Nobody Drives in LA — Exploring the Regional Connector Transit Corridor

Nobody Drives in LA

With bicycles, buses, ferries, planes, rideshares, sidewalks, subways, taxis, and trains at Angelenos’ disposal, why would any sane person choose car-dependency? Nobody Drives in LA celebrates sense and sensibility in transportation.

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There are five Metro rail projects currently under construction in Los Angeles: the Crenshaw Line, the Expo Line, the Gold Line, the Purple Line, and the Regional Connector. At just 3 kilometers long, the Regional Connector is the shortest in length but its consequences will be among the most far-reaching. That’s because when it’s completed it will connect Long Beach to Azusa with a single line, and Santa Monica to East Los Angeles with another.

Right now, if one needs to connect from 7th Street/Metro Center to Union Station, one must close the gap by taking either the Red or Purple line subways, the Silver Line (or some other bus), a roughly fifteen minute bike ride or half hour walk across downtown, or some other means. The Regional Connector will fix this shortcoming by connecting what are currently known as the Expo and Blue lines with what’s currently the Gold Line. When this is done, the lines will be reconfigured so that the Expo Line will continue along the southern route of the Gold Line to East Los Angeles and, further down the line, either South El Monte or Whittier, depending on what route is chosen.

The Blue Line will connect with the northern route of the Gold Line, pass through Union Station on its way to Azusa and in the future, to Montclair. From Union Station, riders can connect to a variety of transit options including the LAX Flyaway, Metrolink, Amtrak, and some day, California High Speed Rail. (The Regional Connector should not be confused the Downtown LA Streetcar, which is something more akin to a novelty/tourist trolley and which, if built, will follow a small looping around Downtown.)

Broadway Theater District
Broadway Theater District

The Regional Connector will pass through or near the Downtown neighborhoods of the Arts District, the Broadway Theater District, Bunker Hill, Chinatown, the Civic Center, El Pueblo, the Financial District, Gallery Row, Little Tokyo, the Old Bank District, and the Toy District, as well as the nearby neighborhoods of Temple-Beaudry and Westlake. Three new stops will be built along the way: First Street/Central Avenue, Second Street/Broadway, and Second Place/Hope Street.

FIRST STREET/CENTRAL AVENUE STATION

Site of First Street:Central Avenue Station
Site of First Street:Central Avenue Station

The site of the future First Street/Central Avenue Station is located catercorner to the existing Gold Line Little Tokyo/Arts District Station (which it will replace) near the border of Little Tokyo and the Arts District. The site is currently home to some 19th century (old by Los Angeles standards) red brick buildings that were home of beloved institutions like Atomic Cafe, Troy Café, Señor Fish, the Spice Table, Weiland Brewery, and other businesses over their century-long existences. They were obtained by Metro through eminent domain, and will be demolished soon.

First Street in Little Tokyo -- old shops on the right
First Street in Little Tokyo — old shops on the right
Almost a century-old Aoyama Tree, a city Historic Cultural Monument
Almost a century-old Aoyama Tree, a city Historic Cultural Monument

Aside from these modest buildings, not much of historic Little Tokyo remains aside from a row of buildings on the north side of First Street and, behind them, a nearly century-old tree. The majestic 20 meter tall Moreton Bay Fig tree known as the Aoyama Tree was planted around 1920 by Reverend Shutai Aoyama of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple. The temple relocated to its current location in 1940, and today the orphaned fig casts its shade over a quiet corner of a parking lot. In 2008 it was designated Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument No. 920.

Japanese American National Museum
Japanese American National Museum
Japanese Village Plaza
Japanese Village Plaza

In the vicinity of the First Street/Central Avenue Station there are many attractions, including East West Players, Aratani/Japan America Theatre, several churches and temples, Honda Plaza, the Japanese American National Museum (home to both the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and the Little Tokyo yakuza offices, if Takeshi Kitano‘s film Brother is to be taken as fact), Japanese Village Plaza Mall (with the iconic David Hyun-designed Yagura Fire Tower), The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the Go For Broke Monument, Little Tokyo Galleria, Weller Court, and many bakeries, cafés, izakaya, markets, and more. Nearby in the Arts District are Art Share LA, Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), several art galleries, restaurants, and Angel City Brewery.

SECOND STREET/BROADWAY STATION

View from the site of Second Street:Broadway Station
View from the site of Second Street:Broadway Station
New federal courthouse (under construction)
New federal courthouse (under construction)

Second Street/Broadway Station will be built on Second Street between Broadway and Spring Street in Civic Center. Civic Center is known to most Angelenos for its collection of government buildings, including the city’s iconic City Hall and before long, a new federal courthouse. Civic Center has the second largest concentration of government employees in the United States outside of Washington, DC.

First and Broadway Civic Center Park (under construction)
First and Broadway Civic Center Park (under construction)

Civic Center is also home to more combined acreage of downtown park space than any neighborhood besides Dogtown, which is home to the Los Angeles State Historic Park (aka “the Cornfields”). Civic Center is home to Grand Park, the smaller City Hall Park around City Hall, and soon First and Broadway Civic Center Park — currently under construction on a site previously known primarily for its urban ruins, graffiti, and subterranean populations of feral cats and homeless people.

Grand Park and Jacques Lipchitz's Peace on Earth
Grand Park and Jacques Lipchitz’s Peace on Earth
Angels Flight -- not working
Angels Flight — not working

The area around the future station is also home to the Angels Flight, the Downtown Independent Cinema, Grand Central Market, the Los Angeles Times Building, the Los Angeles County Law Library, the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, and numerous popular bars and highly-regarded restaurants. Nearby, within easy walking distance, are the Historic Core neighborhoods of the Old Bank District (the city’s old Financial District), Gallery Row, and the Broadway Theater District, home to the largest concentration of picture palaces in the world, the beloved Bradbury Building, and many high and low-end shops.

SECOND PLACE/HOPE STREET STATION

Site of Second Place:Hope Street Station
Site of Second Place:Hope Street Station
Dorothy Chandler Pavillion
Dorothy Chandler Pavillion

The site of future Second Place/Hope Street Station is near Grand Park, one end of which is located at Grand Avenue. Atop Bunker Hill, Grand Avenue hosts a hub of cultural institutions, including California Plaza (home of MOCA, the Colburn School of Performing Arts, and Grand Performances) and the Music Center (which includes the Ahmanson Theater, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum, and Walt Disney Concert Hall — itself home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, and REDCAT).

Promenade Towers
Promenade Towers

The station will also serve the well-populated residential colonies of Angelus Plaza, Bunker Hill Towers, Promenade Towers, and Promenade West. Though little-loved by most architecture fans (at the time of their construction, Promenade Towers were the largest residential colony in the city; now second largest, their main claim to fame is still being the ugliest), they are home to a huge population of downtown residents, most of whom lived in Downtown in the period before the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, when most narratives claim that Downtown was lifeless and dead. The residents of these older structures, along with those of Geoff Palmer‘s freeway-hugging Faux-talian fortresses, will be among those who will benefit from the Regional Connector’s additional transit option.

John Ferraro Building
John Ferraro Building
3rd Street Tunnel
3rd Street Tunnel

The area around the future station is also home to the beautiful John Ferraro Building (formerly the LADWP Building), the frequently-filmed Second Street Tunnel (as well as the almost never filmed Third Street Tunnel), the gleaming, generic skyscrapers of the Financial District (with their restaurants, plop art, and landscaped plazas), the World Trade Center, the Stuart M. Ketchum Downtown YMCA (with its Morgan Adams Jr. Sculpture Garden), the Calvin S. Hamilton Pedway, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (currently under construction).

From there the train will connect with the existing 7th Street Metro Center, and in doing so end that station’s place as a train terminus. However, located on the bustling edge of the Financial District and (New) South Park, and connecting to several train lines — as well as many DASH, Metro, Torrance Transit, Big Blue Bus, California Shuttle Bus, Foothill Transit, and Orange County Transportation Authority bus lines — it will likely remain one of the city’s busiest stations. The new stations and Regional Connector are forecast to begin service in 2020.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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