Elon Musk is building an underground Hyperloop test facility designed to serve as the launch pad for a subway system connecting all of Los Angeles County.
Musk’s Boring Company has dug its first tunnel under SpaceX headquarters over Hawthorn, The Los Angeles Times reported. Musk posted a video of the tunnel which looks like any other subway or sewer project on Instagram.
There is a railroad track inside the tunnel but no obvious Hyperloop infrastructure. Despite that Musk claims his company will be offering free rides to the public on the subway tunnel in a few months.
Musk Plans Hyperloop Subway in Los Angeles
The tunnel will be used to test Hyperloop technology at SpaceX headquarters. If it works, Musk hopes to build a 2.7-mile long subway between Hawthorne and Culver City, another independent city in Los Angeles County. That subway would run under Sepulveda Boulevard.
The subway would be 30 to 70 feet underground and have stations only on each end, The LA Times reported. That would put it below most hazards that can block digging, and might it cheaper it to build than the infamous Red Line Subway in Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, the Boring Company’s subway was drilled by a machine used on an early subway project at LAX.
The subway would use pods that would carry between eight and 16 people as cars. That does not sound very efficient, so this might be a test project. Although Musk would like to build a longer subway that would connect much of Los Angeles. If he does that system would require larger vehicles.
This would be a better solution than surface commuter rail lines that utilize grade-level crossings. Such lines create traffic congestion and often lead to deadly accidents because vehicles and pedestrians have to cross busy rail lines.
One such system, Denver’s G Line has been completed for months but is not carry passengers, because of defects with crossing gates. Another line in Denver, the A-line actually used people with flags to direct traffic when it opened two years ago.
Is Musk’s Hyperloop Subway Racist?
A map on the Boring Company’s website shows subway lines connecting Hawthorne with Sherman Oaks, downtown LA, LAX, South Bay, Long Beach Airport, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach. That is sure to attract hostility and charges of racism and elitism.
Musk’s subways only serve a few mostly wealthy and predominately white and Asian areas in Los Angeles. Most of the city; including almost all the largely Hispanic and African American neighborhoods, is not served.
One complaint I have is that the subway only runs to the places in Los Angeles where a 30-year old tech bro might want to go. To succeed this project will have to be for everybody.
If Musk is smart he’ll have his staff draw up a new map showing lines serving all of Los Angeles’s neighborhoods and post it fast. Back in the 1990s, a Marxist nut group called the Bus Riders Union (which was apparently composed of upper-class intellectuals who drove cars) helped derail LA’s subway plans with the moronic charge that subways are racist because they divert money from buses.
Musk needs to be careful not avoid a repeat of the 1990s subway fiasco in LA. To be fair it should be noted that the one map at The Boring Company has only unveiled phases One and Two of the project. Posting a Phase Three map showing lots of subway tunnels under Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods would be a smart move for Musk.
Would the Hyperloop Subway Fight Sprawl or Encourage it?
The Boring Company has received a waiver on an environmental review for the tunnel form the City of Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times reported. Predictably the city is now being sued by two homeowners’ groups that claim the decision violated the law.
Strangely enough, the City Manager of affluent Santa Monica Rick Cole opposed the Hyperloop Subway because it would only be for the wealthy. Cole presented no evidence to bolster that argument but made the hysterical, but slightly valid, claim that the Hyperloop Subway would create sprawl.
The cause of sprawl in California is zoning laws that prevent the construction of high-density housing. Cities sprawl because it is legally impossible to bulldoze older single-family homes to make way for multi-unit buildings. Disturbingly, legislation that would have fixed that by allowing high-density housing around train stations died in California’s state legislature in April.
Cole is partially right, the Hyperloop Subway would cause sprawl if combined with bad urban planning. The Subway would cause sprawl because new housing would have to be built in outlying areas rather than in the urban center. Note: such sprawl would occur no matter what transportation system is used because people need a place to live and housing will be built somewhere.
Unfortunately, Cole is not willing to promote good urban planning because it would be opposed by middle and upper-class homeowners who oppose rezoning and high-density development. Such homeowners make up the majority of the voters in Santa Monica, so it is easier for Cole to demonize technology than to address the real issues.
The Hyperloop Subway can mean the End of Freeways
Such objections are bothersome because the Hyperloop Subway might make life in cities like Los Angeles more comfortable and humane. For example, it might be possible to demolish freeways and use the land they sit on to build much needed affordable housing in the future.
If most commuters were traveling on the Hyperloop Subway it might be possible to demolish some freeways and reduce the size of others. Just imagine how much nicer Los Angeles; or any other major city would be if freeways were only for commercial trucks and interstate traffic. Far fewer lanes would be required, that will mean less maintenance, less smog, and lower taxes.
Another advantage would be to connect jobs in West Los Angeles with affordable housing in other parts of the county. That might finally eliminate LA’s infamous smog by taking vast numbers of driving off the streets and putting them inside an electrically-powered subway that produces no greenhouse gases.
Is Musk Working with another Hyperloop Company?
Arguments over the Hyperloop subway are purely academic now because Musk has no working Hyperloop pods or a test facility. That might mean Elon is working with Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One, which is headquartered in LA. Virgin Hyperloop One has a working full-sized Hyperloop Pod and a working test track in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Musk might also be working with HyperloopTT which is building a large Hyperloop testing facility in Toulouse, France, and a Hyperloop Pod in Spain. Unlike Musk’s subway, HyperloopTT and Virgin Hyperloop One’s systems run large tubes that sit on the surface of the ground.
It looks as if Musk is serious about building his Hyperloop subway. One has to wonder how he is going to build it without taking stock of political realities and cooperating local governments.
Politics might be one obstacle that Elon will have a hard time overcoming. Still, Musk is a fast learner so I would not be surprised that he adapts to his mistakes and builds this system.