Debate Over Grade Crossings Highlights Expo Meeting

(Note: For more on potential designs and teh history of the project go to the official site here, the Wikipedia site here or Friends 4 Expo Transit’s site here .)

Debate concerning the safety of at-level (street level) grade crossings highlighted last night’s public meeting on the proposed alternatives for Phase II of the Expo Line. Some residents complained that a light rail line running next to schools would be unsafe for students and that national safety statistics supported their concerns. Final decisions for where to place grade crossings are usually part of the Environmental Impact Statement, but the presentation given on the alternatives hints that a light rail line running parallel to the street is the most likely design for the route.

At least for one night, the opponents were outnumbered by advocates. Bart Reed, Executive Director of the Transit Coalition, claimed that national statistics showed that light rail was the safest way for people to commute both for riders and for other commuters sharing the road with it. (For tomorrow, StreetHeat will grab the national safety stats for light rail and examine who is right.)

Others claimed that construction of any transit route with at grade crossings would be a mistake for congestion reasons. Kelley Willis, of the Venice Neighborhood Council, argued that putting a light rail line at the street level unnecessarily places it at the mercy of already-congested traffic patterns. He pointed out that bother nationally (Chicago, D.C., New York) and Internationally (London, Paris, etc….) that world class, urban transit systems are either above ground or below ground to separate them from auto gridlock.

The original purpose of the meeting was to unveil the proposed alternatives that will be studied in the Environmental Impact Statement (i.e., one of these proposals will be the final one.) The one hour and forty five minute meeting featured a presentation by Stephen Polechronis of DMJM Harris followed by a question and comment period. The alternatives presented last night will be voted on by the MTA Board at their 11/1 meeting. Assuming the board approves of the alternatives, they will all undergo a complete study in an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the preferred route.

Many options to increase transit along the corridor were discarded because of either connectivity (goodbye Personal Rapid Transit and Monorail), community disruption (goodbye LRT Web, Branch Routes and Venice to Lincoln Blvd. routes) and cost effectiveness (last stop for light rail to Venice Beach). The three alternatives that remain are Light Rail on the Exposition Right-of-Way, Light Rail on Venice and Sepulveda and Bus Rapid Transit on the Exposition Right of Way. These options will be examined along with a no-build alternative and a Transportation Systems Management approach (new signals, better bus queuing, etc…)

The early favorite appears to be the first option, new light rail service on an abandoned transit route still owned by the MTA. The first route boaster both better numbers than the others and the support of most of the people in the room. This option is projected to attract the most riders (41,000) has the highest rating by the FTA, had the second lowest cost per mile of the three transit construction options (being beaten by the Bus Rapid Transit alignment) and had a low impact on the natural environment.

Speakers that promoted the LRT on Exposition Right-Of-Way alignment included representatives of The Transit Coalition, the Green Party and Light Rail for Cheviot as well as City Councilman Bill Rosendahl (more on him later today.)

Other concerns that were addressed by speakers included:
1) What noise mitigation efforts will be done? (Answer: there’s a lot of different things that can be done, but it will depend on the alignment and construction)
2) Why not study taking a lane off of Venice Blvd. So the project doesn’t require any property takings? (Answer: It was looked in to and discarded because of the impact on auto traffic congestion)
3) Will there be safe crossings for bikes? (Answer: yes)
4) Will there be bike access and storage areas for the stations? (Answer: Access is part of the EIS)
5) Will people be allowed to bring bikes on the light rail cars? (Answer: That is up to Metro)

REMINDER: There’s one more chance to see Metro’s presentation and make your opinion heard before the MTA board meeting next week. The last public meeting on the screening process will be held tonight at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, 3200 Motor Ave.

Editor’s note: For those of you who saw me taking pictures last night, and wondering where they are…it had been so long since I last used a non-digital camera that I opened the back without rewinding the film. Pictures will have to wait for the board meeting.

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