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Posts from the Blue Line Category

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At-Grade Crossings along Metro Blue Line Will See $30 Mil in Pedestrian Safety Improvements

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tracks for the Metro Blue Line (at left) slice their way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. For much of that trajectory, the Blue Line shares a ROW with Union Pacific Railroad. The fact that pedestrians must cross four sets of tracks at many intersections makes the crossings more dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“In the interest of time,” Greg Kildare, Executive Director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety, and Asset Management team, began his address to the Board on July 23, “I will just say that staff believes that the [Metro Blue Line] pedestrian gating project is an extremely important safety improvement to our oldest rail line and consistent with [Metro CEO] Mr. Washington’s vision of reinvestment in our aging infrastructure, the state of good repair, and a safety-first orientation. That concludes my presentation.”

Agreeing that the upgrades were “long overdue,” the Board approved the installation of $30,175,000 worth of Pedestrian Active Grade Crossing Improvements at the 27 intersections the Blue Line shares a right-of-way (ROW) with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) without hesitation or discussion.

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Because the freight trains that use the UPRR tracks run infrequently and move so slowly — often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again — a train can appear to be more of a nuisance than a hazard.

Multiple trains on the tracks can throw off a pedestrian’s calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly the pedestrian feels they can get across the tracks. Or, as in the case of middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga, killed in 1999 when he clambered over a freight train stopped at the intersection only to be hit by a passing Blue Line train at 55th and Long Beach Ave., there is a potential for people to be confused by the train the signals apply to and believe they are safe when they are not.

A family with small children moves across the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A family with small children first zigs to the right to access the curb cut, get around the signals, and cross the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Even when people obey the signals, their journey from narrow pedestrian island to narrow pedestrian island can be lengthened by having to zig-zag their way across the tracks (above and below). Read more…

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Rosa Parks Station on Track to Complete Environmental Review Process, Finalize Station Design

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook station, either to transfer between the Blue and Green Lines or to catch one of the nearly dozen buses that connect with the station, you know it isn’t the most user-friendly place.

Not only do the narrow stairs connecting the two platforms (used by 78% of all 30,000+ passengers that pass through the station daily) create a natural bottleneck, in combination with impatient Sheriffs, families with strollers, cyclists with bikes, and glitchy TAP validators, they can facilitate human traffic jams that inhibit people’s ability to transfer to transit.

Moreover, the narrow Blue Line platform can be quite crowded and uncomfortable in the heat of the day.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A calm moment at the transfer point between the Blue and Green Lines at the Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. Depending on the season and time of day, the Blue Line platform can be bathed in sun and very, very crowded. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is aiming to change all that with the (proposed) construction of a more open and welcoming community-oriented transit center it believes will be an asset to the neighborhood.

The revamped station will better connect transit riders to nearby education, cultural, health, commercial, and recreational resources via a Mobility Hub (and Bike Hub), more comfortable waiting areas and more sheltering canopies, improved pedestrian circulation via a new Transit Hall, a reconfiguration of the bus depot area, a new southern at-grade entrance to the Blue Line, and upgrades to the lighting, signage, landscaping, stairs, elevators, and escalators (see the project fact sheet here).

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: JGM)

The station will also feature a Sheriff’s facility, Metro Customer Service Center (to better serve lower-income riders), better integration with the Kenneth Hahn Plaza (KHP) shopping center to the south, and possibly a cafe.

Via a rendering from Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc. and design architects Hodgetts + Fung, it appears passengers will also enjoy a much more enticing, well-lit, and well-signaled connection to the Green Line under the 105 freeway (below). Read more…

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Metro Diary: When Contractors Don’t Get the “Off-Limits” Memo on Harassment

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you riding the train…?” came the voice over my shoulder.

It is perhaps one of the more terrible pick-up lines I have heard in a good while. Especially because I was standing on the Blue Line platform at Grand — a minimally furnished and poorly shaded station in the middle of an ugly stretch of Washington Blvd. that you must cross a very busy street halfway to reach. It is not a site one purposely seeks out as a rest stop.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line @ Grand). Google maps screen shot.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line station at Grand Ave.). Google maps screen shot.

Worse still, the line came from an armed private security guard hired, it appeared, to ensure construction workers there to upgrade the platform were able to do so in peace and to help travelers safely navigate the section of the platform being worked on.

He had not been hired to hassle the passengers.

But that was exactly what he was doing.

I had just watched him demand a young African-American man show him what he had in his pockets. The young man didn’t appear to be bothering anyone (I arrived in the middle of the incident), nor did he appear to be dangerous. His only crime appeared to be that he may have been homeless, and judging by the cardboard sticking out of the pocket of his hoodie, possibly carrying some garbage on his person.

As the young man tried to ignore him, the Afro-Latino guard paced back and forth in front of the young man, belittling him in front of the other passengers. “I’ll double it…Triple it.” he said, offering to up the money he had originally bet that the guy had something in his pockets.

Frustrated by the young man’s unwillingness to respond to his jibes and having spotted me, the guard now decided he had other fish to fry. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Car Collides with Southbound Train on Expo/Blue Line Tracks

When it is car vs. train, the car will lose every time. The young man in white with the backpack is the driver. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When it is car vs. train, the car will lose every time. The young man in white with the backpack is the driver. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

If you’ve ever taken the Blue Line (or Expo Line) headed south, you know that riding the section between San Pedro station and Pico is like watching paint dry.

It is torturously slow.

Which may be why drivers feel they can outrun the train. I’ve seen people squeak through the intersection on red at Pico just as a train was leaving that station on more than one harrowing occasion.

I can’t say for sure that the feeling he could beat the train was why the driver above decided to turn in front it yesterday afternoon, but there’s a good chance it was, given an account by an eyewitness who lived in the building across the street.

It’s a bit of a puzzle to me. There is no shortage of signals at that intersection — those turning left onto the freeway onramp have their own sets of lights.

It's not like there is a shortage of signals. (Google map screen shot)

It’s not like there is a shortage of signals. (Google map screen shot)

They have three, as a matter of fact, and a flashing “train” signal for added good measure (below the stoplight, below). Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Every Day He’s Hustlin’

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, looking south. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The well-dressed and good-looking young man with enormous glasses walked toward where I was standing at the front of the packed Blue Line car, gave me a wink and a smile, then turned around and began delivering his sales pitch for headphones to the passengers.

Watching him work the car, I was reminded of how puzzling I find complaints about vendors — especially from those that claim they won’t ride the Blue Line because of them — on the trains.

Most of the vendors I have seen are friendly and savvy salespeople who understand that being presentable and personable, having a solid product, and, above all, not harassing passengers are the keys to success.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t get the occasional sad-faced vendor of incense who won’t take no for an answer or someone like the guy that likes to pop his glass eyeball out, of course. But, in my experience, they are in the minority.

The majority either are largely unobtrusive, floating by and murmuring, “DVDs,” like sweet nothings, or are more like the guy with the glasses — someone who is a regular presence, who takes his “job” seriously, and who has invested a lot of time and effort in honing his business and people skills.

If they’re as smart as the guy in the glasses, they anticipate their customers’ needs. When it has rained, he’s offered me umbrellas. When it has been cold, he has peddled hats.

And, he has always had a smile.

Now he was heading back up the aisle toward me again, this time with a different product in his hands.

“Battery chargers!” he announced.

Pointing at the young male passengers, he argued it was not cool to be caught with uncharged phones or other devices. What would the ladies think of such a man? Not very much.

This guy was good. Read more…

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Man Dies Along the Blue Line; Safety Improvements Are Planned for Next Year

The Blue Line passes within inches of the gates at Vernon at a fairly high speed. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On Friday, September 27th, shortly after 6 p.m., 37 year-old Zenon Vazquez opened the gate and stepped in front of the Blue Line train at Vernon.

It’s hard to understand how that can happen, given how loud the signal bells are, and the fact that you either have to duck under the pedestrian barrier bar (above left) or open one of the gates. The train passes so close, in fact, that even if you were both deaf and blind, you’d probably still be able to feel it coming.

So, it’s not surprising that there are some conflicting accounts of what happened that evening.

Some witnesses say the man was possibly distracted and looking the wrong way. Metro informs me some of their witnesses saw Vazquez and another man walk out of a liquor store toward the station. The companion stopped at the gate, while Vazquez proceeded on through. Whether anyone said anything to try to keep him from doing so is unknown. However, both accounts seem to discourage the notion that the death was a suicide, and one implies intoxication may have been a factor. The coroner says a full report is still pending.

A trip to the Vernon station, however, did offer some clues.

As I stood taking photos of the pedestrian gates, several people walked right through, even as the signals were going off.

It happens all the time, said the older couple that have a vendor stand on the east side of the tracks.

They were still set up on the corner when the incident occurred that Friday, but they hadn’t witnessed it.

Although they felt it was very unfortunate, they were only surprised it didn’t happen more often.

It had happened shortly after the Metro Safety Ambassador had left for the day, they explained. When no one is around to monitor the area, people are much less likely to obey the signals.

The craziest thing, they said, was that people were jumping between the cars of the stopped train (once the man had been struck), determined to get around it to wherever they had to go. Nevermind that they could have tripped and stumbled into the path of a northbound train. Read more…

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Long Beach Pols Push for Blue Line Safety Measures, More Needs to Be Done

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. Read more…

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Balancing Safety, Security, and Saturation on the Blue Line

“Heads Up! Watch for Trains!” is seen on the train passing the memorial for Gilberto Reynaga, struck down by a Blue Line train at age 13 in 1999. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Nobody uses it,” Liz told me. “There’s dookies in there!”

She was referring to the 53rd St. pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves of the Pueblo del Rio housing development split by the four sets of Blue Line and Pacific Rail train tracks.

Dookies, piss, and people waiting to relieve you of your possessions — the pedestrian bridge unfortunately appears to have it all.

The pedestrian bridge at 53rd St. Click for larger view. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The fact that it sits largely unused — although perhaps unsurprising, given the fact that it is both fully enclosed and very long (favoring ramps over stairs) — is disheartening to say the least. The bridge was constructed in 2001 with the intention of making the community safer.

The project had originally been proposed in 1996, but didn’t move forward until middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga was killed in 1999 by a passing train. Reynaga and his friend were returning home from playing basketball on a mid-summer’s afternoon when they came across a stopped freight train blocking the intersection at 55th St. and Long Beach Blvd. Apparently thinking that the flashing lights were for the stopped train only, they clambered over it and made their way toward the Blue Line tracks (which run parallel with the Union Pacific tracks for much of their trajectory through South L.A.). They didn’t see the southbound Metro train until they were already on the tracks.

With neighbors screaming at them to get out of the way, they panicked and ran for it. Reynaga didn’t make it, and was subsequently dragged under the train.

The whole community mourned, Liz, whose family runs a mini-market at that intersection, told me. “The funeral was huge — so many people came. It was the biggest funeral ever.”

“The Deadliest Rail Line in the Country” or “The Greatest Concentration of Traffic-Sign-Disobeying People with Death Wishes”?

We’ve all heard the Blue Line called the “deadliest rail line in the country.”

Streetsblog has even done some of that name calling and railed against Metro for suggesting that some of the fault lies with us because “people have a responsibility to obey both the active and passive warning devices.”

Although Metro acknowledges that the deaths of 70+ pedestrians and 28 motorists over the past two decades isn’t something to brag about, it isn’t a title they are willing to accept without some qualification. Read more…