Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
The embattled Tesla CEO is proposing a 3.6 mile “Dugout Loop” to help get L.A. fans to Dodger Stadium.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a great mass-transit heritage—the team owes its name to the “trolley dodgers” of their Brooklyn homeland. What they do not currently have is great mass transit.
Dodger Stadium, which opened in 1962 at the height of L.A.’s early highway-building fever, sits high on a hilly roost, locked in by traffic-engorged freeways and a massive parking moat. It’s a trek, and the vast majority of fans arrive by car, which means that even the Truest Blue fans will arrive late and leave early to beat the gridlock that girdles the stadium on game nights. L.A. Metro runs express buses down dedicated lanes from Union Station on game day, but those carry an average of just 2,975 riders per game in the 2017 season, according to the L.A. Times. Per-game attendance averaged 46,000; the stadium—which is Major League Baseball’s largest (and third-oldest) park—holds at least 56,000.
Like so many human problems, the issue of game-day traffic congestion has caught the attention of Elon Musk. Tesla’s chairman, CEO, and stock-price-whisperer-in-chief has been having a rough time of late, as a new interview with the New York Times makes clear. So consuming is his role trying to save his car company that Musk works 120 hours per week, depends on Ambien for dribs of sleep, and barely made it to his brother’s wedding in June. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days—days when I didn’t go outside,” he told the Times. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
Still—those Dodger fans need help. So Musk’s tunnel-drilling side-project, the Boring Company, has come up with a fix. Their proposal: a tunnel.
Defeating traffic is the ultimate boss battle— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 16, 2018
Specifically, it’s a high-speed underground “loop” from East Hollywood to Dodger Stadium. Eight- to 16-person, zero-emissions pods—“skates” in Musk-ese—would zip baseball fans to Dodger Stadium in four minutes along a 3.6-mile tube. Rides would cost $1 per passenger, according to the Boring Company.
Many observers familiar with Musk’s feelings about traffic and mass transit have been quick to dismiss this new scheme. But as a proof of concept, the “Dugout Loop” holds more promise than the Boring Company’s other recent transit proposal, the 18-mile “Express Loop” linking downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, which already has a great, inexpensive rail connection. As Curbed’s Alyssa Walker points out, a tunnel-based transit line would be genuinely helpful in this part of L.A., given the hilly topography, proximity to the L.A. River, and the distance from Metro’s rail system.
The problem is that the Dugout Loop would only carry 1,400 people “per event,” with the possibility of expanding service to 2,800 depending on demand, per the Boring Company. That’s fewer riders than Metro is carrying on its buses. Such limited capacity would probably mean long lines and wait times at either end—traffic, in so many words. One might suggest a cheaper path to the same result would be to just run a few more buses.
This isn’t the first futuristic non-car-based scheme to ease traffic around Chavez Ravine we’ve heard in recent months. A tech firm founded by Drew McCourt, the son of former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, proposed an aerial tramway in April which could carry 5,000 passengers per night—more than the Dugout Loop.
Dodger Stadium probably needs all the non-car transportation options it can get, including better walking and biking options. But if you’re going to the enormous expense of blasting a hole through a mountain in order to avoid missing the first inning, why not put a high-capacity train in it? After all, the advantage of a fixed-route transit line that runs on its own right of way is the high-passenger capacity it can achieve when the vehicles can fit more than a handful of bodies. A few miles south in Exposition Park, for example, the Expo light-rail line carried 20,000 riders to one Rams football game alone. The Loop can’t really “defeat traffic,” to echo a Musk tweet from Thursday. Fitting more people in fewer cars would. “Instead of an underground transit system that terminates at Dodger Stadium only on game days, why not continue it to the Cypress Park Gold Line station—or beyond—and run it all the time?” Walker writes at Curbed. In other words, why not build something more practical?
It’s possible that a plain subway extension would be too boring for the Boring Company, eager to prove out the viability of its drilling technology, as well as its skates. Or perhaps Musk’s got bigger dilemmas to worry about now than digging Dodger fans out from traffic hell.