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Ban cars on Wilshire

Then, add a street-level rail line, some buses and bike lanes. It's cheaper than a subway and would ease traffic.

July 22, 2007|Michael Balter

Forget the "subway to the sea." It is a dramatic and radical idea to relieve traffic congestion on the Westside, but extending the Wilshire Boulevard Purple Line from its current terminus at Western Avenue to Santa Monica probably won't happen.

An even more dramatic and radical idea -- and one that wouldn't cost $5 billion and take at least 10 years to complete -- would be to turn Wilshire Boulevard into a car-free, rapid-transit, bicycle-friendly transportation artery. How?

First, ban all automobiles from the entire 15-mile length of the boulevard. Second, beginning at its Western Avenue station, bring the Metro Rail to street level and run it to and from the sea on two sets of rails in the center of Wilshire, which has four or more lanes down its entire length and is thus wide enough to accommodate the route. Third, create bus lanes running east and west for riders who want to make more frequent stops, leaving express service to the Metro Rail. Fourth, install protected bicycle lanes in each direction at the edges of the boulevard and provide inexpensive, self-service rent-a-bike stations every 300 yards (as in Paris) so riders can pick up a bike anywhere on Wilshire and drop it off where they like.

There are some practical problems. Overpasses or underpasses might have to be built at key intersections to channel cross traffic. Side-street access to some parking structures would have to be created. And the possible mini-congestion caused by cars forced to turn around on smaller streets that dead-end at Wilshire would have to be handled. Still, compared with the estimated cost of building a subway -- more than $300 million a mile -- solving these problems would be inexpensive. And because a lot of the Metro Rail infrastructure already exists, the price tag of bringing it above ground and extending it to the sea would be at the low end of the $30 million to $70 million a mile currently estimated for street-level light rail.

The remaking of Wilshire Boulevard should not take place in a vacuum. The Exposition Line from downtown to Santa Monica must be built, Olympic and Pico boulevards should be turned into one-way streets, and every major street should be fitted with bike lanes.

In "Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals," social critic Paul Goodman proposed banning all private cars from Manhattan, a proposal far more ambitious than keeping them off one thoroughfare in Los Angeles. He even suggested that a candidate for mayor run on such a platform. "The candidate would lose on the first try," Goodman wrote, "because he would be considered radical and irresponsibly adventurous; but he would win the second time around, when people had had the chance to think the matter through and see that it made sense."

Freeing Wilshire Boulevard of cars makes perfect sense.

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Michael Balter, a former Angeleno, is a Paris-based journalist.

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