Early in the twentieth century, Los Angeles’s regional interurban electric railway, the Pacific Electric (PE), developed serious operational problems because the PE had been assembled from separate railroads that hadn’t been designed to fit together, and because Los Angeles’s explosive population growth overtaxed its facilities. The PE wanted to speed its trains and unify its system with a crosstown subway, but in 1923 the Los Angeles City1 Council blocked the PE’s plan and instead commissioned engineers and professional transit planners to devise comprehensive regional transit plans to be operated for the public good, not for private profit. These plans all focused on bringing lots of people downtown quickly, something irrelevant in a decentralizing city. Part I concludes with two seemingly propitious developments: the PE’s opening of its own mile-long but isolated Hollywood Subway, a compromise design but still impressive; and the unveiling of the most detailed and elaborate of the transit plans, as required by the new city charter. Part II, in the next issue, will describe why that comprehensive plan failed, then trace how political, economic, and demographic changes in the 1920s and 30s affected transit planning and why a plan to locate rail rapid transit in freeway medians failed. Part II will end with an examination of the PE’s financial condition as a refutation of a common explanation of the PE’s long decline.
The Unfinished Web: Transit Planning in Los Angeles, 1895–1953 Part I: 1895–1925
A. C. W. Bethel, a native Angeleno, attended Occidental College but took all his degrees from UCSB, then taught philosophy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, for forty years. He has since relocated to Vista in San Diego County, where he bought the house next door to his long-time friend, Tracy Lu Johnston. (She designed the time-line graphics for this article.) He retains warm memories of Los Angeles, and of the Pacific Electric Railway, whose red cars he rode as a boy, but he has a broad interest in California history generally, and transportation history in particular.
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A. C. W. Bethel; The Unfinished Web: Transit Planning in Los Angeles, 1895–1953 Part I: 1895–1925. Southern California Quarterly 30 October 2020; 102 (4): 327–384. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/scq.2020.102.4.327
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