Last Tuesday, the City Council took a good idea — Exposition Light Rail extension into Santa Monica — and set the stage for decades of disaster.
In making recommendations to Metro about its proposed Expo service into Santa Monica, the good news is council unanimously voted to vigorously oppose the location of a train maintenance yard adjacent to a residential neighborhood near Exposition Boulevard. The bad news is they unanimously supported a deeply flawed Colorado Avenue route instead of Olympic Boulevard.
The staff report to council on Expo’s route, submitted by Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Community Development, was woefully inadequate and incomplete.
It bemoaned the loss of coral trees on Olympic and complained about a proposed half-mile stretch of elevated line from 11th Street to Fourth Street recommended by Metro to minimize traffic impacts and maintain train schedules. The memo whined about the flyaway’s concrete support columns and an elevated station at the Fourth and Colorado terminus asserting they would create a “hostile environment for pedestrians.” Any aerial structure, it claimed, would create a barrier between the Civic Center and Downtown.
The report praised a street level or “at grade” Colorado Avenue alignment that “would create a more active pedestrian-friendly environment along Colorado and a ground level grand entrance into the downtown area.”
Nowhere was there any mention of the three most important aspects of Expo: public safety, traffic impacts or train operation. And, council’s endorsement of an “at grade” route down Colorado from near 20th Street to Fourth Street was made without traffic studies or environmental reports that would address these key issues.
Extensive documentation exists on the safety aspects of above, below or “at-grade” track configurations. Street level accident rates far exceed all other configurations put together. City Council and Expo cheerleaders totally ignore safety issues such as motor vehicles crossing and turning in front of trains and pedestrian/train accidents.
“Friends 4 Expo Transit” Co-Chair Darrell Clark wrote in a error-filled letter to the editor (“Lone Ranger,” March 3, page 4), “Mostly-ground-level light rail is the safe standard in many U.S. cities, including Los Angeles’ newest, the Pasadena Gold Line.” The Gold Line doesn’t operate like the Expo Line will in Santa Monica. Clark is comparing apples to bananas.
Pasadena’s Gold Line travels in what is known as an “isolated right-of-way,” or with grade separation almost its entire length. The only portion that doesn’t (0.75 miles in Highland Park) is where a near majority (45 percent) of the accidents on the 13-mile line occur!
Clark says Expo trains along Colorado will follow traffic signals like other vehicles, with lights timed so the trains would usually receive greens, but little change for cross traffic. Not true. Trains will “usually receive” signal priority, thus creating even more traffic congestion and Expo’s operating schedule itself will be affected by congested streets and red lights.
Another difference: on Colorado, trains will travel up to 30 to 35 mph with parallel street traffic beside the train (known as street-running mode). In the short Highland Park Gold Line segment, traffic stops in all directions and train speed is limited to 20 mph. Yet, accidents still happen!
Twenty-four trains per peak hour, ungated crossings at north/south streets including at busy Lincoln Boulevard and elimination of left turns and a turn across Colorado traffic at Fourth will contribute to gridlock throughout Downtown and mid-cities for generations to come. Maybe nobody cares if Expo on Colorado will greatly exacerbate congestion as long as we don’t have “ugly” concrete columns.
Worldwide, modern electrified rail systems run on private or restricted access right of way. Seattle’s famous Sky Train runs on tracks built above the city as does the newer Las Vegas monorail and the most famous of all, Disneyland’s monorail. Elevated transit is really cool, safe and efficient while trains on surface streets are “so 1920s,” they’ve fallen out of favor almost everywhere but Santa Monica.
Typical of the distortions proffered by Colorado supporters is Clark’s description of elevated right-of-way as “a concrete freeway bridge.” No Darrell, it’s not a “freeway bridge,” it’s a light rail flyover just like a narrow, striped street lane featuring a cartoon bicycle is a bike lane, not a wider motor lane.
Some complain about losing coral trees on Olympic. I hate cutting down trees, but with Expo, sacrifices will be necessary. Better to lose trees than children’s lives.
With only one neighbor showing up to complain about Colorado, the deal was sealed. Nevertheless, 25 years from now with Expo gridlocked and reeling from a string of accidents, people will ask, “Who’s responsible for the death and injuries?”
Add Expo to a growing list of planning disasters that includes the “much more development” Land Use and Circulation Element update and incoherent Civic Center plan.
The final decision on the location of a maintenance yard and final route alignment must be approved by Metro’s Board of Directors.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.