Don't Turn Exposition Park Into a Rail Yard

Steven B. Sample is president of the University of Southern California. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the 8th District

Sometimes cities are faced with decisions that have far-reaching implications for the future. This is one of those times for Los Angeles.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is considering alternatives for a new transit corridor along Exposition Boulevard, from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles.

While this proposal promises long-term transportation and economic benefits along the Exposition corridor, steps must be taken to ensure that any and all impacts to the surrounding communities in Exposition Park, the Crenshaw area, Culver City, West L.A. and Santa Monica are properly mitigated. Whether the MTA selects light rail--which it prefers--or the bus system, the project must be built underground along the stretch that borders Exposition Park.

An above-ground system would disrupt the cohesiveness of Exposition Park and stifle the development that all of us in the area have worked so hard to create and nurture.

The MTA project is particularly significant when viewed against a backdrop of the progress we are seeing in our community, especially growth along Exposition Boulevard, including:

* The California Science Center is raising funds for Phase II of its master plan.

* The Natural History Museum plans to invest $300 million in a new building.

* The California African American Museum is being renovated.

* The Los Angeles Unified School District is building a new elementary school at Exposition and Figueroa Street.

* An inter-generational community center is under development at Vermont Avenue and Exposition.

* The Al-Khattab mosque on Exposition just west of Vermont Avenue is planning an Islamic study center.

* USC has forged important links with Exposition Park, including faculty exchanges, joint exhibits, student participation projects and business partnerships that benefit the campus and organizations in the area.

These partnerships will be difficult to continue, and future partnerships will be difficult to create if neighborhood children and their parents, USC students and faculty, and those who work at all of our institutions must make their way across a busy traffic corridor. Any above-ground option would create a physical and visual barrier.

All of us in the Exposition Park area are committed to our city and to our community. Our efforts have been focused on forging bonds in our community. Any above-ground transportation system would sever the community and stifle these efforts.

USC is ready to help our neighbors, the city and county in seeking funding to reduce the costs of putting the transit system underground.

L.A. needs better mass transit. A line connecting the Westside with downtown is important--but not if it splinters hard-won links among our city's cultural and educational institutions and discourages foot traffic.

We must preserve and enhance the special character of this neighborhood, which now flows seamlessly and connects to the larger arts, education and entertainment corridor that begins downtown.

Transit planning is not merely about moving people from one place to another. It is also about preserving the fabric of neighborhoods, communities and districts. In short, it must improve the quality of life.

Exposition Boulevard should not become another freeway; it is a street through a neighborhood of homes, churches, parks, museums and a university campus.

Communities need not be decimated to meet the needs of a growing city. Plan accordingly and the local community and the greater region will benefit over the long term.

Exposition Park and USC, together, constitute one of the great urban public spaces in America--320 acres of green space with billions of dollars worth of educational and cultural institutions. Let's not ruin it.

Instead, build the transit line underground.

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