Works install train tracks along Colorado Avenue last month. (File photo)

Days after a semi-truck collided with an Expo train, the City Council took up the issue of Expo safety this week – and approved fencing to keep pedestrians from walking on the tracks because apparently Santa Monicans can’t tell the difference between a rail line and a sidewalk.

The Dec. 15 item was agendized before last week’s derailment and the council is required by law to adhere to the publicly posted topics. As such, discussion this week centered entirely on potential fencing along the center of Colorado Avenue and on nearby sidewalks.

Fencing was rejected in 2011 for aesthetic reasons but the issue was brought back to council this year after staff concluded residents were trespassing on the Expo guideway in a dangerous way.

Metro staff conduced observations of the tracks on six days between Sept. 24 and Oct. 26 of this year. They recorded a total of 2,788 pedestrians, 503 bicycles and 153 skateboarders on the guideway. Staff said the presence of anyone on the tracks posed a safety hazard to everyone involved. Staff recommended installing fences along parts of the track that would physically prevent anyone from crossing Colorado mid-block and keep pedestrians on the sidewalks.

Council ultimately approved a fence through the center of Colorado Avenue between 7th Street and 15th Court. The centerline fence would run between the two sets of tracks, but would not block intersections. They also approved installing a guardrail along sidewalks between 5th and 7th street.

“This segment of the alignment contains track switching equipment which precludes the installation of centerline fencing,” said the staff report.

Approval of the fences was unanimous, but several councilmembers were unhappy with the need to install barriers.

“I had hoped in all honesty that people would be a little more observant about where they might be walking and notice they are stepping on tracks as they walk down the middle of Colorado, but apparently that is not the case,” said Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he was a vocal opponent of fencing back in 2011 but said he now understood why it was necessary.

“Having seen what’s gone on I’m disappointed that Southern Californians can’t figure out what tracks mean, but I also don’t want to be scraping anyone off them,” he said.

Councilman Ted Winterer asked that the sidewalk fences be installed in a way that didn’t undermine existing efforts to create a pedestrian friendly environment.

“I’m entirely supportive of the center line fence … I’m a little more concerned about these sidewalk barriers and we’ve gone to great lengths and expense to make an incredibly pedestrian environment from the train from 4th street to the ocean and yet here we are going to put up what I don’t think are incredibly attractive barriers,” he said.

The sidewalk fencing will be installed in a way that maximizes walkability and experts said the approach has been shown to be effective in other communities, reducing pedestrian encroachment by up to 90 percent.

“We’ve seen the fencing that we’ve retroactively installed to be highly effective at stopping intrusions into the right of way,” said Gregory Kildare, executive director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety & Asset Management division.

Expo Line Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe said he would take the issue to his board in early January with the goal of having the new fences installed before passenger service begins.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...