Anthony Asadullah Samad

*The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is set to take a key vote this week on the long awaited Crenshaw-LAX rail transit line. A motion proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas seeks to address serious deficiencies on the Crenshaw leg of the line. Deficiencies that address economic viability and public safety concerns in our community. A stop in Leimert Park Village could address the economic viability concern.

A subway tunnel from 48th street to 60th would address both the issue of economic viability and public safety. One thing is clear, it is imperative that the community position be heard, and be supported. Failure to do so could cause commercial investment and economic development to move past our community as quickly as the train line they intend to build. We can’t let that happen, so we must let our voices be heard this week.

Here’s what’s at stake; the current rail design that is set to begin as early as 2014 (a decade and a half earlier than the original start date of 2029) and was originally a proposed BUS line, proposed to stop at Crenshaw and King, then again at Crenshaw and Hyde Park, rolling prime a cultural and economic center in our community Leimert Park Village. Now, if you look at community cultural centers all over the city, public rail transit stops there. People would have to walk four or five blocks to get to Leimert Park, when a redesign would let them off one half block from the village. The community wants the Leimert Park stop, and they should have it. The MTA staff recommendations do not take into consideration the community sentiment and merits of their position (they rarely do-but that’s going to change). Number crunchers and bean counters can determine the infrastructure development of the black community for the next 80 years to come. It isn’t until we go down to MTA in mass organization and help them understand the community’s position.

More critically is the issue of public safety, traffic congestion and economic suppression of businesses that will occur with a rail line running up the middle of Crenshaw before it peels off on Florence Blvd. The current design is proposing the train runs at grade (street level), the Ridley-Thomas motion is proposing a subway tunnel under Crenshaw from 48th to 60th Street near the Hyde Park stop, so that the following things DON’T occur; the inability to cross Crenshaw because of the rail track barriers that prohibit left turns and discourage pedestrians from crossing; the increase in gridlock that already paralyzes Crenshaw would be increased; businesses along the Crenshaw/Hyde Park corridor would see a decrease in business because of the difficulties in reaching businesses along rail line corridors; lastly the meridian currently dividing Crenshaw and decorated with palm trees and greenery would be uprooted for rail construction. You know our community was the last to get landscaping in the city. Now they want to take it out. All the reason to listen to the community’s request to go below grade or above grade (build a bridge like at LaCienega and Rodeo Rd.). A subway design wouldn’t cost any more than the proposed at grade if the redesign was incorporated BEFORE construction started. So there is time to do it. Again, the community’s voice must be heard. How we position ourselves on this mass transit infrastructure issue will speak volumes on how we impact the economic growth and prosperity of Leimert Park Village and the Hyde Park Business District. What we cannot allow is the underdevelopment of mass transit that tends to ghetto-rize urban communities.

Urban centers are designed around two things; schools and mass transit. Business comes where the transit stops, and homeowners come where the schools are. The money then follows both. Until our community understands that mis-designing mass transit is a detriment to the economic development prospects of our community, we will never see the change we desire. When we get it, they get it. We just have to show MTA the Crenshaw community now gets it and make they get it too. We know what we want in our communities. With the community watchdogs and policy sophistication we have now, they’ll never misdesign another rail system…and that’s a good thing.

Show up at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 28th, 2011, MTA Board Room, 1 Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Wear black shirts in unity and demand the support of a Leimert Park stop and a subway corridor on Crenshaw.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter.com at @dranthonysamad.com.