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Sunday, Dec 10, 2023

Subway’s Tunnel Vision

A lot has been written by opponents of a proposed subway station at Constellation Boulevard. The subway stop in the Century City area is an important issue for the business community as well as all Angelenos, and warrants reporting that is based on accurate data as opposed to hearsay and innuendo.

In fact, the proposal to build the station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars has been under consideration since the 1960s. This is not a “bait and switch,” which it has wrongfully been referred to by many. Beginning in the 1960s, the Southern California Rapid Transit District planned the future of L.A.’s subway system and many routes were discussed. The Jan. 1, 1968, minutes of a special board meeting of that district state the following from Frank Lombardi, executive officer of the Planning Department of the city of Los Angeles:

“On the Wilshire Corridor, specifically, this committee has recommended to the council, which they are now considering, that the alignment is satisfactory as far as it goes, but we think it should go beyond. We feel that the Wilshire Corridor Line should be extended west under Wilshire with stops at Robertson Boulevard, Beverly Drive, and then under Constellation Avenue in Century City, with a stop at Century City, and a return to Wilshire Boulevard. …We feel the extension of that Wilshire Corridor to serve these areas is imperative.”

Further, in the transit district’s final report in May 1968, it said this about “Wilshire Corridor – Route Description”:

“Entering Young Street at about Lasky Drive the line proceeds westerly in subway to Moreno Drive where it enters and proceeds under the property of the Beverly Hills High School to a position in Constellation Avenue at Century Park East. The alignment follows Constellation Avenue to the westerly limit of Century City at Century Park West.”

Also in 1968, two line-drawing civil maps show the alignment under Beverly Hills High school en route to Century City at Constellation. Official documentation is available for all of these points.

There has been discussion back and forth as to the best alignment for the Westside subway for decades, whether it be Santa Monica Boulevard or Constellation. Traffic has choked our highways and streets to a point that the time has finally come to move forward with these plans (that have been on the books for more than 40 years), and the realization that funding could finally be attained from local Measure R and federal New Starts funds. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (which took over the SCRTD) can finally move forward with making this vision a reality. Metro is doing extensive testing and geological field work on Santa Monica and Constellation to determine the safest route, as well as looking at both locations to ascertain which site would attract the greatest ridership.

There are schools all over the country, including California, that have subway tunnels underneath them. The Bentley School in Oakland has been around since 1920 and is directly over a Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnel; the West Portal Elementary School in San Francisco is also over a BART tunnel and has been operating since 1951 (again, BART was built sometime later). Locally, at Wilshire and Vermont Avenue, a station goes under the grounds of a middle school and no vibrations or any other issues have been reported.

There are buildings all over the world with subterranean parking structures built over subway tunnels. The Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles is being built and calls for a three-level underground parking structure over a proposed Metro tunnel at Grand Avenue and Second Street, as well as the station at Hope Street and Second. There is a proposed commercial development at the Universal City Metro Station with similar conditions.

Nabih Youssef, a structural engineer involved with these projects, states, “There are several other tunnels and Metro stations currently in design with appropriate measures to allow for future development above without compromise of structural performance or vibration concerns.”

People take transit for any number of reasons. But one of the most common is to get to work. According to a report from the Brookings Institute, “Transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority. … Metro leaders should coordinate strategies regarding land use, economic development and housing with transit decisions in order to ensure that transit reached more people and more jobs efficiently.”

According to recent surveys, a station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars currently would encompass more than 11 million square feet of existing commercial space and approximately 28,000 employees within one-quarter mile. This location is also closer to the southern portion of Century City’s residential community as well as Fox studios.

A station at Santa Monica and Century Park East encompasses a little more than 4 million square feet and approximately 9,800 employees within a one-quarter mile. This location is anchored on one side by the Los Angeles Country Club, which would produce no ridership.

Without question, safety is key, no matter where we put a subway. We have one opportunity to get this right, and I suggest we stick to the facts and keep emotions under control. Let’s stay on track and work together to find solutions that address legitimate concerns, but let’s not stop “America’s Fast Forward.”

Susan Bursk is president and chief executive of the Century City Chamber of Commerce.

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