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Trains, cars and parking lots: Getting to the Music Center isn't half the fun

October 23, 2008 | 11:30 am

Listen up, Music Center patrons: here's a fairly encouraging update in the confounding case of the purloined parking lot, with less hopeful news about mass transit's chances of depositing the far-flung multitudes on culture's downtown doorstep any time soon.

Music Center as seen from the DWP building

If you'll recall, since the fall season began, the city's Department of Water and Power has declared its convenient headquarters parking lot on Hope Street off-limits for performance parking -- something to do with a security consultant's warning that keeping the lot open beyond regular business hours could be dangerous at a site where some spaces nestle beneath the building. The resulting 350-space hole in the parking fabric led to at least one monumental Sunday afternoon snarl last month, and to a smattering of late or hasty arrivals at other performances.

Complaints ensued, and now DWP officials are reconsidering. The department's security director will "look more closely" at ways to reopen the lot without compromising safety, DWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo said Tuesday, and report back within 30 days. The aim, Ramallo says, is "to be sensitive to concerns that have been raised."

Tom LaBonge, who chairs the Los Angeles City Council committee that oversees the arts, says he's confident performance-goers will be able to park in the DWP lot again, after asking the department's top officials H. David Nahai and Raman Raj to rescind the ban. "It's part of the Civic Center, it's not like a private office but a public building, and whatever the [security] challenges are, they should be able to figure it out," said LaBonge, who last week filed a council motion calling for the DWP to propose ways of making the lot available again during shows.

More immediate parking relief is expected to be in place this weekend: about 300 underground spaces previously reserved for the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and the county Hall of Administration are being freed to catch the overflow when the 1,000 spaces beneath the Music Center are filled. No traffic re-routing will be necessary, says Nick Chico, head of parking services for the county, thanks to a tunnel beneath Grand Avenue that connects Music Center parking to the courthouse lot.

But another City Council initiative to make Music Center patronage easier recently came up more or less empty.

Metro Red Line Over the past year, a task force involving the city's transportation department, the Music Center's resident companies and other transit operators met several times to study ways to get patrons from the Westside and the West Valley off the jammed early-evening freeways and onto buses and trains.

Among the findings:

A yearlong experiment last season by LA Opera to charter a single bus to bring Westsiders to performances began promisingly, with 30% of capacity for a $15 round trip that included free bottled water and a pre-opera talk. Then it fizzled and was discontinued. Absent "some form of bus-only lane" between the Westside and downtown, the report noted, bus riders would have to endure the same "unpredictable traffic conditions and long travel times" that beset passenger cars. All in all, the report concludes, it's "improbable" that charter buses from the Westside and West Valley could make a difference as things now stand. The best hope for Westsiders: wait til 2010, when the Exposition Line light-rail route between Culver City and downtown is expected to be finished.

How about a park-and-ride bus system comparable to the countywide one that serves the Hollywood Bowl? Sorry: prohibitively pricey. On average, about 2,800 people take the Bowl buses to each event, the report says; they pay $5 for a round trip, which covers only a third of the $15 cost. The county picks up the rest of the tab, and there's no money to do the same for the Music Center -- which even on a packed performance night would not attract more than about 8,500 people, compared with as many as 18,000 at the Bowl.

That leaves one less-grandiose but more immediately feasible option still standing: shuttle buses between downtown subway stations and the Music Center. The report says the Red Line's Civic Center stop is "viable" for Music Center patrons, but it is "under-utilized" because many of them shun the uphill two-block walk to the theaters and concert hall.

Planning is nearly finished for a pilot program extending DASH shuttle service into the wee hours on Friday and Saturday nights, said Jim Lefton, transit chief for the city transportation department. Shuttle buses would loop past downtown attractions including L.A. Live, the Convention Center, the Metro Blue Line and Red Line subway stations and the Music Center. The catch: Businesses and attractions along the route and would-be advertisers would have to ante up $34,000 for a trial run from mid-November through year's end, because the city government doesn't have any to spare. Extending weekend-night service for a full year would cost about $180,000, Lefton says, with the tab rising to about $1 million for weeknight service as well.

The upshot for you gentlemen and gentlewomen who aren't conveniently situated near downtown or a Metro rail line: start your engines.

-- Mike Boehm

Top photo: Music Center venues, the Mark Taper Forum (at left) and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (right) are in the foreground, framing government buildings in downtown L.A., as seen from the Department of Water and Power Building. Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: The Metro Red Line's Civic Center subway station serves the Music Center, and features flying figures by artist Jonathan Borofsky. Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

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