The Sepulveda Pass is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens

Joel Epstein
5 min readMay 15, 2024


By: Joel Epstein


Heaven is a place

A place where nothing

Nothing ever happens

- Talking Heads

Carmageddon. Looking north from Sunset Blvd. July 2011.

In my last piece I said I was going to write soon about where the sidewalk ends. Traveling in Central America and Mexico earlier this year I couldn’t even count the number of times I found myself walking on a sidewalk that ended abruptly or was in such a state of disrepair that it was hard to imagine a disabled person or infirm senior making their way up the block.

I’ll get to that eventually, but first I want to talk about Los Angeles and its ongoing failure to build a transit line through the Sepulveda Pass. The Sepulveda Pass, that place like in the Talking Heads’ song, Heaven, where nothing ever happens.

Reading this week that Angelenos are still dickering over whether the Sepulveda Pass transit option should be a monorail or one of a number of subway options, got me thinking again about one of LA’s major transportation failures in a long line of transportation failures.

How many decades has it been that Los Angeles Metro, Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments — SCAG and everyone else that has ever driven the 405 from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside of LA has been talking about the need for a mass transit connection through the Sepulveda Pass? And yet, nothing ever happens. It’s now 2024 and legions of unlucky Angelenos have lived, and many have died, waiting for a train or BRT (bus rapid transit) line through the Pass. Instead, the planners and pols are still exploring the alternatives:

  • Alternative 1: Above-ground monorail in the 405 corridor and electric bus connection to UCLA.
  • Alternative 2: Above-ground monorail in 405 corridor and underground automated people mover connection to UCLA.
  • Alternative 3: Above-ground monorail in the 405 corridor and underground alignment between Getty Center and Wilshire Bl. This station would be the only monorail option to include a stop on UCLA’s campus.
  • Alternative 4: Heavy rail with underground alignment south of Ventura Bl and aerial alignment generally along Sepulveda Bl in the San Fernando Valley.
  • Alternative 5: Heavy rail with underground alignment including along Sepulveda in the San Fernando Valley.
  • Alternative 6: Heavy rail with underground alignment including along Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley and southern terminus station at Bundy Drive.

Source: Laist

They are actually still considering the options! Which begs the question, how many of these options could we have concurrently built decades ago for the price Metro will ultimately someday pay for a single solution?

Now that I no longer live on the other coast, I think of the failure to build transit through the Sepulveda Pass the same way I think about the NYC MTA’s failure to finish the Second Avenue Subway to Harlem. Nothing ever happens. I am not holding my breath for either project’s completion any time soon.

Maybe it’s time for a completely different option for the Pass, one that doesn’t frighten NIMBY homeowners in Brentwood, Encino, Bel Air, Sherman Oaks and Westwood and arguably give them grounds for a lawsuit that will further delay the project? How about a lower cost-to-construct rapid transit cable car through the Sepulveda Pass? The line, like those deployed in Mexico City’s growing cablebús network, could be built relatively quickly and at far lower cost than the Disneyland-like monorail or a heavy rail subway which would require years of tunneling through the Pass and under homes to the east of the freeway. How much cheaper? That’s a soft ball pitch for the smart planners at LA Metro.

I’m not naive enough to think that this idea too wouldn’t get the NIMBY’ lawyers running down to the courthouse but cable car transit works and can be built more expeditiously and operated for less than it costs to run a subway system, including a driverless train system.

In July 2011, LA experienced Carmageddon, the dreaded weekend when monumental traffic was expected to result from the temporary closure of a section of the 405 freeway for the replacement of the Mulholland Drive bridge. Carmageddon was part of the misnomer known as the Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project. If this had been an actual improvement project it would have involved adding high volume public transit to the Pass and replacing the anemic, infrequent Metro Rapid 761 bus that ran through the pass at the time.

10 miles of one of the busiest freeways in the world carrying more than half a million vehicles passing on a typical summer weekend and the geniuses at Metro and Caltrans and SCAG are still studying the alternatives!

What a missed opportunity. 14 years ago, writing in 2010 in I’ll Have a BRT With the Sepulveda Pass in the Huffington Post, I argued that it was long past time that LA built a BRT or light rail line through the Sepulveda Pass.

I know many smart, hardworking people at LA Metro and I know they care. And that the Wilshire Subway to the Westwood VA is finally becoming a reality. But think about this, years ago, the then Metro CEO told me that the agency didn’t actually have the bandwidth to work on all of the projects transit advocates like me and Move LA were proposing for 30/10, a proposal that called for building thirty years of long needed transportation construction projects in a decade. The 30/10 plan eventually got rolled into the successful Measure M campaign. To this day, Measure M is the largest transportation sales tax measure ever passed by American voters. Please say it ain’t so but it sure looks like LA Metro is still not up to the task of moving forward a Sepulveda Pass transit project on a timetable that will get anyone to work or home anytime soon.

Lomas de la Estancia, seen from Cablebús Línea 2, Mexico City (CDMX).

Given the snail’s pace of progress on a 1.2-mile aerial tramway between downtown LA and Dodger Stadium, I am not encouraged.

I like to tell this story of my grandfather Louis who in his old age had developed an aversion to funerals rivaled only by his love of beating the traffic. When his brother Harry died, Louis’ sister-in-law Ruth called to let him know. The conversation began like this:

Ruth: “Louis, I’m sorry to tell you your brother just died.”

Louis: “I can’t come to the funeral, I’m sicker than he is.”

Channeling my grandfather, I hope I’m not too old or sick to someday ride a BRT, subway or cable car through the Sepulveda Pass.

Yours in transit,


Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.

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