Get L.A. Moving

By Sean Carroll | June 7, 2010 12:59 pm

Here’s a local issue that reflects a very common set of problems: the Los Angeles subway system. Such as it is. Namely, embarrassingly inadequate. Our aspirations to be considered a world-class city on the level of New York, Paris, Tokyo or London are severely restricted by the difficulties people face in getting around without a car. Or with a car, for that matter, given the traffic.

But there’s no reason it has to be like this. At any given moment, some concerned group of citizens will be agitating to improve the situation. Right now such a group is Get L.A. Moving. They’ve put together an amazing proposal for a serious subway network that would utterly transform the city, while respecting the natural contours of the existing urban environment. Click for bigger versions.

LA subway proposal

Looking at a map like this is a bittersweet experience — comparing what could be to what is. Of course it would be very expensive; they estimate about $35 billion, which doesn’t sound so crazy when spread over a number of years. Times are tough — but that’s exactly the reason why pie-in-the-sky plans like this should be taken seriously right now. There’s no better way to stimulate the economy than to pour massive amounts of money into legitimate infrastructure projects; you create jobs, but you also create value that lasts for many decades to come. Not to mention decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, which hopefully doesn’t need to be justified.

Also — how cool would it be to have one of these babies crawling along underneath Sunset Boulevard?


In the back of my mind, the real obstacle to building a subway system in a mature city was that you couldn’t really imagine shutting down long stretches of busy streets for months or years at a time. But you don’t have to; modern tunnel-boring technology does it all underground.

Some will object that LA just isn’t dense enough to support a subway system; our attractions are spread out rather than localized to squares. That’s an utterly backwards attitude; build the subway, the density will come. With nice weather 340+ days a year, this is the perfect city in the world to have a mass transit system connecting a bunch of pedestrian-friendly outdoor plazas.

Of course, then everyone would want to come live here. So maybe it wouldn’t be ideal. But it would still be a good idea for the economy and the environment; so I’m willing to sacrifice.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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