By Noel T. Braymer
Construction is now well underway to extend Los Angeles Metro’s Green Line nearer to LAX while building a new Crenshaw/LAX Line to connect with the Green Line at its Imperial and Aviation station at the edge of El Segundo and LAX. This will allow connections on the Green Line to LAX and the Crenshaw/LAX line which also terminates at the Exposition Line . This new trackage will be in service by 2019. By 2022 the plan is to add a new station a half mile north of the Century and Aviation Light Rail station to connect with a new LAX People Mover. This is part of construction by LAX to create a consolidated rental car facility which will remove the many rental car shuttle buses on the crowded streets around LAX. This People Mover will also serve a large outlying airport parking lot and passengers transferring by transit buses.
So what impact can expanded Light Rail service have on the area around LAX? With connections to the Expo Line between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles as well as with the Green Line between Norwalk and Hawthorne, the new Crenshaw/LAX Line will have connections to much of the Los Angeles Basin. This in addition to the Green Line service to the LAX areas with connections to the Blue Line between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach. By 2022 the Blue Line will have been extended to the San Gabriel Valley. With these connections, many people will be able to travel by Light Rail to the area around LAX from much of Los Angeles County. Many people will likely take Light Rail to fly to and from LAX. But there are also many jobs in and around the area of LAX. The area around LAX is a major activity center. Traffic is almost always bad around LAX not just from people flying to or from LAX and people who work in around LAX. There are also many people traveling through the LAX area adding to the traffic.
A major reason for the heavy traffic in the LAX region is the distance people have to travel to get to work and to get back home. The simple solution to this is to either have people work closer to where they live, or to live closer to where they work. The problem making this happen is the high cost of housing anywhere in Southern California. Los Angeles County is creating additional and more affordable housing with fairly dense development near its rail transit stations. In many cases to make this happen publicly owned property is being used to build new housing. There is a shortage of available open land for housing in Los Angeles and most of Southern California. So where is one of the largest, undeveloped places of publicly owned land in Los Angeles? That is in the area at and around LAX.
In the years after the beginning of the “Jet Age” in the late 1950’s, LAX has expanded and acquired many hundreds of acres of land surrounding it. This was done to add 2 additional runways north of the original 2 runways as well as moving the terminals from Imperial Highway north to Century Blvd. In the process thousands of homes and apartments where moved or destroyed in the area of Westchester and Playa Del Rey. This process of dehousing the area around LAX continues as it builds its new consolidated rental car facility and the People Mover right of way to connect it to the airport terminals.
A major reason for removing housing around LAX was it removed local resident’s opposition to airplane noise and pollution. The result of this dehousing is an area chronically short of housing near an area with plenty of jobs. This includes not only jobs directly related to operating the airport, but also for hotels, and major companies in the LAX area. The biggest problem anywhere, but in particular in Los Angeles County is that any proposal for new housing is met with opposition from nearby residents who are upset that higher densities in the neighborhood will make traffic worse. A good thing about building housing on LAX property is most of the neighbors have already been moved out! Using LAX land if the City government demands it will be easy to acquire and build on. Also with the opening of the consolidated rental car facility, the existing rental car lots near the airport will be vacant. This land should also be used for more housing. Many of these lots were built where people use to live. With the construction of improved public transportation coming to the LAX area dense development can be built which will help to reduce traffic congestion and create housing near to jobs, services and connections by rail to most of the rest of Los Angeles County.
Building new housing won’t be like the single family housing built right after World War II. The demand now is for higher density housing for people living alone or with small families. Good sound proofing will be required. Also air conditioning that cleans the air will be useful. Living in Westchester in the 80’s I learned that an open window would turn window sills black with soot from the airplanes overhead. So will people want to live near the airport? Plenty of people did before their houses were bought out by LAX. Also thousands of people pay top dollars to sleep near the airport every night at the major hotels ringing LAX. Not only land near the Light Rail stations near the airport could be used for new housing. There is plenty of airport land that could be built on that can be served with improved bus service to the local area and to connect with the Light Rail stations. Also encouraging bike riding and parking for bikes at Light Rail stations will allow people to be carless and reduce auto traffic around LAX.
What building new housing around LAX will accomplish is several things at the same time. First, this will increase ridership not only on the Green and Crenshaw/LAX lines, but also to near by connecting bus routes. Second, this is an excellent way to get more people to work or travel at LAX without making road traffic worse. Also many more people who commute to work to LAX will be able to live near LAX which will reduce traffic. Third by building more, and more affordable housing this will keep more jobs and residents in Los Angeles County as well as increase property tax revenue for the County.