Plenty still exist. But new Metro stations have marked the end of others.

Yes, L.A. does, in fact, have a subway. And if the city truly wants to become a (relatively) less car-reliant place in the coming years, as its controversial new mobility plan suggests, then the growing Metro rail system will play a big role in that transformation.

But serving transit riders is only part of the job. Metro rail also has the power to nudge L.A.’s land use patterns away from endless roads and parking lots toward denser, walkable developments that serve as home to retailers and residents alike. Some new satellite images, collected at Metro’s The Source blog by Joseph Lemon, suggest that shift is already underway in some areas of the city.

The photos come via Google Earth. Some are from archives and date between 1989 to 1994 (Metro rail launched in 1990); some are from the present day. The idea, writes Lemon, was to track how neighborhoods within a half-mile of a rail station have changed over that time:

They provide the big view, not the nitty gritty specifics of exactly how many units have been built, how many are affordable, what kind of retail has been built and those type of questions. We don’t have that kind of data.

Metro does track the buildings that have sprouted as part of its “joint development program”—a real-estate arm focusing on transit-oriented projects, with a big-picture goal of reducing car dependency. The program has created more than 2,000 units to date, with 570 more in the works. So far some 31 percent have been designated as affordable housing, though this summer Metro announced that it wants that figure to reach 35 percent.

The Source spotlighted some notable new developments on the present-day images in yellow. A clear theme among the 12 neighborhoods surveyed is the loss of surface parking lots to transit-adjacent buildings. Sure, some of these structures might still have garage parking, but when it comes to the greater goal of discouraging car use, making attractive places to live and shop right near rail stations is a move in the right direction.

We’ve collected a few cases below. (To zoom in, click the links in the captions; for animated before-and-after GIFs, head to The Source.)

Hollywood & Vine (Red line)

The Hollywood & Vine station area in 1989 (top) and 2015 (bottom). (Metro / The Source)

The 1989 image of this area is a checkerboard of surface lots. But since the Hollywood and Vine station opened in 1999, quite a few of these squares (though far from all) have been converted into buildings. Lemon highlights the W Hollywood Hotel, which opened in 2010 right atop the station as part of Metro’s joint development program. The clearest examples in the 2015 image are directly south and northeast of the Metro M logo.

Wilshire & Vermont (Purple and Red lines)

The area around the Wilshire & Vermont station in 1989 (top) and 2015 (bottom) (Metro / The Source)

The Wilshire and Vermont station, which serves Metro rail’s purple and red lines, opened in 1996. Today there’s an apartment building with ground-floor retailers as well as a new middle school above the station—all built as part of Metro’s transit-oriented development program. “As for the area around the station, there’s still a lot of parking in the area, but not quite as much as pre-subway,” writes Lemon.

Little Tokyo / Arts District (Gold line)

The area around the Little Tokyo / Arts District Metro station in 1994 (top) and 2015 (bottom). (Metro / The Source)

In 1994, the area that would become home to the Little Tokyo and Arts District rail station was, in Lemon’s words, “a sea of parking lots.” That’s changed quite a bit over the years. The spotlighted parcels to the south and west of the Metro M are striking in their conversion from barren surface lots to dense building clusters. Lemon notes the development on 2nd Street in particular: “an entire city block devoted to parking has now become a large mixed-use residential complex.”

The station, which opened in 2009, isn’t the sole cause of the building boom. But it’s certainly helped steer the change, and will continue to do so. The station is expected to be moved underground soon, writes Lemon, which should make those surface parking lots just east of the Metro M even more attractive to developers.

Downtown Los Angeles (Blue, Expo, Purple, Red, Silver lines)

Areas near Downtown Los Angeles rail stations in 1989 (top) and 2015 (bottom). (Metro / The Source)

Again, it goes without saying that the several Metro rail stations in Downtown L.A. aren’t the only reason for new growth in the area. But Lemon says the new South Park district, in particular, has “very visibly changed” since 1989, with many developments “being built over what used to be blocks and blocks of surface parking lots.” Check out the spotlighted area second from the top, as well as a couple others just east of the Staples Center, for some good examples.

About the Author

Eric Jaffe
Eric Jaffe

Eric Jaffe is the former New York bureau chief for CityLab. He is the author of A Curious Madness and The King's Best Highway.

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