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Plan to Restore Streetcars in Angelino Heights

by Ross Plesset Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006 at 5:51 PM

"More than 27 other cities across our country have installed similar trolley lines. It's about time that Los Angeles catches up." -- Bruce Lash, president Angelino Heights Trolley Line, Inc.

Plan to Restore Stre...
1030_at_engineco.jpg, image/jpeg, 553x209

"WILL BICYCLISTS BE ABLE TO PUT THEIR BIKES ON THE TROLLEY AS THEY RIDE IT, OR IS THERE GOING TO BE A RACK ON THE FRONT OF THE CARS?" -- Audience member

"I WONDERED IF YOU'VE EVER BEEN TANTALIZED BY SOMETHING THAT COULD BE SOLAR-POWERED OR SOMETHING THAT COULD BE EFFICIENT RATHER THAN RELYING ON A VINTAGE SYSTEM." -- Audience member

"[I]N TERMS OF STOPS, PERHAPS SOME CONSIDERATION [COULD BE GIVEN] TO BRING IT UP FURTHER TO DODGER STADIUM." -- Audience member

For over a decade, communities throught Los Angeles have, independently of each other, been working on plans to revive portions of Southern California's streetcars(1). Before the trolley system was completely dismantled in the early 1960s, it was considered by many to be the most advanced mass transit sytem in the world.

One community that hopes to resurrect its streetcars is Angelino Heights. In early January of 2006, Bruce Lash, one of the project's prime movers, gave a presentation to the Echo Park Improvement Association. (Also discussed at that meeting was a farmer's market for Echo Park, which is set to begin this spring with a location to be determined and the use of solar energy at the Van de Kamp bakerry-turned-school in Glassell Park.)

Below is an almost-complete transcript of the event.

---------

January 5, 2006, Williams Hall (Elysian Park): Bruce Lash, president of the Angelino Heights Trolley Line, Inc; David Goldsboro; and Rita Ross are introduced to members of the Echo Park Improvement Association.

BRUCE LASH: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. . . . For those not familiar with us, we intend to build a vintage electric trolley line in and around the Angelino Heights area.

LASH DESCRIBES THE PROJECT'S ORIGIN

Three years ago, a well-established local streetcar history organization contacted some neighbors in Angelino Heights and asked if we were interested in an original 1920 streetcar that used to run in our neighborhood. There were a couple of stipulations. First, that we restore it to its original condition--it had been stored in a shed for [over] 50 years--and that we would run it once again in Angelino Heights as an electric trolley on railroad tracks that are in the street.

We took up this challenge and formed a 501(c)3 non-profit volunteer organization in 2003, to establish this streetcar line. Since that time we've met many of our initial goals. We've established an intitial route [see map following this story] that would assure that we would have riders on our trolleys.

PROPOSED ROUTE

We decided to connect Angelino Heights with its historic homes and Echo Park with its business district and beautiful lake with Olvera Street and Union Station in a loop that would draw tourists along the original passageways.

"THIS ROUTE IS ADJUSTABLE AND EXPANDABLE FOR THE FUTURE." -- Bruce Lash.

. . . It was necessary to start out with routes that are small enough to be financially possible yet large enough to have enough riders to make it profitable. This route is adjustable and expandable for the future.

The trolley [would] run on tracks that are in the street with a single electric line for power. So it can go virtually anywhere except on real steep hills.

In the past, these trolleys ran all over: in the neighborhoods and on the main streets. It was, I think, the largest streetcar system in the world.

The possibilities of extending it [include routes] north on Echo Park Avenue and west on Sunset Boulevard. It could go up to the Cornfield State Park, or the Grand Avenue project, or it could go into Chinatown. There are [many other]possibilities.

BENEFITS OF A STREETCAR

We believe that a trolley line such as ours will economically revitalize the adjacent areas, especially Olvera Street, Sunset Boulevard, and downtown Echo Park.

SUPPORT

Besides being contacted by many private individuals who support our project, we have met with or recieved letters of encouragement and support from three of our City Council [Members]: Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge, and Eric Garcetti. We have also received letters of support from the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Commission which oversees Olvera Street)

We have signed up over 1300 [members] of the public at the Echo Park Lotus Festival and at the Metro Gold Line opening [in July, 2003]. The public loves our project. Everyone we talk to is thrilled with it.

We have also put together a comprehensive portfolio explaining our project, and we've held large rumage sales at the fire station in Angelino Heights, with donations from neighbors, the public, and supporters of our project. We've also been on television, in the Los Angeles Times, and in Downtown News. There's even a report that someone in New Zealand knows about our project.

Our immediate future plans include purchasing a piece of property, hopefully in Angelino Heights, in order to build a car house and a trolley barn that we can use to maintain our trolleys and restore them.

We also plan on bringing the trolley up to operational standards. As I said, it was stored for 50 years in a shed from 1946 until the early 2000s. This type of work will be accomplished through volunteer work and/or professional services. Some of the professional services needed will be for technical aspects of our project.

"WE NEED AN ONGOING PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN TO KEEP US IN THE PUBLIC EYE, AND WE NEED COMPUTER AND WEBSITE-ORIENTED HELP IN ORDER TO MODIFY AND UPDATE OUR WEBSITE." -- Bruce Lash

As you can see, we've set up the basic foundations of our trolley line with volunteer help from a handful of neighbors, but there is more to accomplish. We must continue to contact, meet with, and gain the support of our public officials, we must obtain funding from grants, corporate donations, and public fundraisers.

We need an ongoing publicity campaign to keep us in the public eye, and we need computer and website-oriented help in order to modify and update our website. . . . Also, we need people to work on fundraising for us through grants, corporate donations, and public fundraisers.

We are ready to move forward. It's time for us to expand our volunteers who would like to take advantage of this rare opportunity to participate the history-making project to help build the railroads.

"MORE THAN 27 OTHER CITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY HAVE INSTALLED SIMILAR TROLLEY LINES. IT'S ABOUT TIME THAT LOS ANGELES CATCHES UP." -- Bruce Lash

We are confident that our project will benefit our Echo Park community. It will stimulate the business sector with tourist money that while riding an attention-getting, environmentally-friendly, low-impact mode of transportation that can be enjoyed by all the residents of our area. More than 27 other cities across our country have installed similar trolley lines. It's about time that Los Angeles catches up.

Thank you once again for this opportunity to inform you about the Angelino Heights trolley line. . . .

[A question is asked about the power source for the trolleys.]

LASH: A single overhead electric line that's usually mounted off of street lights or telephone polls.

QUESTION: Are we going to have tracks, or are we going to have tires?

LASH: Railroad tracks. They're still in many of the streets. The tracks are still in the road on East Edgware Road and Douglas Street. When they took these trolleys out of service, the city wasn't about to start tearing up all the streets to take out the tracks. They just left them there, just like you still see on Alameda. When it was time to pave over the streets, they just put a layer of pavement over it. So a lot of them are still buried under there(2).

QUESTION: What do you think the impact would be on regular traffic? Our streets, right now, are so congested.

LASH: These trolleys function similar to a bus. We have buses going up and down a lot of the streets anyway.

QUESTION (continued) [The trolleys] can't maneuver.

LASH: It depends on the tracks. The actual configuration of where the tracks will run would have to be worked out with the city departments that organize those things. They did have these trolleys from the late 1800s up to through the early 1960s, when they were taken completely out of service, and they ran all over the streets of Los Angeles.

". . . WHY DOESN'T IT FEED DODGER STADIUM?" --Question

QUESTION: [Regarding] your choice of routes, clearly I can see some logic in them, but why, for example, does it not go towards and along Glendale Boulevard like the old Red Car line? Why doesn't it feed Dodger Stadium? Why this choice of routes?

LASH: Glendale Boulevard, in my view, is a much busier street than going up Echo Park Avenue to the lake. . . . When we developed this route . . . I wanted to include the interesting places of our area, the historic places. Echo Park Lake to me is one of the most beautiful parks and lakes in the city. So I thought that would be a beautiful way to go instead of being on the congestion of Glendale Boulevard.

QUESTION: ...to avoid conflict with cars?

LASH: In that instance, yes.

Now with Dodger Stadium, we did come to Elysian Park Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, but if you want to go all the way up into Dodger Stadium, you have a real steep [hill] that runs up this way. [Points to map.] What I've learned is that the trolley cars can climb up hills well. They have electric motors that are powerful, but in order to come back down, their breaking systems are not as strong. [Laughter.] That's why we avoided it.

That's why, originally, instead of continuing on Douglas Street and Sunset here, we stopped on top of the hill at Kensington, [refers again to a map] because this is a steep hill going down this way.

"OUR ESTIMATE IS THAT IT WOULD TAKE THREE TO FOUR CARS TO RUN ON IT AT REGULAR INTERVALS." -- Bruce Lash

COMMENT & QUESTION: I think it's a great idea, personally.

I have two questions. One is, are you talking about one trolley, or how would more be procured? And the second question is, how are you going to fund this?

LASH: Well, we received one trolley car to begin with. Our estimate is that it will take three to four cars to run on it at regular intervals. Although, it's really important to run on it as often as buses because at least on Sunset Boulevard the buses will be running anyway. But we would like to eventually get three or four trolleys.

Now there are vintage trolleys still around. Sometimes they're being used as storage units, sometimes there's somebody living in one of them, or sometimes they're at a little business. They're stashed around. This historic organization that we got the trolley car from know[s] of all the trolley cars in the whole country. So they're our resource for the technical aspect of it.

And funding, that's where we're kind of at a standstill at this time. There are governmental grants, but they usually have strings tied to them: "You have to do this," "You have to match the money," or "You have to get somebody else involved."

There are corporate donations that can be solicited, or businesses along the route can be asked to donate, and then there's the general public. As a 501(c)(3), we're required to be funded so much by the general public. [Inaudible sentence.]

"WILL BICYCLISTS BE ABLE TO PUT THEIR BIKES ON THE TROLLEY AS THEY RIDE IT, OR IS THERE GOING TO BE A RACK ON THE FRONT OF THE CARS?" -- Question

QUESTION: Do you know, at this point, if the trolleys are going to be friendly to bicyclists? Will bicyclists be able to put their bikes on the trolley as they ride it, or is there going to be a rack on the front of the cars?

LASH: Well,[the trolleys] originally had an old cowcatcher kind of a thing on the front. They could easily incorporate a bike rack on there. We haven't gotten to that point yet, but that would be an easy thing to attach to it, just like what some of the buses have now.

"I WONDERED IF YOU'VE EVER BEEN TANTALIZED BY SOMETHING THAT COULD BE SOLAR-POWERED OR SOMETHING THAT COULD BE EFFICIENT RATHER THAN RELYING ON A VINTAGE SYSTEM." -- Question

QUESTION: I was wondering about your perspective. This vintage [approach], where "we're going to make the whole thing vintage," how that integrates into a modern city? I wondered if you've ever been tantalized by thinking of something that could be solar-powered or something that could be efficient rather than relying on a vintage system, which we know is inefficient that really isn't a boon to the energy cycle of the city.

And maybe [the trolley system] could allow some flexibility so that it could run on rubber rather than on tracks. [In which case, there could be] routes in the middle of the road or on the side of the road. [Inaudible statement.] Have you thought about some things that are really smart [rather] than just tapping into the old system?

LASH: Personally, I'm more interested in the historic aspect of it. They have these buses that look like trolley cars but run on rubber tires. There's not an interest by the public in those particularly. But the public goes wild when you talk about railway tracks, whether it's trains or trolley cars. They're fascinated by it; they've always been fascinated by it. If you ask anybody that's maybe 60 years or older that has lived in Los Angeles, [laughter] they all remember the Red Cars or the Yellow Cars.

Now, as far as power, this runs on a 600 volt DC power system. You have a transformer that transforms the 600 volt current. It's not enough to run on solar power.

But it is possible, based on what I know from my power bill, to get green power. You sign up, [and] for an extra three dollars a month, or whatever it is, you get power that is produced by the windmills or whatever, instead of burning fossil fuels. I would go for that.

As far as a hybrid engine or something, I don't know if anybody's tried that. These electric motors can be very powerful. That's what locomotives run on. They have a diesel engine, and it runs electric motors that turn the wheels.

COMMENT: Twenty-seven other states have the trolleys on tracks, and it's working very well. The reason it's working very well is because it's antiquated, and people love taking a little trip back in time.

GUESSTIMATE OF COST

QUESTION: Getting back to the fundraising issue, do you have a number for doing it as planned? Assuming that there are existing tracks and turning up one car, what do you have to raise in terms of public support and grant money?

LASH: It's really hard to say because we have to go by what other cities have spent. I've research on the internet, and some other cities will put in an extravagant system where they redo all streets and all the stores along the way. They've spent a lot of money that way.

I would like to do it in a bare-bones fashion. I don't believe in spending zillions of dollars. We've kind of estimated about to -25 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but our route is about five-and-a-half miles. And the Gold Line that's going out to Boyle Heights is six miles or something like that, and they're going to be spending like a billion dollars to do it.

COMMENT: That's mass transportation.

LASH: Yes, I'm just saying that at the price that we foresee, this is a bargain. They'll have a certain amount of riders, and we'll have a certain amount of riders. The buses are pretty busy on Sunset Boulevard. We'll have tourists coming from Olvera Street.

QUESTION: How many seats?

LASH: There's two to a seat. It might be about 48.

QUESTION: Don't forget, those of us who use wheelchairs will want to use something like that.

LASH: That's something that has to be looked into when we get to that point.

COMMENT: You're at that point.

LASH: Well, we're not at that point in restoring the trolleys. Right now they have a door about that wide [moves his hands about two feet apart].

[An audience member comments about ramps and lifts.]

LASH: One advantage to our trolley is that it pulls up to the curb, and--I'm not talking about the wheelchair access part-- there's one step that folds down, and the the second step is onto the floor of the trolley. Whereas . . . [s]ome of other streetcars that they've had require an entrance at a higher level, like the Blue Line.

QUESTION: You said that these trolleys pull up to the curb. Do you mean that?

LASH: That's how they can function at that type of level. They're a low-level streetcar, whereas some are up high(3).

QUESTION: Doesn't that mean that you'll have to put medians into the streets so people can access the cars?

LASH: That, like I said, has to be determined by how the city wants to handle it, whether they want to have them go in the slow lane down Sunset and then curve over to the curb like a bus would do or...

QUESTION: Excuse me, you're trying to be governed by the [original] track, [but] Sunset wasn't as wide a street as it is now. Are the tracks being curved so the cars can pick up people or let people off at the curb?

LASH: I envision it going down the slow lane of the street just like a bus does, and then the track goes over to the curb and stops at the bus stop. That's a possibility. I haven't worked with the city on all these details because that's something [that will come up] down the road.

COMMENT: I'm not seeing this as mass transportation. I'm seeing it as a cultural thing to take people from the cornfield to Olvera Street to Echo Park Lake. Am I right?

LASH: Yes.

COMMENT (continued}: Another thing, I think what they're asking [from us] tonight is suggestions and support.

But what I'd like to say that what you see as far as fundraising [and] marketing, you're looking at it right here: these three people. [She gestures to Lash, Rita Ross, and David Goldsboro.] I've worked with them for the last four years by providing the fire station for the rummage sales, and they look for the troops. You know how everyone says, "I'm for it." Then, when they look for the troops in back of them, it's just the three of them and a few other people coming along.

I think there's a lot of things [for which] they really need help, but I know that they have the commitment of the local officials. It's not a perfect plan, no plan is perfect, but the concept I like.

People aren't aren't going to pull the [rope] and get off on any corner. I don't think that would be practical. I think bringing people to the cornfield, to Echo Park, to Angelino Heights...

COMMENT: There was a trolley during this period that ran on tires that had no electricity, and it maneuvered like a bus, but it was a trolley.

OTHER: The P Car.[The P Car is described at: www.downtownnews.com/articles/ 2004/01/26/news/news04.txt ]

COMMENT (continued): Yes.

OTHER: Now am I the only one here that rode all these systems? [Laughter.]

COMMENT: I think the cultural idea is great. In terms of getting support, I think the most important thing is to have a sense of the real feasibility of it. It seems to me that before you do a lot of work in terms of marketing and raising money, it would be valuable to meet with somebody from the Department of Transportation and ask: "How feasible is this? Is this at all conceivable?" Then if you had their endorsement, then it would probably be more compelling.

LASH: That's why we're [seeking] help. It's been left up to just a few of the neighbors so far. We're at the point where we need the help to expand that type of situation.

QUESTION: What can EPIA (Echo Park Improvement Association) do, and what can individuals do to help you with this?

LASH: What I'd like EPIA could do is write us a letter of support. That way, when we present it to the city or any government officials or apply for corporate donations or grants. The more community support we have, the better it is for us.

QUESTION: And as individuals what can we do?

LASH: As individuals, contact us at our website if you would like to donate your help on any aspects of this project.

TIME FRAME

QUESTION: You mentioned that you have at least some idea of a budget. Do you have any idea what a time line would be?

LASH: It depends on how fast the city wants to move on it, it depends on how fast we can raise the money to do it...

"OPTIMISTICALLY, IT COULD PROBABLY BE DONE IN FIVE YEARS. REALISTICALLY, IT MAY DRAG OUT LONGER. . . ." -- Bruce Lash

QUESTION: Do you know how long it took the Red Car in San Pedro to get going?

LASH: Optimistically, it could probably be done in five years. Realistically, it may drag out longer. Like I said, if the city got behind us and said: "Yes, we want to do this project. What can we do to help?" then it can go faster. If they want to do something, it gets done the next day. If they don't want to do something and they don't care about it, they drag it out.

QUESTION: How did the trolley car in San Pedro get started?

LASH: I think they got a lot of money from the Harbor Commission. I think they have one original car that was built in 1911 or so, and two replica cars. All of them, the original and the replicas, are meticulously done and they [look] showroom-new. They're just absolutely unbelievable.

QUESTION: What about Cultural Affairs?

LASH: I don't think they have the money. [Inaudible sentence.]

COMMENT: [Inaudible sentence.] There is a passing lane on Sunset Boulevard from Alameda all the way up to Angelino Heights. That's not used much. If [the trolley] doesn't need to stop on every block, you could use the passing lane, the center lane.

ANOTHER AUDIENCE MEMBER: Isn't that a bicycle lane?

COMMENT: Yes, but generally, there are such long blocks on Sunset, [so] it's not used much.

"[I]N TERMS OF STOPS, PERHAPS SOME CONSIDERATION [COULD BE GIVEN] TO BRING IT UP FURTHER TO DODGER STADIUM." -- Comment

COMMENT (continued): Along those lines, in terms of stops, perhaps consideration [could be given] to bring it up further to Dodger Stadium. The buses run during Dodger games from Alameda, from the train station, all the way up to Dodger Stadium. That way, you could just bring it up to Elysian Park Avenue. That would serve a practical purpose and generate income during the Dodger games.

LASH: We will consider anything. Right now we're just at the proposal stage for our route. We're open to any suggestions. Like I said, it has to be kept fairly small to begin with in order to make it financially feasible, and then it could spread out. If it turns out to be a success, we could extend it.

"RIGHT NOW [THE TROLLEY IS] BEING STORED OUTSIDE THROUGH THE GENEROSITY OF A NEIGHBOR. IT WOULD BE BETTER TO HAVE IT PROTECTED INSIDE SOMEWHERE." -- Bruce Lash

COMMENT: So, step one: you need funds to secure a place to put the trolley so it can start to be restored?

LASH: Yeah. Right now it's being stored outdoors through the generosity of a neighbor. It would be better to have it protected inside somewhere.

Any more questions? Thank you very much. [Applause.]

ANNOUNCEMENT: A NEW SATELITE CAMPUS OF LOS ANGELES CITY COLLEGE (FORMERLY THE VAN DE KAMP BAKERY) WILL USE SOLAR POWER.

Susan Borden takes the floor and reads from a publication called An Environmental Affair (see: http://www.lacity.org/ead/EADWeb-Newsletters/2006Jan.pdf ).

SUSAN BORDEN (reading from An Environmental Affair): "The historic Van de Kamp bakery, soon to be the site of a new satellite campus for the Los Angeles Community College District, has earned a European sustainability rating. LACCD announced in December that the historic Van de Kamp Bakery Building, which will become the Northeast Center of Los Angeles City College, is the first construction-conversion project in the United States to achieve a..." this is long "...Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating." [Extended laughter and commotion.]

[Borden skips to another part of the article.] "BREEAM seeks to minimize the adverse effects of new building construction on the environment while promoting healthy indoor conditions for the occupants. The environmental impacts of a new building, such as energy use, waste disposal, transportation concerns, and water usage, are assessed at the design stage. The adaptive reuse of the Van de Kamp building will retain the historic value of the site in Glassell Park, while being energy efficient and generating its own electricity with photovoltaic panels. [She again skips several sentences.] LACCD has set the goal to self-produce 25% of its energy needs with 10% utilizing solar energy."

So I thought that was great. [The complete text of this article can be found at: http://www.lacity.org/ead/EADWeb-Newsletters/2006Jan.pdf ]

COMMENT: Again, I'm that old: I remember a bakery [being] there.

BORDEN: It's going to look just like it used to. When you go inside... [Her voice is drowned out by others talking.]

End of transcript.



------

(1)At the time of this writing, only San Pedro had restored a Red Car line. A trolley for downtown Los Angeles was still being studied (see: http://www.redcar-la.com/cmp/intro.html ).

The idea for reviving Red Car lines in downtown goes back more than 10 years. Bruce Lash mentioned the plan in January 2006. "I was informed that they started a feasibility study," he said. "I understand that [the Angelino Heights project is] supposed to be somewhat included in that as far as how our route will intererract with their route. I think [the study] is basically about the Red Car project, but it should give some information about us, too."

Another community that has discussed reviving the Red Car is Echo Park. Also, at one point, Council Member Richard Alarcon, of the San Fernando Valley, was interested in connecting the suggested Echo Park branch to the San Fernando Valley.

George Eslinger, a former project director of Los Angeles Red Car Concept (LARC, see: http://www.redcar-la.com/) recalled discussing this with Alarcon during a presentation at a 1998 meeting of the Southern California Transit Advocates (see: http://www.socata.net/ ). "We said, in concept, 'IF the [Glendale (2) Freeway South] corridor leg got built, and IF it got all the way to San Fernando Road, mightn't there be a possibility of putting the Red Car on the Metrolink line--if we used the right sized rails--and zipping it right out to the San Fernando Valley, giving access to downtown?'" Knowing that there's already Metrolink access, Alarcon felt that a lot of his constituents might really like to ride the Red Car downtown, where they might or might not decide to use the Metrolink."

Eslinger recalled that the plan got more ambitious. "As we discussed that, another possibility came out of the woodwork," he continued. "There are some sore points because the Metrolink stations are no closer to the zoo than a mile or so. So we said, 'IF we got to San Fernando, we could surely get the Red Car right over to the zoo, with a station right in front of the zoo entrance [and] the Gene Autry Museum entrance."

(2)Lash, in a follow-up interview, commented further about the possibility of reusing original trolley tracks. "That has to be done by the city," he said. "They're going to have to do some kind of a test excavation on it to peel back the pavement and see what condition the tracks are in [and] test to see if they're useable."

(3)Lash later made an additional comment on the subject of trolley stops. "I only know about the tracks in my neighborhood here in Angelino Heights. I think they went up the right-hand side of the road. Since it was in our neighborhood, there's not a lot of traffic, and when somebody wanted to stop, they probably let them off at their house. But this is a neighborhood, this isn't what's going to happen on Sunset Boulevard where you have traffic."

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Proposed route of the Angelino Heights trolley restoration.

by Ross Plesset Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006 at 5:51 PM

Proposed route of th...
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