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The Transit Investments That Stitched Together L.A.’s Winning 2028 Olympic Bid

An Expo Line train in Santa Monica, California

An Expo Line train in Santa Monica, California Steve Hymon / L.A. Metro

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“LA 2028 is about what we have, not what we’re going to build” in terms of venues. But it also helped that an impressive array of transportation improvements are already underway across the City of Angels.

LOS ANGELES — Much has been written about how L.A.’s Olympic vision for the 2024 summer games—now the 2028 games, thanks to a deal with Paris and the International Olympic Committee—has been built around the notion that unlike most other host cities, it already has plenty of sports-related infrastructure in place.

L.A. even ended up with a $225 million surplus from the 1984 summer games, a shocking fact considering that Olympic hosts in recent memory have had major fiscal misgivings after the closing ceremonies.

“LA 2028 is about what we have, not what we’re going to build,” according to the LA2028 bid website.

Whether Los Angeles and its neighbors in Southern California can buck those recent Olympic host-city fiscal trends remains to be seen—check back in 11 years—but of any major U.S. city, there’s perhaps no other place than L.A. better prepared to host the international athletic competition or capitalize on its legacy for the long term.

The L.A. Memorial Coliseum, used in the 1932 and 1984 summer games, is still in use today by the University of Southern California and L.A. Rams. The swimming stadium next door, used in the 1932 games, is now used as a municipal aquatics facility. (And it’s a nice one. I swam about 3,000 yards there last week.)

The LA 84 Foundation / John C. Argue Swimming Stadium (By Michael Grass / Route Fifty)

For L.A.’s 2028 games, most other venues—and the necessary underlying infrastructure to support them—won’t have to be developed from scratch. L.A. is not Rio de Janeiro, nor is it Sochi.

The Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, already being built as a new home for the Rams, has been pitched as a major Olympic venue, perhaps splitting duties with the Coliseum for the opening and closing ceremonies, as the Los Angeles Times reported last month.

In Westwood, new housing at the University of California-Los Angeles will be tapped as an Olympic Village.

Other Olympic venues are being clustered in places where there’s already pre-existing infrastructure, like along Long Beach’s waterfront.

But how will people move across L.A.’s vast and congested urban geography? Traveling between venues is in some ways more important than the individual sites themselves.

While L.A. had to rely on its massive—and congested—freeway infrastructure for the 1984 games as its transportation backbone, the 2028 games will benefit from L.A.’s already expanding rail transit system.

Without the growing the Los Angeles Metro subway and light-rail network and two major local funding initiatives—the 2008 Measure R and 2016 Measure M countywide sales tax measures—that have funded the ongoing expansion, the International Olympic Committee would have easily dismissed a Los Angeles host bid.

Leaders in and around L.A. now have 11 years to deliver on an ambitious transportation vision, one that not only serves the short-term transit needs of the Olympics, but serves communities across the city and county well after the closing ceremonies.

There’s a lot of work to be done for sure, but L.A. isn’t starting from square one.

The Momentum of L.A.’s Evolving Transit Map

What L.A.'s transit map will look like in 2028. (via L.A. Metro)

Heading west along congested Wilshire Boulevard through the Miracle Mile and toward Beverly Hills last week, it was easy to see the pockets of construction and excavation work that marks the progression of L.A.’s long-planned and badly needed Westside subway extension.

Forthcoming phases will carry Purple Line trains through seven new stations along the city’s densest corridor, including Westwood, where the Olympic Village is envisioned to take shape adjacent to the UCLA campus.

To the east in downtown, a tunnel-boring machine recently wrapped up digging the first tunnel for the Regional Connector, a project that will connect and reshuffle service along the current Blue, Gold and Expo light-rail lines and bring big service changes to L.A. Metro’s expanding rail transit map in the process.

The Grand Avenue Arts / Bunker Hill Station, being built as part of the Regional Connector project in downtown Los Angeles under construction in February. (Photo via Steve Hymon /  L.A. Metro)

Out near Los Angeles International Airport, construction on a new light-rail line is progressing, a project aimed at improving access to that important gateway area and underserved neighborhoods along the Crenshaw Boulevard corridor. Transit service on the 8.5 mile new Crenshaw / LAX line is scheduled to start in 2019. With the passage of Measure M, there’s been talk of accelerating a northward extension of that light-rail line to connect with the Purple and Red Line subways via West Hollywood.

In Long Beach, where Olympic venues are envisioned along the city’s waterfront, traffic signals along the route of the Blue Line are in the process of being synchronized to give priority to light-rail trains through at-grade intersections, cutting trips by 10 minutes.

There’s also been discussions of adding a Blue Line express track to speed up service along the oldest and busiest light-rail line operated by L.A. Metro, which stretches 22 miles between downtown L.A. and Long Beach, the second-largest city in Los Angeles County.

Through Measure M, Vermont Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare that runs by the Coliseum and Exposition Park and hosts some of L.A. Metro’s heaviest-used bus routes, will be upgraded for bus rapid transit—some have said it would be a prime candidate to upgrade to rail.

Sixty-seven percent of households in the Vermont Avenue corridor do not have a car, according to Metro’s The Source.

Other transportation projects are in the planning stages, including upgrading the 405 Freeway / Sepulveda Pass corridor to include a high-quality transit connection between the San Fernando Valley and Westwood.

The Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica opened in May 2016. (Photo via L.A. Metro)

The Measure M victory came on the heels of last year’s successful openings of light-rail extensions to Santa Monica via the Expo Line and Azusa via the Gold Line. The Santa Monica extension, which terminates a few blocks from the city’s famous pier, beach and downtown promenade, has been wildly popular.

As organizers start moving on L.A.’s 2028 Olympic vision and get venues ready for competition over the next decade, transportation leaders will be working to deliver new transportation projects.

While the Olympic athletes will be the stars of the 2028 games, transit will play an important supporting role in making L.A. a stellar three-time host.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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