The big issue with the proposed Expo Light Rail Line is its route through Santa Monica between Cloverfield Boulevard and the Fourth Street terminus. Metro, the county transit agency building the line, originally recommended Olympic Boulevard. Inexplicably, City Hall countered with Colorado Avenue.
Preliminary plans call for Expo to enter the city on a Metro right-of-way parallel to Exposition Boulevard. Dual tracks would proceed westerly, bridging over Cloverfield/Olympic and descend to street level near 20th Street. They would continue down the Olympic median until near 11th Street where tracks would rise to cross over Lincoln Boulevard and freeway off ramps before terminating at an elevated station at Fourth and Colorado (now Sears Automotive).
The Olympic route would necessitate the removal of the grassy median, coral trees, traffic lanes and some street parking.
The Colorado alternative preferred by City Hall would include the Cloverfield/Olympic flyover and ground level tracks running to Colorado instead of to Olympic. The route would extend to Fourth and a ground level terminal — most likely with multiple floors of affordable apartments above.
This route requires the removal of two traffic lanes and some parking on Colorado. Because tracks run street level for 16 blocks, there are substantial safety and gridlock issues. Vocal Crossroads School parents favor Colorado because they think it’s safer for students — a half-cocked assertion that sounds like something City Hall bureaucrats or consultants would make up.
If safety is their concern, they’d insist on trains above or below grade such as activist Damien Goodmon is campaigning for in Los Angeles near Dorsey High School. They’re far safer than surface trains, irrespective of the street.
Metro had it right. Olympic is the best choice. I’d recommend elevating all track from Cloverfield/Olympic to Fourth Street. While it’s more expensive than ground construction, elevated right-of-way is faster, not affected by surface traffic and virtually accident-proof. The wider Olympic is one block closer to Santa Monica College whose 30,000 students would be key Expo riders.
Metro’s Blue Line is at grade on Washington Boulevard in Downtown Los Angeles. According to published reports (as of December or 2008) there have been 172 accidents and 28 deaths on the Blue Line in the past five years and over 796 accidents and 88 deaths in its 17 years of operation. It’s the most accident-prone and deadly light rail stretch in the country. Conversely, Metro’s Green Line with its 100 percent elevated right-of-way has had no deaths and zero accidents in nearly as many years of operation. Which do we want for Santa Monica?
A community meeting held Tuesday night was a mixture of useful information, wishful thinking and rank stupidity. Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal in NelsonNygaard, the firm that’s advising on updates to the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element, moderated.
“There would be no significant traffic impacts,” Tumlin stated. Hogwash! The removal of traffic lanes on Olympic or Colorado will substantially reduce traffic carrying capacity. Trains will run at five minute intervals during peak periods. That’s 24 trains crossing Stewart Street, 20th, 17th, 14th and 11th streets on Olympic plus Lincoln Seventh, Sixth and Fifth streets on Colorado each hour! Can you say “impassable cross streets?”
Crossings would be ungated, increasing the risk of collisions. According to www.FixExpo.org, “92 percent of all vehicular accidents and 76 percent of all total accidents occur at Blue Line crossings without gates, despite the fact it only accounts for 25-percent of track.”
With City Hall likely to prioritize traffic signals to favor trains, removing traffic lanes, eliminating dozens of left turns and creating lengthy crossing delays, there will be horrific traffic impacts.
Tumlin, who’s a “transportation planner” not a traffic engineer says, "Transportation is not an end in itself but a means by which we achieve the larger goals of the community… its social component and economic component." Sheesh! I thought Expo was about relieving worsening traffic congestion, not correcting social inequity.
Take this gem: Tumlin extolled the virtues of ground level stations, “surrounded by the community." He says elevated platforms are not as pleasant an experience as platforms at ground level. Personally, I’d rather be up high enjoying the view rather than eating dirt, avoiding noise and sucking smog from vehicle exhaust down below. The truth is surface tracks divide and separate the community, not unite it.
We better start thinking of Expo as transportation and forget all the cockeyed theories, pseudo-political correctness and social mumbo-jumbo. Santa Monica deserves the best. Whatever is decided now, we’ll be stuck with for the next hundred years. City Council will vote on a preferred route March 3.
Let’s start thinking smart. The safest, fastest and most expedient plan is the Olympic corridor with elevated trains on their own dedicated right-of-way. Anything else is a disaster in the making.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org