Los Angeles may be on the verge of fixing one of its worst transportation mistakes: the failure, two decades ago, to build a rail line to Los Angeles International Airport that lets travelers come and go on public transit easily, quickly and inexpensively.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board of directors is being asked to move forward on a proposal to build a new light-rail station, two miles from the center of LAX, that would connect the Crenshaw Metro line to a monorail-like "people-mover" that would carry passengers to and from the terminals. Most big airports already have such shuttles to transport people from one terminal to another, to car rental hubs and to public transit; LAX does not. This failure of planning is one of the region's great embarrassments, and a sensible solution is long overdue.
If the Metro board approves the plan, it will stop studying more expensive proposals to bring the subway closer to the airport. Skeptics may wonder why they should celebrate Metro's recommendation to build a station two miles from the airport instead of inside the airport itself, and how this would be an improvement on the Green Line's existing Aviation/LAX station, which also stops about two miles from the terminals. In reality, the distance between the rail station and the airport is less important than the ease of the connection between the two. The existing LAX connection is extraordinarily inconvenient and underused. Travelers have to walk down from the train platform, wait at the curb, then haul their luggage into an often overcrowded bus.
Compare that with the estimated $1.7-billion project being considered by Metro and Los Angeles World Airports. Travelers would arrive at the new 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard station and connect to the people-mover, which would whisk them between the terminals, a transportation hub and rental car facilities. The agencies estimate it would take about four minutes to walk from the rail station to the people-mover and five minutes to walk from the people-mover to the terminals. That's significantly less schlepping than is currently required at LAX.
The real test of this collaboration lies ahead, as LAWA finalizes plans for the people-mover and Metro develops its station. Both must make efficiency and traveler convenience a priority. That means designing a rail station that is safe and inviting and gives clear direction to travelers. The people-mover has to provide frequent service and easy access to terminals. If Metro and the airport can design a connection with minimal stairs, luggage hauling and transfers, that would go a long way toward finally fixing the mistakes of the past.