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Past Visions of L.A.'s Transportation Future

Mass Rapid Transit Concept Maps

Visitors to the Library often ask about past mass rail rapid transit plans and speculate about what Los Angeles might have looked like if one or more of these plans been constructed.  This online gallery examines those major plans and maps from 1925 to 2003.  

We also hear interesting urban mythology related to the 1,100 Pacific Electric "Red Car" interurban rail system, and very little about Los Angeles Railway's nearly forgotten 600 mile "Yellow Car" urban rail system. 

If you are not familiar with Los Angeles' original rail transit systems, we've included links to their system maps as background to compare with later plans.  In 1911, the "Great Merger" divided up rail lines among the two main operators: Pacific Electric for interurban service, and Los Angeles Railway (LARy) for urban service.  Click to open, and again to enlarge images:

To relate those transit systems to today's transportation network, think of Pacific Electric as the Metrolink of its day (only much more extensive and electrically powered), and Los Angeles Railway (also electrically powered) as the grandfather of the current urban bus system.  Track miles peaked around 1925, and ridership peaked during World War II, in large part due to gas and rubber rationing as well as war industry employment.  

After World War II, the privately owned and operated rail transit system (which first began in 1873) was in a state of disrepair and there was little capital available to invest in improvements or rehabilitation.  Motorbuses became the affordable alternative and the public raised weak objections to rail line conversions.  The last train ran in 1961, from Los Angeles to Long Beach.  Contrary to popular belief, the Pacific Electric system ran a deficit in all but three years of its operation.

New mass rapid transit plans were proposed as far back as 1925.  Proponents were motivated by a keen sense of Los Angeles' future population growth.  This would necessitate imaginative plans for grade separation, both above and below ground, and exclusive rights-of-way to reduce congestion in business districts, maintain system speed and system attractiveness to riders.

Comprehensive Rapid Transit Plan for the City and County of Los Angeles (1925) Kelker, De Leuw and Co.

This is one of the earliest plans commissioned by the City and County of Los Angeles.  The consultants were asked to create a plan to accommodate a future city population of 3,000,000.  The plan shows a number of proposed immediate and future subways:  one across Hollywood to La Brea Boulevard, another from downtown to 7th Street, up Vermont Avenue, and across Third Street.  It initially would have run to Larchmont Boulevard as subway with a future extension on elevated rail to Third Street and down Wilshire Boulevard to Beverly Hills and the ocean in Santa Monica.  It also shows a subway from downtown across Pico Boulevard, initially to Rimpau Boulevard with a future extension to Venice Beach. 

Solid lines on both the regional map and the urban map represent mass rapid transit routes recommended for immediate construction to relieve downtown congestion.  Dotted lines predict future extensions that will be necessary to serve population increases.  The plan recommended for immediate construction of 153 miles of subway, elevated rail, and street railways at a projected cost of $133,385,000.  Strong opposition by the business community to planned sections of elevated rail, as well as voter reluctance to tax themselves to benefit the privately held Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway effectively shelved the plan.  Click to open, and again to enlarge images:

1925 City County Comprehensive Rapid Transit Plan Map

1925 City County Comprehensive Rapid Transit Plan Map Urban

City of Los Angeles Recommended Program for Improvement of Transportation and Traffic Facilities in the Metropolitan Area (1945) De Leuw, Cather and Co.

This 1945 plan commissioned by the City of Los Angeles contemplated subway tunnels in downtown, rail in widened future freeways (red lines on map) and bus rapid transit lines (green lines on map) at an estimated cost of $68,000,000.  Rapid expansion of freeway construction, strong patron dissatisfaction with overcrowding, slow speeds and old equipment on Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway, and voter apathy again shelved plans for a new mass transit system.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1945 Recommended Improvement Map

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (1951-1964)

The State formed the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1951 for the purpose of transit planning.  LAMTA's first charge was the planning of a Proposed Monorail Route from Long Beach to Panorama City per LAMTA's original legislative boundary along the L.A. River.  It would span 45.7 miles at a projected construction cost of $165 million.  LAMTA was later authorized to become the main transit operator in Southern California.  On March 3, 1958, it purchased the successors to Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway, Metropolitan Coach Lines and Los Angeles Transit Lines.  The public finally gained operating control over what had always been in the hands of private companies: mass transit's future in Los Angeles.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1953 Monorail Long Beach Panorama City Proposal Map

1954 artist's concept drawing of a suspended car monorail station at Sunset & Glendale Boulevards, Station #7.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1954 Monorail Sunset Glendale Artist Concept

1960 Proposed monorail-based mass transit routes: 51 miles overhead, 21.6 miles at grade, 2.3 miles in tunnel, 74.9 miles total at a cost of $529,700,000, that could eventually expand to 150 mile eight corridor system.  The plan for an elevated monorail on Wilshire upsets corridor stakeholders, and the plan was scrapped.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1960 Monorail Proposed Routes Map

1961 New Proposed Backbone Route Plan, scaled down and revised for elevated rail from El Monte to downtown and subway from downtown to Century City:  22.7 miles total, 12 miles in subway along Wilshire, with stations that could also be used as fallout shelters, projected construction cost of $192 million.  Public groundbreaking ceremonies were held in Downtown Los Angeles and in the City of Beverly Hills in 1962, although no capital funding was available to begin construction.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1961 New Proposed Backbone Route Plan Map

1961 Backbone Route, Wilshire Corridor Underground Fallout Shelter Area detail.  The shelter was located between Westwood and downtown Los Angeles, with an entrance at Alvarado Street.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1961 New Proposed Backbone Fallout Shelter Detail Map

The monorail lobby was not about to give up without a fight.  Alweg presented a 43-mile supported beam monorail system plan at an estimated cost of $187.5 million.  Godell presented a 75 mile suspended car monorail system at an estimated cost of $182.3 million.  Both companies offered to build their systems for "free" in exchange for the next 40 years of passenger revenues to bond against, a difficult commitment for an agency that earned 95% of its revenues from the farebox.  The LAMTA sent letters to both companies stating that any proposal submitted must include subway along the Wilshire corridor.  The new public agency was unprepared for the public confusion and political chaos that ensued over competing plans, technologies, and arguments over whether or not the construction of public transit facilities should be subsidized.

Southern California Rapid Transit District (1964-1993)

The Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) was created by the State in 1964 as the successor to the underpowered LAMTA.  SCRTD was given an expanded Board of Directors, the power to issue bonds, the ability to raise funds for mass transit via taxation (with voter consent), and the power of eminent domain.  That same year, the federal government created the Urban Mass Transit Administration, now called the Federal Transit Administration, to assist local agencies with capital projects.  SCRTD brought three major mass rapid transit plans before the voters.  Unfortunately, all three were rejected.  It continued to plan mass transit systems and was successful in building the El Monte Busway, and in getting Federal funding to break ground on the Metro Red Line in 1986.  It also planned a Downtown People Mover system and a twelve-line Electric Trolley Bus network.

1967 Draft Rapid Transit Master Plan Concept.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

   1967 Draft Rapid Transit Master Plan Concept

The 1968 Final Proposed Transit Master Plan Concept was devised for ballot initiative.  The initial 62-mile, four corridor system that could expand to 300 miles was projected to cost $2.5 billion during its 8.5-year construction period.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1968 Final Proposed Transit Master Plan Concept Map

The 1974 Proposed Transit Master Plan Concept was also devised for a ballot initiative.  The initial 116 miles of mass rapid transit would eventually expand to a 250-mile system with 24 miles of dedicated busway lanes.  The projected cost was $6.6 billion over a 12-year construction period.  The first operating subsidies for mass transit became available from the State of California after 1970 when voters approved diverting a portion of state gasoline taxes to mass transit.  Until that time, SCRTD supported transit service from farebox revenues alone.  Construction of a new new mass transit system would only be possible via referendum for additional taxation and bonding.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1974 Proposed Transit Master Plan Concept Map

City of Los Angeles General Plan - Rail Element (1974)

Adopted in 1974, the City of Los Angeles envisioned a low-density city with high-density housing and commercial development around specific interconnected rail rapid transit hubs identified throughout the city.  The Circulation Element of the plan states that "a rapid transit system is essential to the achievement of the General Plan.  Such system is to interconnect Centers throughout the city."  It goes on to state that the system's features would include operation within its own grade separated right-of-way, either above or below ground depending on local conditions, and that existing rights-of-way, including railroads and freeways, will be used where ever possible to minimize property acquisitions.

The City's General Plan element was a key blueprint document for SCRTD's 1974 and 1976 rail rapid transit plans, as well as LACTC's Proposition A and C rail rapid transit plans.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1974 City Of Los Angeles General Plan Rail Element

The 1976 Proposed Sunset Coast Rapid Transit Master Plan was yet another proposal for ballot initiative.  It suggested a 281-mile system: 230 miles of heavy rail and 51 miles of light rail at a projected cost of $7.5 billion.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1976 Proposed Sunset Coast Rapid Transit Master Plan Map

Among the more unusual features of the proposed Sunset Coast Lines Plan, a limited number of rail excursion cars that would include bicycle and surfboard storage at one end.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1976 Proposed Sunset coast rapid Transit Master Plan Bikes Surfboards

The 1980 Downtown People Mover would have created a 2.9 mile automated above-ground distribution system covering 13 station/activity centers between Union Station and the Convention Center, along with 3,750 new parking spaces.  The concept was that downtown workers would ride rail, express buses or vanpools to the edge of downtown, transfer at intercept stations and ride the People Mover to their final destinations.  The total estimated capital cost at the time was $175 million.  The proposed route map is shown here.  Click to open image:

1980 SCRTD Downtown Peoplemover Corridor Study Map

The artist's concept drawings are shown below.  Click to open image:

1980 SCRTD Downtown Peoplemover Corridor Study Artist Concept

An Electric Trolley Bus project was approved in June 1992.  The SCRTD and the LACTC, in cooperation with Long Beach Transit and Montebello Bus Lines, proposed to convert up to 19 bus lines, (18 existing and 1 new) to zero-emission electric trolley buses.  The EIR addressed 12 bus lines as Phase I of the project.  It was intended to reduce noise, pollution, comply with the AQMD's Air Quality Management Plan and improve ride quality for passengers uncomfortable with diesel noise, heat, and pollutants.  The total estimated capital cost was $1.1 billion. Funding issues ended the project in December 1993.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1992 Candidate Electric Trolleybus Lines Map

Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1976-1993)

Created by the State in 1976, the LACTC was given responsibilities for planning, coordination, funding oversight and construction of transit and transportation improvements in Los Angeles County.  In 1980, voters finally agreed to invest in mass transit.  This map from 1980 was included in Proposition A: Voter Information Materials, Rail Rapid Transit System.  The half-cent sales tax for transportation was approved by a majority of Los Angeles County voters.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1980 Proposition A Rail Rapid Transit System Map

1983 Future Rail Transit Network, from LACTC Annual Report.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1983 Future Rail Transit Network Map

1990 Los Angeles Metro Rail Plan

A second half-cent sales tax initiative for transportation improvements, Proposition C, was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 1990.  In contrast with Proposition A in 1980, no map was provided as part of voter information materials.  Future rail system maps did appear in Long Range Plans and in other agency reports.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1990 Los Angeles Metro Rail Plan Map

This 1992 400-Mile Metro Rail Plan (Heavy Rail Subway, Light Rail lines and Commuter Rail) was envisioned as a 30- year project with a projected cost of $55.6 billion.  Note that the westward extension of the Metro Red Line was called the Metro Orange Line from 1990-1992.  Click to open, and again to enlarge image:

1992 400 Mile Metro Rail Plan Map

Los Angeles county Metropolitan Transportation Authority (1993-Present)

In 1993 the State implemented a merger of the SCRTD and LACTC to form the current organization, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA). 

After many years of planning, urban rail finally returned to Los Angeles.  The first rail line that opened was along the same route as the last one that was closed in 1961.  The Long Beach-Los Angeles Metro Blue Line opened in 1990, followed by the Metro Red Line Segment 1 in 1993, Metro Green Line in 1995, Metro Red Line Segment 2a in 1996, Metro Red Line Segment 2b in 1999, and Metro Red Line Segment 3 in 2000.  The Metro Gold Line opened in 2003, followed by the Metro Orange Line in 2005.  The Gold Line Eastside Extension is under construction and scheduled to open in 2009, followed by Metro's Exposition Line scheduled to open in 2010.  

Map from the 2003 Short Range Transportation Plan, Regional Transit Network.  Click to open image:

2003 SRTP Regional Transportation Network Map

Map from the 2003 Short Range Transportation Plan showing Metro Rail and Metro Rapid Transitways.  Click to open image:

2003 SRTP Metro Rail And Rapid Transitways Map

Map from the 2003 Short Range Transportation Plan, showing Local Bus Service.  Click to open image:

2003 SRTP Local Bus Service Map

From the collections of the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive.


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