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Is the Downtown Streetcar Going to Be Super Slow?

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Los Angeles's Downtown Streetcar project, in the works since 2008, took a big step forward last week when the City Council's Transportation Committee voted to move ahead with the preliminary engineering phase, which will look at concrete options for building the line—the general plan is for a 3.8-mile loop down Broadway, First, Eleventh, Figueroa, Seventh, and Hill. The main trouble with the project has been the budget, with an initial estimate of $125 million ballooning to $327.8 million, then shrinking again to about $270 million. The latest number discussed last week—estimated by private contractor AECOM—was $281.6 million. Property owners along the route have already agreed to a tax that'll collect up to $85 million and there's various other money from a defunct city agency and the Measure R transpo tax. There's also some hope for $75 million from a Federal Transportation Authority grant program. All in all, the project seems to be short by $144.1 million right now.

AECOM had a few suggestions for bringing down costs—the biggest deal would be cutting out a little spur that would travel up First Street and down Grand Avenue to Disney Hall and MOCA. A public/private partnership on the maintenance facility could also save a big chunk of money.

But all the latest budget discussions have also turned up a disappointing and costly new factor: the streetcar would be slow as heck. According to a report presented to the Transpo Committee, "A recent analysis by LADOT and verified by AECOM found the estimated average travel speed to be significantly slower than previously estimated," and the Downtown News clarifies that "the current analysis puts average streetcar speed at 4.5 miles per hour, or 3.5 miles per hour during peak hours." Officials want cars to arrive every seven minutes during peak times and every 10 to 15 minutes during off-peak times, which would only require eight cars (with six in service and two spares) under the earlier speed estimates. With the slower speeds, they'll need four additional cars to keep the line moving along, for an extra $24.3 million.

Now they could choose to adjust the frequencies so the streetcar comes less often or, as Urbanize LA reports, devote a lane to the streetcar so it doesn't have to tangle with cars and buses. (As part of the project, Broadway will be rejiggered anyway.) Those kinds of "traffic engineering solutions" will be explored in the preliminary engineering phase.

That phase is set to be finished in about a year, and a draft of the highly-detailed and state-mandated environmental impact report could be out in six months. City staff is deciding now on which cost-saving measures to recommend; next up, they'll hire a financial planner and consultant to handle all that preliminary engineering. Once this phase is done, the city can put out a Request For Proposals to try to find that private partner to help cover costs (there's already been a lot of interest).

The line is supposed to open in 2020; any further delays would keep driving that budget up.
· Streetcar Has a High Price and a Big Funding Gap [DN]
· Broadway Getting Ped-Friendly Makeover, Cutting Back On Cars [Curbed LA]
· Downtown Streetcar [Curbed LA]