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.

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