores. On Spring Street, trolleys, know as Red Cars once ferried people in and out of downtown. LA’s streetcar system then became a victim of the automobile industry and of post WWII suburbanization, some say the streetcars were victim of an intentionally devious plot to boost car sales by eliminating rail lines, as depicted in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Downtown LA had become a place where people drove in for business and drove out before it became dark.

The Resurrection of Downtown and Desire for A Streetcar

In 1999, the city of LA introduced an adaptive reuse plan, which provided developers with incentives to convert historic buildings into lofts, apartments and condominiums. It was in this same year that the Staples Center was built, bringing many sporting and other events to DTLA. Then in 2008, a movement to Bring Back Broadway began where efforts were made to bring nightlife and restore some of the old grand theaters on Broadway. A nonprofit, LA Streetcar Inc. was created.

Current Route, Design and Costs

When built the streetcar system will cover an area of four miles and serve to connect many diverse downtown neighborhoods and attractions, such as the Staples Center, the Jewelry District, the Financial District, Pershing Square, Little Tokyo, City Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Two possible routes are currently being considered under environmental review. The proposed route, the LPA (locally preferred alternative #7) would head south on Broadway and north on Figueroa and would seven days a week for 18 hours a day. The proposed route was chosen after much review and input at community meetings. Projected costs for the LA streetcar are between $107 and $125 million. Different designs are still being considered but the streetcar will likely be modeled after Portland or Seattle’s modern streetcars.


The Downtown L.A. Streetcar project is included in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) as one of the plans strategic initiatives. The project is approved by the FTA to advance into its formal environmental review and preliminary engineering. The initial completion for the project was scheduled for 2014, after two years of construction. Instead, the environmental review process is just starting and could take up to a year. The project’s next step is securing CEQA and NEPA environmental clearance. So the earliest completion date at this time, would be 2015.

Other Cities Streetcars Are Considering Streetcars

Many U.S. cities are currently considering streetcar systems in their transportation systems for a various benefits they provide. In Portland, when the streetcar system opened in 2001, areas where there were streetcar stops attracted investment and home prices were significantly higher than in neighborhoods further from the streetcars. The initial $60-Million investment for Portland’s streetcar system is estimated to have generated $2-Billion in economic development on and around the streetcar route. Streetcars have been an economic and job engine in Portland, Seattle and Tacoma, and are expected to do the same in Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Atlanta, where new streetcar lines are planned.

Studies Show the Streetcar System Would Bring Benefits

The Downtown LA streetcar will hopefully function as a true connector for the city’s urban core. In studies conducted last year, it was estimated the streetcar will generate 8,390 daily boardings and 9,300 new jobs. This analysis means the LA Streetcar is projected to have one of the highest opening ridership numbers in the country.The streetcar study also gave rosy forecasts of $1.1 billion in new development, $24.5 million in new annual tourism and consumer spending, and $47 million in new city revenue. But beyond the jobs and the new development that is often built around streetcar stops. Streetcars and their tracks have a permanence that send a signal that it is safe to live and play around downtown. This would allow Angelenos to once again take pride and to take the time to explore the heart of their city.

The Promise Of A Streetcar In LA Is Slowly Moving Forward
Two possible routes for the streetcar system are currently being considered under environmental review.

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