A subway on Vermont? Metro is considering it

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Metro is studying several tantalizing options to bring a new rail line to a 9-mile stretch of Vermont Avenue, from Koreatown to the 105 Freeway.

Three of the options—presented publicly for the first time Thursday—involve building a subway underneath the boulevard, the second busiest transit corridor in Los Angeles County.

Metro already plans to open a bus rapid transit line on Vermont Avenue by 2028. That line is estimated to draw 75,000 boardings each day—more than any of LA’s existing light rail lines.

Metro staffers say a rail line on Vermont could accommodate more passengers than BRT.

The agency is on a rail construction binge around Los Angeles, building new lines through Crenshaw, the Westside, and Downtown. In the coming years, Metro will start work on projects in the San Fernando Valley, through the Sepulveda Pass, and from Downtown LA to the Orange County border.

A preliminary map of the Vermont BRT line, and its potential stations.
Via Metro

For now, rail on Vermont is a longterm project. It’s sticking with BRT in the short-term. The bus rapid transit line would run for 12.4 miles, from Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz to 120th Street in unincorporated Athens.

Buses already run on Vermont; the two primary lines average about 45,000 boardings daily, just a few thousand less than the Gold Line light rail. But the buses travel in the same lanes as cars and are some of the slowest in the area thanks to persistent gridlock.

BRT buses would move quicker, because they get their own dedicated lanes. And, BRT boarding takes less time, because passengers pay fares before stepping onto the bus, and they queue up at dedicated, rail-like stations.

Metro doesn’t have any funding lined up for Vermont rail line, and staffers say a rail line on Vermont south of Wilshire probably wouldn’t arrive until the late 2060s (though Metro has been known to accelerate project construction schedules).

But it is studying rail options right now to make sure any structures constructed for the near-term BRT project wouldn’t conflict with any needed for future rail service.

Over the next few months, Metro staffers will whittle down six rail options to three, and continue to refine the BRT plans with the corridor’s future conversion to rail in mind.

By mid-2019, the agency plans to start environmental review of the Vermont Transit Corridor, which very likely could mean studying both BRT and rail.

The options

There are a total of six rail options right now, and half of them are heavy rail, i.e. subway.

This concept would fully separate the North/South Red Line from the East/West Purple Line.

One of these would fully separate the Red and Purple lines, and create two distinct high-capacity rail transit corridors for Los Angeles. If this option were to be selected and completed, the Red Line would become a north-south route from North Hollywood to the Green Line, complimenting the Purple Line’s east-west route from Brentwood to Downtown LA (and maybe beyond).

Metro staffers say that rebuilding the junction between the Red and Purple lines at Wilshire/Vermont is possible. But it would likely mean a year or more of poor service on both the Red and Purple lines.

They have another option that leaves the Red and Purple Lines in their current configuration, and builds a new subway line south from Wilshire to the Green Line, with a transfer point at Wilshire/Vermont.

The third heavy rail option would link the Westside Subway and the proposed South Vermont extension into one line. Under this configuration, trains traveling east along Wilshire could travel either straight to Downtown, or turn south at Vermont without making passengers transfer.

That option would mean the Red Line remains a one-seat ride from North Hollywood to Downtown LA, similar to how passengers on the new line would be able to ride from USC to UCLA without transferring.

That option would not preclude service between West LA and Downtown along the Wilshire corridor.

Two other options involve configurations of light rail on Vermont. One would run in the center of the street (potentially underground in some spots); the other would run along the street’s curb.

The final option would be a curb-running streetcar. Instead of operating multi-car trains, this option would likely involve single-car streetcars running at a high-frequency, similar to San Francisco’s F Market streetcar, but curbside.

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