Comparing Headways: Then and now

When people wax nostalgic about the early 20th century transit systems in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway and Pacific Electric, you will often hear phrases like, “it was the best public transportation system in the world!” and statistics about how large the systems were.

But what really made the prewar electric railway systems great was how often they ran. This post will compare transit service in the “golden age” and now.

Washington and York Boulevards

LARy’s W line streetcars ran from York Boulevard in Highland Park along Monte Vista Street, Marmion Way, and North Figueroa to Downtown.  The other end of this route ran from Downtown along W. Washington Boulevard.

The York Boulevard part of the W line is now mostly covered by Metro’s line 83.  The Washington Boulevard portion of the route is now covered by Metro’s line 35.

In 1925, LARy added more streetcars to the W line, bringing rush hour headways to 2 1/2 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes in the evening.

Current transit service is nowhere near this frequency.On Washington Boulevard, Metro’s line 35 runs every 11 minutes in the morning and every 15 minutes during the evening peak.

In Highland Park, line 83 runs even less frequently, about every 20 minutes during rush hours. Although to be fair, the Gold Line runs nearby and offers light rail service every six mintues during peak periods.

  • AM peak headway, 1925: 2.5 minutes
  • AM peak headway, line 35, 2015: 11 minutes
  • AM peak headway, line 83, 2015: 20 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 1925: 2 minutes
  • PM peak headway, line 35, 2015: 15 minutes
  • PM peak headway, line 83, 2015: 20 minutes
  • Gold line peak headway, 2015: 6 minutes.

Excluding the Gold Line, Highland Park only receives about 10% of the transit service it received 90 years ago.  Service on Washington Boulevard has also been severely eroded, but in this case there’s no nearby light to takes its place.

Santa Fe Avenue & Pacific Boulevard

These streets are served by Metro’s line 60 bus service between Downtown Los Angles and Huntington Park. This bus runs every 6 minutes in the AM rush hour, every 15 minutes in the middle of the day, every 6 minutes in the PM rush, and every 30 minutes at night.

This was one the route of LARy’s J line streetcar. In 1923, a new schedule was put into effect, with AM rush hour service every 3 minutes, midday service every 5 minutes, and PM rush hour service every 2 minutes.  Streetcars ran every 7 minutes at night.

  • AM peak headway, 1923:  2.5-1.5 minutes
  • AM peak headway, 2015: 2 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 1923: 1.5-3 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 2015: 4 minutes
  • Midday headway, 1923: 5 minutes
  • Midday headway, 2015: 15 minutes
  • Nighttime headway, 1923: 7 minutes
  • Nighttime headway, 2015: 30 minutes

South Broadway

South Broadway was formerly known as Moneta Avenue, and it was the route of the Los Angeles Railway (LARy)’s M line. The south end of the line split into two branches.  One traveled west on 54th Street.  The other continued south to Manchester.

In 1922, LARy’s employee newsletter announced that the combined headways on the route north of 54th Street would be reduced to 90 seconds during the PM rush hour.  Service would operate every three minutes on either branch. AM rush hour service ran every 2.5 minutes on the Manchester branch.

Currently, South Broadway is the route of Metro’s lines 45 and 745.  There is little transit service on 54th Street anymore.  In the AM rush, line 45 operates about every 4 minutes, and line 745 every 5 or so minutes, for a combined headway of one bus  about every two minutes.  PM rush hour service is less frequent, with 4-8 minute headways on line 45 and an 11 minute headway on line 745.  This averages about one bus every four minutes.

  • AM peak headway, 1922:  2.5-1.5 minutes
  • AM peak headway, 2015: 2 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 1922: 1.5-3 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 2015: 4 minutes

There has been a slight erosion in PM frequencies, but overall, South Broadway receives transit service that is almost as good as it was in the 20s.

But sadly, this cannot be said for most transit lines.  There are many corridors in LA that receive only a small fraction of the service they once did, like Glendale Boulevard, Jefferson, or Temple.  Many once-thriving streetcar lines have no bus service at all today.

This isn’t just because of cars, the decline of transit, etc.  We also have to consider changing population, demographics, and employment centers.  But the frequency of transit service is a very important factor in comparing historical transit services to those of today and it’s important not to forget that.

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