It seems the proposed L.A. Metro Rail project is forever bogged down in one controversy or another. The latest apparently involves the Rapid Transit District's adoption of a plan that would place a portion of the rail system above ground, and the opposition to this proposal by homeowners, business interests and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
I think it is worthwhile occasionally to step back from knotty matters, as Metro Rail certainly is, and gain some perspective. An article in the current issue of Modern Railroads Magazine, a highly regarded trade magazine, offers that perspective. The article describes more than a decade of progress on the Washington, D.C., Metro.
The article is worthwhile for many reasons, not the least that it describes a system that started out much like the one planned here in Los Angeles. It turns out the first leg of the D.C. project was 4.6 miles long, a shade further than is planned for the opening 4.4-mile segment of the L.A. project. What followed in the wake of that modest beginning is recounted by author Robert Roberts, who writes the following:
"Eleven years ago, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority launched its new Metrorail service. WMATA opened 4.6 miles of track in downtown Washington, D.C. to transit riders who had been used only to riding buses and--years before--streetcars.
"The predictions were for heavy usage as more miles were added. There was the promise of dramatic changes in commuting habits, plus major real estate developments throughout the metropolitan area embracing the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Although Metro has its critics, almost no one will deny that this is exactly what has happened.
"Mobility has been greatly enhanced. There has been a major renaissance of downtown Washington and new building in the suburbs, with most of the construction concentrated near Metro stations. The value of private development around stations has reached $3 billion and is expected to double by the time the full 103-mile system is completed. And ridership has climbed to a daily weekday average of about 430,000 in the winter months. That will increase to 460,000 during the summer when tourists make heavy use of Metro."
Obviously there are great differences between the two cities. And Washington's Metrorail hasn't been the answer to the region's congestion. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the nation's capital who doesn't agree with Roberts' observation that Metrorail "has made the capital a booming, exciting, more livable city."
Indeed that has been the experience in cities such as Toronto, Atlanta, Montreal, Calgary, Portland and San Diego, each with new rail transit systems in the past decade or two.