MMRA Endorses Mid City West Trolley Plan

[From the November 2013 edition of the MMRA newsletter:]

preferred trolley

The Mid City West Trolley Plan

[or how to get you husband to leave the car at home…]

Last June billionaire developer Rick Caruso introduced the idea of an extension of the Grove’s fixed rail trolley to connect the popular shopping center with Museum Row at Wilshire and Fairfax. Recently, it was announced that the Los Angeles Museum of Art had teamed with Caruso to study the proposal. The results of an engineering study Caruso commissioned are expected later this month.

But several years before Caruso’s plan, Julie Anne Brame had a problem. Brame, who lives in the Crescent Heights/Melrose area, likes to walk – her husband doesn’t. After work, Brame would often encounter resistance from her husband when she suggested that they walk down to 3rd Street to try one of the many restaurants there. He would usually prefer to drive, even though parking is always difficult. Out of her idle wish that there were some easy way to quickly get around the area – so that she could get her husband out of the house without driving – came an idea: the Mid City West Trolley.

Brame is a resourceful woman and persistent, too. She kicked around the idea with like-minded friends and a plan evolved to have a rubber wheel trolley that would connect Melrose, Fairfax, the Grove, the Miracle Mile, La Brea, 3rd Street, the Beverly Center, and the Cedars-Sinai medical complex. She and her supporters did their homework, studying successful rubber wheel trolley projects across the country.

Trolley map

They took a fresh and modern approach to develop a program that would connect densely populated neighborhoods, existing parking garages, and popular destinations to facilitate circulation and reduce local automobile traffic. Their target riders would be residents, business patrons, employees, students, and tourists.

Their research helped them devise a check list: the trolleys would have to come every 15 minutes, their time of arrival easily monitored via a GPS smart phone app, they would have to provide free wifi access for passengers, and be comfortable and fun. The trolley program would also have to be flexible to allow for route expansion and to navigate around obstacles, like the upcoming subway construction in the Miracle Mile.

They knew that to succeed their trolley would need savvy marketing and promotion and both private and public support. And it would take a lot of outreach. That’s when Brame looked around for a way to learn the ropes and promote her trolley plan. So, in 2011 she got herself elected to the board of Mid City West Community Council [MCWCC]. As she got the lay of the land – how things get done in L.A. – she began to pitch her trolley idea to fellow board members, representatives of homeowner and residential associations, City council members, and anyone else who would listen.

Her skills of persuasion and well thought out approach began to win fans. She did not have to make a hard sell: ever worsening traffic congestion constricts travel and commerce in the area and the advent of the Purple Line subway extension makes “first mile-last mile” transportation from subway stations imperative. And the projected one million visitors a year to the soon-to-be Academy Museum at the former May Company will only exacerbate gridlock along Fairfax. The consensus was clear: something had to be done.

Soon, MCWCC endorsed a motion in support of studying the feasibility of Brame’s trolley plan, Councilmember Tom Labonge publicly announced his support at recent meeting of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, and the Miracle Mile Residential Association will consider a motion in support of the project at its upcoming board meeting on November 7th. And even Rick Caruso gave a nod to the Mid City Trolley by asking his engineers to include a review of Brame’s plan in the study of his fixed rail trolley, which many residents strongly oppose on grounds that it would only further clog traffic and present many safety issues.

While Caruso’s fixed rail trolley grabs all the headlines, Brame’s rubber wheel trolley steadily gained traction. Brame is clear that her plan is very much a work in progress and that the current proposed route could and probably will change depending on which parts of the area are most supportive. Hence, the inherent advantage of a rubber wheel trolley – the route can be expanded to meet new demand and include more of the Mid City West area.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation would operate the system, but the financing is complex. It will take a mix of private and public money to get the trolley rolling and, long term, it would take an ongoing financial commitment from the City to sustain it. Although, Brame aspires to follow the example of other successful rubber wheel trolley programs that generate substantial income from advertising revenues.

The initial plan is to begin on weekends to test the concept with service beginning of Fridays from 6 PM to midnight; Saturdays 10 AM to midnight; and Sundays from 11 AM to 10 PM. If this pilot plan succeeds service would be expanded to 7 days per week.

And, perhaps – in a year or so – Brame and her husband (and the twins she is soon expecting) will be able to leave their car at home when they go out for dinner.

[A motion endorsing the Mid City West Trolley Plan was adopted by the Board of Directors of the Miracle Mile Residential Association at our November 7, 2013 meeting.]

Tar Pits Threatened by LACMA Expansion; MMRA Approves Motion to Preserve Green Space in Hancock Park

PREFACE: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] touts the new Zumthor plan for the museum as a “proposal.” Their stated goal is to gather feedback on this re-design, but they frequently defer criticism by countering that it is only a proposal – a work in progress. It is a sophisticated strategy employed to ensnare commentators into semantics and make their remarks appear premature. Hence, the museum presents a moving target in order to exhaust critics. Whether it is a plan or a proposal, it is obviously a clear vision of what they would like the museum to be. LACMA’s proposal might be malleable, but their intentions are not.

lacma_zumthor_01_550x327

Model of Zumthor design for LACMA. Image courtesy of Museum Associates.

A lively debate has erupted on the potential impact of the Peter Zumthor re-design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. On September 24 representatives of the Page Museum and LACMA appeared before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to address concerns that the sprawling Zumthor building could severely affect the La Brea Tar Pits.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], too, is concerned that LACMA’s plans will not only have an adverse impact on the tar pits but also reduce green space at Hancock Park. At the August 29, 2013 MMRA Board of Director’s meeting a motion was adopted opposing LACMA’s expansion into Hancock Park.

Since its arrival in the early 1960s, LACMA has been steadily encroaching on Hancock Park – the largest public park in the Miracle Mile. The park’s green space provides a sense of well-being to our community and enhances our quality of life. It is where our residents go for an impromptu picnic, to jog, take a leisurely stroll, or to teach their child how to ride a bike.

But LACMA tends to view the park as their backyard. This attitude is evident in the expanding footprint of the new design for the museum – which boldly ignores several County Board of Supervisor’s resolutions limiting LACMA to 6 acres of the original 23-acre park.

The Miracle Mile is one of the most densely populated areas in Los Angeles. Since 2005 over 1200 new apartments have been constructed along Wilshire Boulevard corridor between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue – and many more are under construction or in the planning stages. The advent of the Purple Line subway extension will bring large Transit-Oriented-Density mixed-use buildings at both the La Brea Avenue and Orange Grove Avenue subway portals – and add thousands of new residents to the Miracle Mile.

Los Angeles lags all the major cities in California in parks per capita and ranks 17th among major U.S. cities. The paucity of parkland in Los Angeles and the ever-increasing population of the Miracle Mile emphasizes the critical importance of the Hancock Park to our community.

Hancock Park is a Swiss Army knife, so to speak – a multi-functional tool. It is most notable for being the site of the La Brea Tar Pits, the largest repository of Ice Age fossils in the world. It is also the home of the Page Museum, LACMA, and the soon-to-be Academy Museum – which will draw an additional one million visitors a year and create yet another strain on the park grounds.

The proposed Zumthor design consists of a single floor building – the approximate size of two football fields – floating thirty feet above grade. This encroachment into the park would upset the delicate balance of Hancock Park by overwhelming its original purpose to preserve and promote the history of the La Brea Tar Pits and, by reducing its green space, demoting its critical function as a public park.

Wealthy oilman G. Allan Hancock gave the land to Los Angeles County to “protect and preserve the La Brea Tar Pits.” The 1924 deed specified that the donation was “for Public Park purposes.”

When LACMA attempted to expand into Hancock Park in 1969 County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn introduced a motion – that was unanimously adopted – stating that: “The possibility of using more of the land for Art Museum facilities has been suggested. To do so would be a mistake. The park is one of the few public open spaces left in the area. Also, the Museum of Natural History is still exploring the tar pits for prehistoric material and it must be able to do this without fear of encroachment.”

History is repeating itself with LACMA’s new plans for expansion into Hancock Park, but the MMRA feels that what was true in 1969 is still true today: to do so would be a mistake.

LACMA Tar Pits overlay