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TRAFFIC-WEARY WESTSIDE RESIDENTS MAKE PUSH FOR SUBWAY.

Byline: SUE DOYLE

They gathered in a Westside church to share their stories of hardship, angst and despair.

One man confided he felt his life was being wasted. One woman said there has to be a better way to live, and another said she fears the future.

No, this outpouring of grief didn't come at a 12-step support group meeting.

These people are down and out about Westside gridlock. And they want a subway to serve this dense part of town, to get the area moving and to get their lives back.

Right now, Westside resident Harold Katz lives about a mile from his job on Wilshire Boulevard, and it sometimes takes him 30 minutes to drive home. His wife, Jan, works about two miles away, and her commute at night can reach 40 minutes.

"If something happens on the Westside, such as a bank robbery or if a truck overturns on the freeway, the Westside goes crazy," said Harold Katz, 74. "All the cars start using neighborhood streets."

Katz fears traffic will only get worse. He's not alone.

About 40 people met May22 at the first of six meetings to mobilize community support for a Westside subway, held through Southern California Transit Associates, a nonprofit transit group, playing host through a $4,000 grant.

Although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has loudly campaigned for a subway to the sea down Wilshire Boulevard, Metro officials are quick to point out they call this something else -- the Westside Corridor Extension -- because they don't yet know exactly where it will go.

Sameer Khan of West Los Angeles has some ideas. So fed up with traffic, the 24-year-old rides his bike around town and sometimes takes the bus.

He wants a subway to reach at least from Wilshire around the federal buildings to Koreatown.

"We need an alternative and something underground would work," he said. "Every mile could help."

Next month, Metro staff will ask the board to hire consultants to study a transit system that will best serve the Westside, whether it's a subway, train or bus.

If approved, Metro wants the study by summer 2008. Meanwhile, there's no money identified for the project, Metro officials say.

And as Metro builds $1.5billion of rail lines -- extending the Gold Line to East L.A. and the Expo Line from downtown to Culver City -- the future of projects like this one hangs in the balance.

So the grass-roots organization wants to build an army of residents who can fire off letters to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento at a moment's notice and fight for money.

And they definitely want a subway, which today can cost up to $350million a mile to dig.

"Wilshire is the heaviest-traveled corridor in the region, and surface- based transit, such as buses, adds to congestion, rather than alleviating it," said Kymberleigh Richards, public and legislative affairs director of the L.A.-based nonprofit. "We believe the only long-term solution that will move people across that corridor efficiently and quickly is a subway."

It didn't take any convincing to the crowd that day. These soldiers were game: When will this be built? Can we put this on a ballot for voters to decide? Hey, how long did it take you to get to this meeting? Two hours?

The questions came fast and furious as the group pushed along for solutions, when suddenly one thought brought the room to a standstill:

"Don't people around the world see L.A. as a forward-thinking place?" asked Jon Kaslow of Hollywood, who rides Metro's Rapid buses to get around. "Then what's going on? Why don't we have subways?"

The question left everyone speechless. Why is a trend-setting city like Los Angeles so behind the times when it comes to public transportation?

The list of reasons is long and varied. A federal ban against building subways in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles remains in place since a 1985 methane gas explosion that injured 22 people.

At the same time, the powerful Labor/Community Strategy Center, an organization on Wilshire Boulevard, opposes rail construction and wants to double the number of buses in L.A. to 4,600.

Also, the project faces competition from dozens of other competing areas searching for scarce transit funding.

Despite the obstacles, Kaslow thinks things will get better.

"Are we a gas-guzzling, traffic-choking, noninterfacing kind of city? Is that what we want to be?" Kaslow said. "I don't think so. I have a lot of faith in the people."

What are your thoughts about a subway for the Westside? Would would work to help traffic? Tell our blog at insidesocal.com/theride.

sue.doyle(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3746

To learn more

For more information call (213) 388-2364 or go to www.socata.net.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 30, 2007
Words:802
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