Thursday, May 06, 2010

Pacific Electric Red Cars

image:: Map of Pacific Electric Redcar system, circa 1925,

A blog post by a colleague on ThickCulture made reference to a Feagin and Parker book on how aligned economic interests killed mass transit, including the Pacific Electric red cars {flickr gallery} in southern California, which was started by railroad magnate Henry Huntington. I've blogged about the Key Route system in the Bay area that suffered a similar fate.

I recall my mom talking about the red cars from her days of growing up in Santa Monica/Ocean Park in the 1930s and early 1940s. There were old red car tracks where I grew up. The tracks were used by the Santa Ana line, which is on the above map stretching from Watts to Santa Ana and the closest stop to where I grew up would be Moody. 

I look at this map and I wonder how LA may have been different if this system were still in place. I see the corridors that could have served as a basis for higher density development and how the streetcar system could have evolved into a light rail system. I wonder what these corridors would look like and how different the "LA experience" would be if mass transit weren't dominated by busses and cars weren't the default mode of transportation. I have a friend who lives in Ontario, California and it's interesting to see that in 1925 Ontario and Upland {click on map to see these towns on the east edge} were hooked up to an affordable mass transit system. I've only driven out there and while I tend to explore mass transit possibilities when I'm in Greater Toronto Area or New York City/Westchester, I always just assume mass transit in LA is a lost cause.

Here's an excerpt of a video, "The Heartbeat of America" explaining GM's role in the demise of streetcars in LA::

Here's some archival footage of the Pacific Electric streetcars in action::

Song:: Deep Dish with Everything but the Girl-"The Future of the Future"

Twitterversion::#ThickCulture post reminds me of Pacific Electric red cars.1925 map shows how mass transit could have shaped the LA basin. @Prof_K


Kate Coe said...

Well, LA could have just brought them back instead of building the Metro system at vast expense. But that would have been too easy. So, riders still can't take the subway to the airport, the ocean or Disneyland, but LA's got a subway.

Kenneth M. Kambara said...

Exactly! It drove me nuts that there wasn't a way to get to LAX using Metro. My college friend, who was a die-hard Dodger fan, thought in the 90s that the Blue Line should be extended to Dodger Stadium. There's no regional approach to transit and planning, so we'll see more incongruities like I-5 getting widened in Orange County, only to narrow down to 6 lanes at the LA County line.