It is a thorn in many of the sides of Long Beach transit riders: the Blue Line, bluntly put, rarely proffers its riders a safe ride.
The past year alone has offered a plethora of disturbing events alter the public perception of even bothering with the Blue: Earlier this year, a man was beaten unconscious at the Willow Platform after being robbed, without a report to police for ten minutes . In November of last year, a 19-year-old man was shot at the 5th Street Station, with Rick Jager of Metro claiming he couldn’t even remember the last time someone was shot on the Metro. That same month, a pedestrian was hit by a train at that same station after a car collided with the Blue Line previously in July, causing a death. One woman blogged of her horrific Blue Line experiences, eventually going viral and showcasing how when one boards the train in Long Beach, “the [hassling] starts right away.”
The Metro line is key to the Los Angeles region, catering to some 90,000 people a day, with over 17,000 being served at the eight Long Beach stations alone. And it is here where Vice Mayor Robert Garcia–with the backing of fellow councilmembers Suja Lowenthal, James Johnson, and Steve Neal–has drafted a recommendation to improve the safety of the Blue Line by modernizing and beautifying the Long Beach strip on which it runs.
According to the recommendation, there are sections of the Blue Line “need immediate attention, including repairing of public art, signage, and improving public safety” in addition to the addition of turnstiles that “would assist public safety officials with monitoring who rides on the Blue Line.”
Garcia is essentially right on two fundamental levels: the electronic turnstiles will help better funnel out non-paying customers and the dilapidated state of many of the stations welcome unwanted visitors. In fact, I am quite sure that Garcia et al understand that Long Beach will be unable to reach its goal of being “The Most Bike Friendly City in America”–amongst other goals–without safe transit connections.
And though I am thrilled at the steps taken, there is one obvious thing glaring that needs to be altered: signal priority needs to be given to the Blue Line.
Currently, 32 signals parallel the Blue Line in Long Beach, effectively making Long Beach Boulevard not only the slowest stretch of the Blue, but also the least desirable (something I’ve discussed before). Why bother on a train when you can see it halt continuously for your own car?
The perception of the Blue Line is one that won’t be altered alone with turnstiles and clean spaces; people need to see it as a viable form of transportation–and we all know the power of numbers: the more riders, the more people who don’t take it most likely will.
A higher-up of an electric bus manufacturer made a brilliant point about the visibility of public transit when he said that if the image of the form of transit isn’t desirable–in his case, he was referring to loud, polluting buses running through quiet neighborhoods–then everyone will avoid it. In this case, we aren’t making the Blue Line desirable–it’s second-class to your car–and without a higher number of riders–which means an increase in those paying attention, an increase in witnesses, and increase in comfort through numbers–then we won’t achieve a more comfortable transit space.
This isn’t, of course, to downsize what is being done and what is attempting to be done. Traffic synchronization is hopefully on its way. And unquestionably, these added bonuses of turnstiles and aesthetic upgrades will undoubtedly calm some problems. But much more advanced (and expensive and time-consuming) tactics, such as signal priority, need to be initiated.
The recommendation will be formally introduced to the council on June 4.