LARRY KANTER Staff Reporter
Every evening at about 6, Kim Culmone, a downtown L.A. textile designer, climbs into her Mitsubishi Mirage and merges onto the southbound Harbor Freeway, en route to her home in Brentwood.
Like thousands of other downtown commuters, she usually finds herself stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
So it's no surprise that Culmone is more than a little worried about what a new downtown sports arena and entertainment complex would do to her afternoon commute.
"There are so many people (downtown) already," she said. "It seems ridiculous that we're going to try and cram more people in here, especially at rush hour."
Culmone isn't alone in her concern. Following months of intense scrutiny of the proposed arena's effect on city finances and taxpayers' pocketbooks, Angelenos are beginning to take a look at the facility's potential impact on downtown-area freeways.
"There's no doubt that it is going to cause severe congestion," warned Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning at UCLA.
"It definitely would increase delays and decrease speed in the area," added Arnie Sherwood, a transportation analyst at the Southern California Association of Governments.
Los Angeles Kings co-owners Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz hope to build a new downtown arena for the Kings hockey team and the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in time for the 1999 season. The 22,000-seat facility is envisioned as part of a $250 million sports and entertainment complex to be located on 25 acres adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Last month, the L.A. City Council, by a vote of 13-2, agreed to the key parameters of the developer's proposal and requested negotiators to draw up a more detailed "memorandum of understanding."
As part of that process, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, which manages the city's streets, and Caltrans, which is responsible for the state's freeways, are working on traffic impact studies.
Officials at both agencies declined to comment on the reports, which are expected to be released within the next few weeks.
But Caltrans spokesman Vincent Moreno said that during peak commute hours roughly from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m and then from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. all four freeways in the downtown area already operate at capacity, meaning traffic crawls along at speeds of less than 25 miles per hour.
The question for transportation planners is how to mitigate the effects of adding several thousand more vehicles to those freeways on the evenings when the Kings or Lakers play, or when another event is scheduled.
Despite downtown's daily bouts with gridlock, several transportation experts said it actually may be about the best site the city has to offer.
The downtown area, they say, not only is served by four freeways the Hollywood, Harbor, Santa Monica and Golden State but also boasts a light rail system and the DASH minibus system, which shuttles people around downtown for a 25-cent fare.
In addition, Union Station is nearby, a subway station is just blocks away, and the streets immediately surrounding the Convention Center tend to be underutilized.
And then there is the fact that approximately 270,000 Angelenos work downtown every day, meaning they could attend evening arena events during the work week with very little commuting.
"No matter where you put a facility of this size, you are going to have traffic impacts," said SCAG's Sherwood. "But they will be easier to mitigate (downtown) than they would be in other places."
A Nov. 21 memo from the city Department of Transportation to the City Council's Transportation Committee provides a glimpse of what some of those mitigation measures might be. They include:
- A shuttle system to bring in people from remote parking lots;
- New video surveillance cameras to monitor city surface streets. The hardware costs would be about $35,000 per camera;
- A pair of new traffic signals at an estimated cost of $100,000 each;
- Additional message signs along the freeways approaching the proposed arena, at a cost of approximately $100,000 each.
In the same memo, the city transportation department cites several suggestions from Caltrans for nearby freeways, including widening the southbound Harbor Freeway off- and on-ramps at 11th Street and installing additional video surveillance on the Harbor, Hollywood, Pasadena and Santa Monica freeways.
Assuming 10 percent of arena visitors arrived by public mass transit, the proposed facility would require 8,608 parking spaces, according to the city's Department of Transportation. The Convention Center currently has about 6,000 spaces on-site.
The Lakers and the Kings each play 41 home games during their regular season, which lasts from October to May. More than half of those games are played on weeknights and start at 7:30 p.m.
Transportation planners said the main challenge will be to move the vehicles off freeways and onto surface streets, and the spectators out of their cars and into alternative modes of transportation.
Meanwhile, as the experts ponder how to accomplish those goals, the traffic issue could become a political football in the upcoming mayoral race.
In an interview with the Business Journal last week, California State Sen. Tom Hayden, who is challenging Mayor Richard Riordan in the April primary, suggested traffic-related complications could doom the proposed arena.
"Imagine taking your family on a pleasant romp on the 101 or 10 (freeways) towards downtown to enjoy a concert or a game. Why would you do that?" he asked, adding that arena traffic would bring gridlock to new, nightmarish proportions.
John Semken, vice president of Majestic Realty and the proposed arena's project manager, said all traffic concerns will be addressed in the project's environmental impact report, which is scheduled to be released in about three weeks.
"You have a lot more opportunities (for mitigation) downtown than you do anywhere else," Semken said. "It's the only place in Los Angeles where the entire traffic infrastructure comes together. All roads lead to downtown."
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