Leave Homes Alone: Say No to the 605 Corridor “Improvement” Project

The I-605 Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) has been frustrating, misleading, and frankly alarming. 

For those that haven’t heard, Metro is proposing a freeway expansion along with other operational improvements which would displace a significant number of homes in Downey and other Gateway Cities. The expansion aims to “reduce freeway congestion” and “improve safety” along the I-5 and I-605 corridors. While Metro has not yet released the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the expansion, previous documents have indicated four alternatives, one no-build and three which would each expand the freeway by four lanes.

StreetsblogLA and (hopefully) future Downey District 1 councilmember Alexandria Contreras have been on top of covering and advocating for the no-build alternative, which would leave the freeway as-is without further harming the local community. 

Metro also recently announced that they would be delaying the release of the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) until 2021, but you can review other documents available on Metro’s website, follow StreetsblogLA on Twitter, and email i605corridor@metro.net to voice opposition to the project.

Why oppose the freeway widening? 

There are a lot of reasons. Front and center is the fact that all of the build alternatives would destroy hundreds of homes adjacent to the freeway. This not only displaces hundreds of families in a region with a major housing crisis, it would also wipe out the generational wealth those families have built for decades. Not to mention that the previously released documents identified the affected properties were all located on the majority Hispanic side of the freeway, leaving homes on the predominantly White side untouched. 

Another reason is for environmental issues. More lanes of freeway = more cars = more pollution. Not just CO2, which is bad for climate change, but particulate matter and other pollutants which contribute to bad air quality, smog, and adverse health effects for nearby residents.

It should also be emphasized that freeway widenings haven’t worked before and won’t work now. Metro spent $1 billion on widening the 405 back in 2014, resulting in increased delays during peak travel times. This utopic vision where a lane or two of freeway gets added and suddenly all the traffic goes away has never happened before and won’t happen now. I-5 and I-605 are no different. 

Of course, freeways being problematic isn’t a new concept. We’ve seen their negative effects on air quality and displacement of non-white communities for the past 70+ years in Los Angeles, California, and the rest of the US. Yet in 2020, we’re still having the same old conversation that this time it is different and this time it is necessary. Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If built, this project will be a case study of what not to do as a transportation agency. Maybe Metro will even write about it disapprovingly, like this blog post on the C Line (formerly the Green Line) and I-105 project which was published less than two months ago. 

The Problem is Inaccessibility

What we need are reliable and viable alternatives to driving. Yet LA Metro, the largest transit provider in LA County, fails at achieving this goal in Downey and other Gateway Cities. Even though Downey residents pay sales taxes and other taxes which make up Metro’s budget, the city is not particularly accessible by Metro transit. Yes, Metro does run transit service in Downey, including the following bus lines (pre-COVID data):

Bus LinePeak Hour 
Headways (mins)
Headways (mins)
Data taken from the proposed Next Gen Study Bus Line proposals. Cells with an * indicate routes with “high quality transit” service with headways at 15 minutes or less. 

The Metro C Line, which also displaced hundreds of homes in Downey in the 1990s, is much more frequent and reliable than any of the buses. However, actually accessing the C Line can be a challenge since it is located in the middle of the 105 freeway. Surrounding the station are many streets with missing sidewalks, thus reducing accessibility to the community. Furthermore, the buses that serve the station, as shown above, don’t make frequent trips. This further increases the difficulty of transferring between modes to link trips.

This map was made a few months ago and shows just how many missing sidewalks there are in Downey District 1 close to the C Line Station. Source: TPS

While all of Metro’s routes provide coverage in the transit system, they do not provide frequent headways or reach other major destinations in a reasonable amount of time. Case in point, even though Downtown LA is only 10 miles away from Downey, no combination of transit routes connect the two cities within an hour of travel time at any hour of the day. This is not a viable alternative to driving, a mode which can get residents between Downey and Downtown in 30 minutes or faster in one trip. 

Here are what Metro travel times look like at 8AM near I-5 in Downey. The green area are within 30 minutes of the starting point under the proposed Next Gen Bus Study. Existing conditions are even worse. Source: Metro Next Gen Study Website

So next time Metro posts a blog post crying about how they can’t attract riders, let’s remember that their “attempt” to do so requires waiting in the sun for 30 minutes with no shelter or bench, taking a bus (or two, or three) stuck in the same traffic as other vehicles, and planning ahead for all the extra travel time and no shows that are likely to happen, leaving riders stranded with limited alternatives to get home. Not to mention all of this data was before Metro cut bus services by 20% due to COVID-related funding issues.

If cities are going to reduce parking requirements in new developments, encourage more residents to give up their cars in favor of alternative travel modes, propose implementing congestion pricing, and create equitable and accessible communities, then we need a transit agency that is dedicated to providing fast, frequent service throughout the county 24/7. The idea that a Downtown LA-oriented transit system will achieve any of these outcomes with (sometimes) frequent service only during peak commuter hours is oversight at best.

Moving Forward

Measure R allocates funds for the 605 CIP, so Metro has to study potential improvements to the freeway. But the improvements don’t have to add 4 travel lanes and demolish hundreds of homes. Many of the potential modifications Metro references can happen within the existing right-of-way, thus improving traffic flow and safety without the need for a large capacity expansion. These might include realigning/upgrading ramps, installing coordinated traffic signals, and adding pedestrian crossing/safety enhancements to make the area more walkable.

Metro previously excluded project alternatives that solely looked at these smaller upgrades which would cost less and not cause community displacement. Metro should seriously consider including an alternative without property acquisition which concentrates on smaller operational improvements to the freeway, ramps, and the pedestrian and cyclist experience navigating the neighborhood. This will satisfy their need to study and fund improvements as outlined by the Measure R tax increase. Any leftover funds could be spent on other localized improvements such as bus service and infrastructure, repaving streets and sidewalks, bike lanes and bike storage, and countless other capital improvements within the corridor. 

In the long-term, Metro needs to seriously consider what mobility looks like and whether their transit service is fulfilling those needs in Downey and the rest of LA County. You shouldn’t have to live or work in Downtown LA to have access to reliable transit options. Rail expansions have certainly helped, implementing the next gen bus service will help too, but there is more work to be done. Metro’s Board of Directors and CEO need to be leading the future of transportation in LA County, not reverting back to the troubled history of the 1950’s.

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