2012-04-11 / News

LA looks to revive its mythic past with streetcars

By Andrew Dalton
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES—Half a century after the last of the lost Pacific Electric Red Cars rumbled through Los Angeles, a move has begun to return streetcars to downtown LA.

With a route chosen by the city and an environmental review begun, the proposed fourmile Broadway-to-Figueroa loop is a modest project compared to the region's subway extensions and freeway expansions, but would provide a link between the key spots of the downtown renaissance and a symbolic link with the city's mythologized past.

Los Angeles once had a thousand miles of streetcar tracks.

Along them ran the Yellow Car Line and the more famed Red Cars, and since they gave way to freeways in the early 1960s they've become a symbol of the city's lost intimacy and identity, celebrated by politicians looking to restore transit glory and by films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

While the streetcars of memory are invoked often—the city's soon-to-open Expo light rail line has Red Car tickets etched into the concrete at its final stop and city leaders on a recent test run shared memories of riding it—the proposed downtown project would be a far more direct restoration, starting with the route itself.

“Virtually every bit of this alignment is on streets that have historically had Red or Yellow car lines,” said Robin Blair, director of planning for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

While boosters are quick to point out that the new cars would be thoroughly modern, sleek and environmentally sound, nostalgia is their biggest emotional selling point.

“Everyone has a story about themselves or their parents or somebody riding these streetcars,” said City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose 2008 “Bringing Back Broadway” plan started the push.

Broadway was once the busiest and brightest street in the center of the city, then for decades became a symbol of downtown's decay.

Huizar's $36.5-million plan has sought to revive the movie theaters and nightspots that have sat in disrepair.

It appears to be working, and the streetcar line could make its restoration complete.

“It's a beautiful corridor,” Huizar said.

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