Expo Releases FEIR for Phase II Chooses Alignment Along ROW and Colorado Avenue

12_18_09_expo_map.jpgThe Source has a full sized map here.

The Expo Construction Authority has finally released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase II of the Expo Line with some key changes.  I’ll spend more time reviewing the document and talking to some of the key players in the drama over the weekend and will be back with a longer story on Monday.  But for those of you that can’t wait to start talking, here are the key changes from the press release, which can be read in its entirety here.  Or you can read the environmental documents in their entirety on the Expo Construction Authority Board website.

Meanwhile, here are the key changes from the Draft EIR per the Construction Authority’s Press Release.

Inclusion of a design option that removes the park-and-ride lot at the Westwood station;

A
Maintenance Facility design option which includes Santa Monica College
and Verizon properties with a 100-110 foot buffer, providing additional
protection from the residential community to the south of the proposed
facility;

Accommodation of a continuous bikeway from the Phase 1 terminus to Santa Monica;

An additional grade separation at Centinela;

Addition of a 3rd northbound lane on Sepulveda for the at-grade crossing;

Inclusion of a design option for grade separation at Sepulveda if outside funding sources become available.

  • KinOfCain

    Other than the fact that there are several at-grade crossing (boo hiss) I’m ecstatic to see Metro and the expo board choose an intelligent alignment in the face of NIMBY bulls*t.

    Cheers Metro, I owe you a beer.

    Now, how about dragging a “phase 3” down Venice to Pacific? There’s a nice big parking lot there you could use as a terminus…

  • DJB

    I explained what at-grade rail is to my friend in New York and his reaction was “what?!”. A partially at-grade rail proposal would be laughed out of NYC. Even when rail is completely grade separated it’s not necessarily lighting fast. We need to step back and re-assess our priorities. QUANTITY is much less important than QUALITY.

  • Eric B

    We need to be skeptical of the “continuous” bikeway until we see actual designs. It is funded ($10 million for phase II after $5 million for phase I), but the connections are not at all clear. Also, it looks like it will constantly shift between class I and class II requiring bicyclists to make awkward crossings. Advocates are going to have to watch closely on this one. If we’re going to invest $15 million of bikeways money into this thing, we better make sure it’s built right.

  • LOL@DJB

    I had the exact same conversation two weeks ago in the lead up to the Crenshaw Line vote with a native New Yorker who was tapped to speak (but didn’t because of time).

    She said, “What’s at-grade?” After I explained she followed-up with “They can’t be serious?” A great statement was drafted that began somewhere along the lines of “I had to come to L.A. to learn the meaning of the term ‘at-grade,'” and ended with “If they had the foresight to build grade separated rapid transit 100 years ago in New York City, surely we have the common sense to do it in 21st century Los Angeles.”

    Why don’t we? Or a better question, why aren’t more people and politicians requesting it?

    The major reason is development. MTA doesn’t build light rail for transportation reasons they build it for the purpose of densification. And that’s not an indictment, it is a description.

    Planning law requires the developer to pay for traffic mitigations, parking spaces, etc. Building next to a rail line allows density bonus increases, reductions in parking, alleviation from traffic mitigation measures, etc. – all things that increase the profitability of a development project. Again, that’s not to say whether these things are meritorious or not, it’s just the explain the driving force behind them. Building more stations increases the number of parcels that are eligible for these “bonuses.”

    So if you want to understand DJB why we’re about QUANTITY and not QUALITY in this town there you go.

    Now regarding whether these bonuses are meritorious, in the case of light rail in urban L.A. I lean towards No for the most part. If a new transportation project is brought online that increases transportation system capacity then the increased development, reduced parking capacity, etc. can be appropriately handled within our existing transportation grid.

    Light rail takes so much from transportation capacity (and not just motor vehicle capacity, but sidewalk capacity, pedestrian movement capacity, bike lane capacity as well) and gives very little. Indeed, at best these lines are a wash, and at worst, because of the compromised travel time, the distance from actual destinations they are significantly worse.

    For example, take Expo ridership projections – most are from existing bus riders, not people leaving their cars at home (taking 30 mins to get from Downtown LA to Culver City and stopping miles away from actual destinations will do that to a line). It’s a large part of the reason Phase 1 had difficulty making it’s way through the federal New Starts process – it couldn’t show that the project was any better than a busway.

    Another issue that rears its head pertains to the actual cost of grade separation. Proponents of at-grade love to exaggerate their cost (while at the same time downplaying the cost of at-grade rail). They use numbers like $500M a mile!!! Yes, some subways can cost $500M for a mile, but to determine the true cost of a particular light rail subway you have to look at the alignment.

    For example, the Eastside subway in construction cost was ~$300M for 1.8 miles. After design, professional services and system work was tabulated it comes out somewhere around $200-225M a mile.

    Expo’s a special case though because the right-of-way already exists. Instead of needing to bore tunnels underneath streets, much less costly cut-and-cover or open trench construction is possible – much like a significant portion of the NYC subway and commuter rail system.

    Their obvious objective is to exaggerate the cost of grade separation to make it seem political impossible. Again, why? After many conversations over the past four years, I’ve identified two major causes:

    1) Trolley fetish

    Some at-grade advocates really just like looking at pretty trains crossing streets, and really don’t care what the impact is on traffic, safety or communities. Take what the middle school girls have with the Jonas Brothers, replace the middle school girls with grown men and the Jonas brothers with trains and you get the picture. I’ve grown accustomed to saying “We have to blame it on Thomas the Tank Engine.”

    2) Penis envy

    Some are really all about size (system length) of the system, regardless of it’s effectiveness. For example, we’ve got a 13 mile Pasadena Gold Line, which serves fewer people than a 3 mile extension of the Vermont subway. That 3 mile extension would also provide greater improvement to traffic circulation and benefit to existing transit riders than the 13 mile Gold Line, but it just doesn’t look as good on a map.

    Ours needs to be bigger than the other cities you see.

    HERE’S THE REALITY: Any time we commit to these rail projects we’re admitting we have a bucketload of money to spend. If we were dirt poor 3rd world county we’d be spending our resources building a system of busways, but we’re not. So contrary to what the at-grade advocates say, it’s not a zero sum game of building inefficiently or not at all. It’s a choice, especially with Expo, to build 10 miles of grade separated rail or 15 miles of primarily at-grade rail. If proposed that way very few in the public will take the 15 miles of primarily at-grade. But usually its proposed in the way of “At-grade or not at all.”

    And thus, the current debate.

  • Spokker

    “For example, we’ve got a 13 mile Pasadena Gold Line, which serves fewer people than a 3 mile extension of the Vermont subway.”

    So how much would the Vermont subway cost, then? I’ve never been able to get a straight answer on costs for any of these dumb rail projects.

    You also didn’t mention politics. Did “trolley fetishists” severely limit the ability for Los Angeles to construct subways after the Red Line debacle? I don’t think the “trolley fetishists” you decry have so much power to influence transit planning. If we can build subways for $200M per mile in today’s money, why don’t we do it?

    You also forget the subway fetishists (goes hand in hand with asperger’s syndrome, which I suspect that many around here suffer from). Don’t worry, Damien, I get hard for grade-separated *and* at-grade rail ;)

    Going forward I would like to see more of an emphasis on grade-separated rail where it’s needed, but you might want to reevaluate where to place your blame for the current situation.

  • Spokker

    Another thing to note, though it’s called a subway which implies an underground train, much of New York’s rapid transit network is elevated above ground and it often looks like this: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=new+york,+ny&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=41.411029,93.076172&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=New+York&ll=40.618513,-73.998499&spn=0.037527,0.090895&z=14&lci=transit&layer=c&cbll=40.618209,-73.998845&panoid=a8_dmztKW9mSQUK_-MliNw&cbp=12,252,,0,1.43

    Definitely not as intrusive or damaging as a freeway, but try building these all over Los Angeles. Safety goes out the window when someone is looking at the prospect of one of these “damaging” their neighborhood (I personally wouldn’t mind living next to an elevated train in most cases, but that’s just me, a 20-something idiot).

    Another thought, in New York, trains are underground in places that look like this: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=new+york,+ny&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=41.411029,93.076172&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=New+York&ll=40.79933,-73.968549&spn=0.002339,0.005681&t=h&z=18&lci=transit&layer=c&cbll=40.799248,-73.968588&panoid=cOEwAZv4tTprA5CoDQ-6oQ&cbp=12,208.61,,0,-8.34

    Here’s Vermont Ave (assuming Damien was talking amount an extension south. If he wasn’t, never mind): http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=vermont+ave,+los+angeles,+ca&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=41.411029,93.076172&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Vermont+Ave,+Harbor+City,+Los+Angeles,+California&ll=34.052593,-118.291608&spn=0.00256,0.005681&z=18&layer=c&cbll=34.052511,-118.291608&panoid=E6ADSN-uaoHaW-EwARxmlQ&cbp=12,6.95,,0,0.07

    The Eastside wanted a subway under Whittier Blvd. Here’s Whittier folks: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=whittier+blvd&sll=34.052511,-118.291608&sspn=0.00256,0.005681&g=Vermont+Ave,+Harbor+City,+Los+Angeles,+California&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Whittier+Blvd,+Los+Angeles,+California&ll=34.023921,-118.191955&spn=0.019385,0.045447&z=15&layer=c&cbll=34.023923,-118.192069&panoid=skVEbk7eRVSpDIZHQeZ2iA&cbp=12,296.52,,0,-7.24

    Here’s Whittier and Atlantic: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=whittier+blvd&sll=34.052511,-118.291608&sspn=0.00256,0.005681&g=Vermont+Ave,+Harbor+City,+Los+Angeles,+California&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Whittier+Blvd,+Los+Angeles,+California&ll=34.020297,-118.154054&spn=0.009764,0.022724&z=16&layer=c&cbll=34.020546,-118.157949&panoid=kuaWYOHDQeRNxdXEz12bJg&cbp=12,115.4,,0,-2.65

    It is tragic that automobile-centric development resulted in the kind of sorry conditions in Los Angeles that do not warrant underground heavy rail rapid transit systems everywhere. There is a case to be made for them and a case to be made against them. When people from New York go, “What? At-grade rail? Are they crazy?!” they make such statements without knowing what Los Angeles actually looks like.

    Even when Los Angeles has this supposedly world class rail system, it was mostly at-grade. I don’t knock Expo supporters for reviving the Santa Monica Air Line and putting something useful there whether it’s mostly at-grade or not. The Expo Line is low-hanging fruit you would be foolish not to grab.

  • DJB

    New York’s elevated trains definitely create severe noise impacts for the people who live next to them (and it is an important environmental justice issue who is living next to them, say in the Bronx), just like the Blue Line creates severe noise impacts for the people that live next to its elevated and at-grade sections in South LA, Compton and Long Beach. Sound walls are definitely warranted along many more miles in both cities. Even these may not be enough to grant a good night’s sleep.

    When NYC’s trains were being built in the early 20th century, the city wasn’t nearly as dense as it is now. You can build infrastructure for the urban form you have, or you can build it for the urban form you’re striving for.

    There are three solid arguments against at-grade trains: safety, system utility (speed), and noise. Why build trains that will be more dangerous, slower, less used, and noisier for the people who live next to them just to get a few extra miles of track? Look, we already have buses that go basically everywhere. Our rail system should be a substantial upgrade over the transit we already have. That means spending the money to separate it from traffic, preferably underground, or at the very least, above ground with sound walls everywhere. We want people to live near transit, not to consider it a nuisance.

  • Even when Los Angeles has this supposedly world class rail system, it was mostly at-grade.

    What year was that? 1940?

    You like pictures, well here’s what Crenshaw Blvd/King Blvd looked like around the time the system you reference was operating: picture

    Here’s where the Black Dahlia was found in Leimert Park again in the late 1940s: picture

    Like nearly all of the other at-grade systems in America, the Los Angeles system you reference was torn out 60 years ago in large part because of traffic congestion, limited operating speed (because of traffic), accidents, and maintenance costs.

    Also, at that time I think most motor vehicle speedometers went up to what 55 mph??? and “freeways” were things that only the G.I.s coming back from Europe could talk about.

    The reality is everyone recognizes Los Angeles will continue to grow and the challenges from city to city, let alone century to century differ. Its actually laughable that such arguments actually have root anywhere. If someone argued that the LAX of 1949 would be able to accommodate the air traffic needs of Los Angeles in 2009, they’d be laughed out of the place. Yet comparing L.A.’s surface transportation needs in 1949 to 2009 requires a debate.

    Regarding the necessity of grade separated rail, density isn’t the only factor, although there are several corridors where density does currently exist. However, it is ironic that you mention the Whittier corridor and Vermont/Olympic intersection. The Whitter corridor has some of the highest residential density in the region, coupled with a thriving commercial Latino area. Your linked picture of Vermont/Olympic intersection doesn’t show the 8-10 story old hotels turned into apartments. It is smack in the middle of the area with the highest residential density of any place outside Chicago and NYC, reaching over 65-95K/sq. mile. The Pico-Union area to the immediate east is the “low density” area in that hood with levels above 35-40K/sq mile.

    We’re not New York City, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need grade separated rail. NYC has a lot of compact high-density and a center that necessitate grade separated rail. We have a lot of dispersed medium density and a region that is poly-centric. In L.A., for a lot of reasons (mostly policy and not personally related), people regularly commute 20-miles one-way. In New York, trips of this length would typically be done by commuter rail at a speed much faster than a trip of comparable length could be commuted.

    Our vast region increases the importance of transit operating speed in L.A. as compared to N.Y.C., and the importance of interlining/spur lines. We also have a substantial volume of car traffic, and street sidewalks, which for the most part are not wide enough to accommodate pedestrian surges. Again, we don’t have the capacity to take any more for the roadway network. Something has to be added. These are all things that necessitate grade separation.

    Furthermore, we all should recognize the severe impediment that at-grade crossings and lines have on smart growth. It is a supreme irony that many of the advocates of at-grade say it facilitates “smart growth.” In L.A. it facilitates growth, but often not the smart kind. Our light rail requires so many anti-smart growth anti-pedestrian oriented designs to accommodate the trains it makes it difficult for development to come online that doesn’t substantially worsen congestion.

    In fact, the only place I know of in the U.S. where transit has increased growth and reduced traffic is in several corridors in the D.C. metro area where an entirely grade separated system was built in many areas that at the time “did not justify” grade separated rail by the at-grade rail advocates flawed calculus.

    The Rossyln-Ballston corridor in particular is a test case in how spending the capital upfront to build rail right has tremendous benefits. Much like at-grade advocate for cheaper street-level designs for cost reason, the D.C. Metro initially wanted to run the line in the median of a freeway, far away from the center of the corridor. The cities went to bat requesting the line be placed underground down the middle of the corridor. The result is not just more riders for D.C. Metro, but a corridor of people who actually gets around without having to use automobiles. (The expansiveness of the DC network is a big contributor as well).

    And final points:

    1) Who said underground heavy rail? I just said grade separated rail. Many European and Asian cities have “heavy rail systems” with car lengths comparable to our 270 foot long light rail trains.

    2) You mention the Prop A ban on subways, but the ban does not apply to trenches or elevated structures and the ban only applies to local sales tax dollars, not state, and not federal (with the exception of the Wilshire corridor until 2007/2008). How do you think those 1.8 miles of subway were built in East L.A. In fact…

    3) 80% of the dollars spent on the Eastside Extension were federal, and 97% of the dollars ($837M of the $862M) spent on Expo phase 1 is NOT local sales tax. It’s state and federal dollars, with some local contributions.

    4) The cost of HEAVY RAIL subway around the time the Gold Line was being built was around $250-300M a mile. So a 3 mile extension of the Vermont subway would have cost roughly the same in cost or slightly more than the 13 mile Pasadena Gold Line. But I believe the line cost a lot more than the 740M that is currently reported. Several activities had been started and stopped.

    5) You seem to have missed that I point to “trolley fetishes” and “penis envy” as the reason why at-grade advocates exaggerate the cost of grade separation to make it seem political impossible, not as the reasons we have the lines.

  • Spokker

    “Like nearly all of the other at-grade systems in America, the Los Angeles system you reference was torn out 60 years ago in large part because of traffic congestion, limited operating speed (because of traffic)”

    Yes, this applied where trains ran in the street in mixed traffic. There were still lines that operated on semi-exclusive rights of way that should never have been torn out.

    I don’t know what happened in Los Angeles, but there were some cities where transit companies were unable to raise fares in order to maintain the system. Their equipment dilapidated. Coupled with the incredible investment in roads and highways, it tipped the tide to autos even more.

    You seem to place too high a premium on speed. It’s not as important as you think. New York Subway lines are slloooowwwww. Even our Red Line subway has a much faster average speed, though not nearly the same amount of mileage.

  • Jeff G.

    Building at-grade rail in a densely populated city is just asking for trouble.
    Just take a look at the Blue Line (or Blue Line of Death as it is affectionately called) when it traverses the city at-grade.

    Either they go with the trench concept, subway tunneling or an elevated rail system. If they go with at-grade system, the fanatic drivers and the oblivious pedestrians will become hamburger meat.

    Also speed is important. If mass transit is to compete with cars, it must move faster and more efficiently. Or else it is a waste of money.

  • Spokker

    “Building at-grade rail in a densely populated city is just asking for trouble.”

    They seem to do it when it’s necessary even in Tokyo.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FL177gDK95E

    At-grade opponents seem to have a hard on for cars and accommodating drivers at every opportunity. Automobiles have a monopoly on every single street in LA County. They cause death and destruction by design. They are inherently dangerous. Yet when it’s time to put a train in, hold on to your hats, the train (and cyclists for that matter) must bend to the whim of all drivers. Drivers are not to wait for the pathetic masses on trains (or bikes)! Drivers have important things to do and places to go!

    When it comes to the transportation hierarchy, drivers are at the back of the line. They *should* hardly get a vote.

  • “For example, we’ve got a 13 mile Pasadena Gold Line, which serves fewer people than a 3 mile extension of the Vermont subway.”

    Which is obviously because of where the Vermont Red Line subway IS — which justified the very high cost of tunneling — not because it is a subway.

    The subway is no faster; the Gold Line from Union Station to Memorial Park (omitting the freeway part) has the same average speed — 27 mph — as the Red Line from Union Station to Highland.

    Expo would not have been built as rail if subway was the only choice. The MTA board decision in 2001 was light rail vs. busway. High ridership and public support won it for light rail.

  • Spokker

    I spoke with a friend from Japan once. He said that at-grade crossings are annoying and that the country has a big problem with suicide on the tracks. He said that the government is trying to eliminate at-grade crossings.

    The key word here is *trying*. Yes, even the mighty Japanese empire must take into account costs. Some at-grade crossings are a problem, yet they continue to remain at-grade and have been for quite some time. Apparently the government doesn’t think they are *that* big of a problem. I presume that officials, both private and public, that are in charge of rail in Japan have weighed the benefits and costs of grade separation at certain spots and decided to spend money on maglev test tracks instead ;)

    As is true throughout the world, people have a virtually unlimited amount of wants and needs and we only have a finite amount of resources to satisfy them all.

  • DJB

    Hey, I don’t have a hard-on for cars, I just want the rail to be really good.

    Also, Darrell, I calculated 28 MPH for the old, pre-eastside-extension Gold Line, 31 MPH for the Red, 35 MPH for the Green, 24 MPH for the Blue, 19 MPH for the Orange, and 15 MPH for the Gold Line Extension using the “Google Map / Timetable” method :)

    The Green and the Red have solid leads, thanks to their “sepped” design. “Small” differences in speed matter when you’re traveling that slowly.

  • Spokker

    Note that the entire pre-Eastside Gold Line probably doesn’t need to be grade separated to bring it up to speed with the Red Line. You probably need to fix the Highland Park section to get it up to speed.

  • Spokker

    Also, while the fact that the green line runs in the middle of a freeway median helps it to achieve high speeds, we all know that freeway stations are inaccessible and uncomfortable to stand on. I would choose an at-grade light rail system at an average speed of 28 MPH over the Green Line any day.

  • Damn, Spokker – I feel like you cut through a bunch of rhetoric against light rail at -grade for me! It really does seem like opponents to at-grade measure performance using biased car metrics (how far how fast) vs. the qualitative benefits of a properly designed light rail system. They also seem to freak out about rail slowing down cars – but why are cars in the urban core so critical? The cops and fire dept. need to get through, but Bob the Banker? Screw that guy, he can hoof it from the rail station or ride a bike – it’s better for his productivity, and it’s better for our air quality as well as cheaper for all of us in the long run.

  • They seem to do it when it’s necessary even in Tokyo.
    […]
    I spoke with a friend from Japan once. He said that at-grade crossings are annoying and that the country has a big problem with suicide on the tracks. He said that the government is trying to eliminate at-grade crossings. The key word here is *trying*. Yes, even the mighty Japanese empire must take into account costs. Some at-grade crossings are a problem, yet they continue to remain at-grade and have been for quite some time. Apparently the government doesn’t think they are *that* big of a problem. I presume that officials, both private and public, that are in charge of rail in Japan have weighed the benefits and costs of grade separation at certain spots and decided to spend money on maglev test tracks instead

    You’ve used very little information you have to make a terribly incorrect conclusion.

    The line you reference that is at-grade in Tokyo is part of a tiny set of the the crop that have not been put underground or elevated after 70-100 years of initial service.

    The major impediment to grade separating them today is not that the resources don’t exists (or didn’t exist in the ’90s when Japan was busy building almost anything), but rather that the areas around the stations are so built out and the level of disruption to service to redesign the system is huge. These are not lines that serve 20K or 80K riders a day, but rather millions of passengers a day.

    Much of the SUBWAY expansion plans in Tokyo have been to relieve the overcrowding and some of it involves tunneling at extremely deep depths with technological challenges that dwarf our most ambitious endeavors here. And yet, they’re doing it.

    I might be off by a decade or so, but Tokyo hasn’t built a new at-grade crossing in over 70 years!

    Again, you’ve chosen a really bad example with your links. You point to the Chofu crossing, apparently unaware that it is being reconstructed as we type (pdf):

    The construction of grade crossings and elevation of railway lines around the Chofu Station area is targeted to be completed in 2012. Alongside excavation work in the station, we will commence tunnel excavation works using a shield machine (specialized equipment used to excavate tunnels).

    With regard to the elevation of railway lines west of Sasazuka, we are moving toward obtaining approval to commence work on constructing grade crossings and elevating railway lines near the areas from Daitabashi Station to Hachimanyama Station.

  • DJB

    Safety, rail speed, noise . . .
    Not one of those arguments against at-grade rail has anything to do with concern for slowing down cars.

    With regard to the Green Line, the stations clearly need sound walls to keep the road noise from the rail customers. Stations on the Harbor Transitway that have some noise screening are more comfy to use.

    Look, I use at-grade rail just like all of you. I just think it comes down to building lots of miles of something somewhat better than a bus versus building fewer miles of something much better than a bus. I went out to some sections of the Blue Line between Slauson and Florence, and let me tell you, I wouldn’t want to live near all of those crossing gate bells, those horn honks, and that rail noise. In some cases there are cul-de-sacs that directly abut the tracks with no sound walls, and when the train passes by it’s ear splitting.

    We can do better, and we should.

  • Spokker

    Damien, even the Yamanote Line has grade crossings: http://freetheriverpark.typepad.com/photos/safe_pedestrian_train_cro/tokyo_050105_074.html

    You’d think one of the busiest in Tokyo would have been grade separated already despite the engineering challenges.

    The point is that a grade crossing on a semi-exclusive right of way is not the end of the world. I would like to see every rail line in LA go as fast as humanly possible, but if the Yamanote Line isn’t ruined by an at-grade crossing, neither will Expo.

  • And Spokker,

    Bashing the method of transportation 88% of Angelinos use is popular around here, as is blaming people/parents for living in places that they can afford (some barely), have decent schools or are safe enough to walk a dog after sunset. Around here, so the logic goes, people don’t choose where they want to live based on affordability, quality of schools and crime rates, here it’s just because people are living in Sam Yorty’s Los Angeles or some ridiculousness. Maybe I have a different perspective because I know the hell my mother had to go through waking up every damn morning to get from Leimert Park to Burbank (on transit mind you) to a good paying job so she could put my spoiled ass in private school and still have enough left over to take the family to a movie once every blue moon. But I digress.

    My major point with this post is that you very conveniently have overlooked that in addition to mentioning the ways in which what we’re building is insufficient for transit riders or potential transit riders, I pointed out several ways in which the at-grade light rail we’re building harms pedestrian-oriented and bike-friendly principles.

    Again, the living breathing example is the Blue Line in Long Beach. You need only compare the treatment on Long Beach Blvd in Downtown Long Beach to the streets that run parallel to it. The pedestrian treatments on the streets that run parallel to the line (bulb outs, street furniture, wide sidewalks, mid-street crossings), are all possible because a 270 foot long train isn’t running down the middle of it. As a result of the disruptive nature of the crossings, almost all development turns it’s back on the Blue Line, and toward the streets with the pedestrian treatments like Pine Ave.

    And another point, its disingenuous to reference the Pasadena Gold Line speeds while ignoring that a significant percentage of the Gold Line is grade separated. It travels over 2.5 miles out of Union Station before it ever hits an at-grade crossing and spends 3.7 miles in the middle of a freeway on the other end of the line. That’s over HALF IT’S LENGTH!

    This contributes to its faster than usual operating speed, as does the absence of street-running outside of Highland Park. However, its requirement to stay on an old right-of-way and be built on the cheap in the freeway median contributes to it lack of ridership.

    The best example of this Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. Major trip generating destinations on Colorado Blvd are missed, along with true smart growth opportunities, because the train does not go under Colorado Blvd.

    It’s like putting Red Line stations in the median of the I-101 freeway at Vine/I-101 instead of Hollywood/Vine.

    The same can be said for the choice to stick to the tracks on Exposition vs. King Blvd and Pico Blvd.

    Santa Monica City College – missed
    Downtown Culver City – missed
    Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall – missed
    The heart of Palms – missed
    The heart of Baldwin Village – missed
    Westside Pavilion – missed

    So I am clear, I’m not saying all of these destinations could be served, but I’m saying the fact that a great many aren’t, coupled with the lack of speed (which in actuality is about 50-52 mins at best), is why despite the tremendously high east-west travel need on the corridor this line is looking at 62K/riders a day instead of a 120K riders a day.

    And these destinations are being missed because we’re stuck on a right-of-way, building a line as cheap as possible.

    Getting back to the Pasadena Gold Line Colorado Blvd issue, if the train was on top of Colorado Blvd in street-running alignment, not only would we see significant reductions in travel speed (which will only increase in time as congestion becomes worse and more is needed for vehicular movements), it would require the type of measures we see throughout Expo and on the Eastside Extension:

    -Lane drops
    -Sidewalk reductions
    -Elimination of pedestrian crossings
    -Elimination of parking spaces, which act as a buffer to pedestrians on the sidewalk
    -Elimination of left turns and increase in right-turns

    All things which are not pedestrian-friendly, and not bike-friendly.

    Just because something appears to be “pro-car” doesn’t mean it’s “anti-pedestrian.” And just because something is “anti-car” doesn’t mean it’s “pro-pedestrian.”

  • Spokker

    Here’s another: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO_AWiSEskQ

    The population density there is even higher than Chofu at 31,000 per square mile.

    Another thing to consider is that the Japanese pay higher fares than we do for a service that is mostly privatized. The Tokyo Metro system has a farebox recovery ratio of 170%. In Los Angeles it’s 30% and our fares are some of the lowest in the nation. If the move to build grade separated rail in Los Angeles comes with higher fares, then I would support it.

    The Japanese also pay more to drive. Emissions standards are strict and the price of gas is high. Until Los Angeles starts seeing these kinds of costs, I doubt grade separated rail will enjoy the support that it deserves.

  • Spokker

    Damien, I agree with you that the Blue line must be grade-separated in Downtown LB and LA. No argument there.

    “It’s like putting Red Line stations in the median of the I-101 freeway at Vine/I-101 instead of Hollywood/Vine.”

    The current Gold Line stations are more convenient than a hypothetical Red Line station in the middle of the 101. You can walk to Colorado just fine from Memorial Park Station. I’ve done it many times.

  • Spokker

    “Maybe I have a different perspective because I know the hell my mother had to go through waking up every damn morning to get from Leimert Park to Burbank (on transit mind you) to a good paying job so she could put my spoiled ass in private school and still have enough left over to take the family to a movie once every blue moon.”

    My parents worked hard too. My dad held two full-time jobs that were literally killing him. What’s the relevance here?

    Don’t worry, Damien, you’re not arguing with a rich guy here.

  • Again, you’re using one picture to indicate something that is not the case.

    In that picture the Yamanote Line is the one on the elevated structure with the lime color, not the one with the at-grade crossing.

    Also, most of the Yamanote Line was built in the 19th century and early 20th century, when the whole country was traveling by bikes and horses, and still almost all of it is grade separated. What do I mean by almost all of it? All but one crossing in it’s 35 mile length! And no it’s not the image you linked to.

    And by the way that one at-grade crossings that was built back when the Model T was on the assembly line, is of a small one-lane residential road (so small that i think it’s only a pedestrian crossing) that is part of a much larger 3 level junction and would be quite an engineering challenge to grade separate. And by the way Spokker even I am willing to endure one at-grade crossing of a small residential street on a 35 mile line. :)

    Furthermore, you seem to be missing the big point, which was placed in bold: THEY HAVEN’T BUILT AN AT-GRADE CROSSING IN TOKYO IN 70 YEARS!

    Don’t denigrate yourself by stooping to the Darrell Clarke tactic of showing pictures with absolutely no context to imply things work just fine because they exist elsewhere. As I pointed out in the crossing you mentioned previous post, such is not the case.

  • Spokker

    Damien, I wasn’t saying that at-grade crossings were prevalent in Tokyo. I was saying that having them, no matter how old they are, isn’t the end of the world even in dense Japan where it is expensive to drive. You’re right, I made a mistake on the last picture, though. The rail line in the foreground is a different one.

    I’m with you on street-running light rail, though I am not as aggressive about it. I agree that something like the Gold Line Eastside Extension is too slow to make a difference (a streetcar should be a streetcar and a rapid transit system should be a rapid transit system), but I think it’s better that it’s there than if it weren’t, and I appreciate the fact that building subways is costly and there was no available above ground ROW in the Eastside as there is with Expo.

    Apparently, between Gramercy Pl and Santa Monica Expo will be able to travel at 55 MPH (I don’t even know if that’s true). Then it switches to street-running on Colorado, which Santa Monica interests specifically asked for (I don’t even know if that’s true). I do not feel that at-grade crossings on a semi-exclusive right of way are dangerous and I don’t mind making cars wait a little longer.

  • The at-grade system that was torn out was also removed because (like the private heavy rail lines across america), these systems could not compete with “free” roads that were subsidized completely while rail had to pay taxes and fees for the use of its right of way.

    Oh if only the merits of a system were the reason for its dismantling!

  • Spokker

    Street-running light rail in *mixed* traffic was definitely becoming slower and slower as time went by. But it was no reason to rip out the semi-exclusive guideways.

    ubrayj, one of the problems is that the private transit operators of the day were not allowed to raise fares. Here’s a passage from the book Autophobia by Brian Ladd.

    “The technological limitations of streetcars were probably less of a problem than the economic circumstances in which the streetcar operators were working.

    Already in the 1920s most American streetcar systems were losing passengers. Cities typically required the private franchises to operate on certain routes. In the face of declining ridership, the companies, which often were forbidden to raise the sacrosanct nickel fare, not only reduced service, but also failed to maintain their equipment. They deferred maintenance, and their trolley cars aged beyond a reasonable lifespan.”

    Crazy funding schemes benefit drivers at the expense of cities. At one time Colorado spent 50 more on highways each year than it did on education. Only one-third of that money was raised from motorists.

    Here’s how it partially worked. Since local user fees had been shunned, none of the auto initiatives could be paid for that way. Instead, they were financed by “special property-tax assessments on adjoining and nearby property through the use of “street improvement districts. This became increasingly unfair, as many of these projects were along major streets used mainly by commuters who didn’t live close enough to be taxed.”

    That story is from 20th Century Sprawl by Owen D. Gutfreund if you want to read it. Great book. I used it for a term paper on highways last semester.

  • Spokker

    I do wonder if similar issues illustrated in my post above originally killed the Santa Monica Air Line. Does anybody know?

  • I was saying that having them, no matter how old they are, isn’t the end of the world even in dense Japan where it is expensive to drive.

    But it is a huge cause of congestion. With Tokyo ridership levels, they quite literally have intersections where 40-42 minutes (67-70% of the time) out of every hour the crossing gates are down. 50-60 years ago the Japanese government committed to grade separating rail crossings because of the congestion caused and the safety issues. The congestion caused is bad – real bad, and at levels that no crossing in L.A. would consider acceptable, especially given that 88% of people commute by car, and 95% commute by auto (car or bus). And of course congestion is not just a traffic problem, it’s an air quality problem.

    My biggest complaint with Metro is that their so-called Long Range Transportation Plan isn’t focused on some reasonable goal like:

    -Increase transit share of work commute from 12% to 20%, or
    -Increasing residents of the county by 15% while maintaining current level of service

    Or really anything quantitative or results oriented. Accordingly, we will not see these numbers improve.

    The type of total bulldozing necessary to get to 55% or 75% transit share is so monumental and unrealistic that it would quite literally take the amount of time it took to convert LA into a cowtown to its current international status – 75 years. And even if that monumental shift is the goal, and I don’t think it is (and I don’t think it should be), the way to facilitate that is not through at-grade light rail.

    Those trenches and cut-and-cover tunnels all over the world have pretty much gone unaltered over the past century. At-grade gets substantial wear-and-tear and then theirs the accidents with the equipment, equipment failure, etc.

    I agree that something like the Gold Line Eastside Extension is too slow to make a difference (a streetcar should be a streetcar and a rapid transit system should be a rapid transit system),

    Agreed.

    but I think it’s better that it’s there than if it weren’t, and I appreciate the fact that building subways is costly and there was no available above ground ROW in the Eastside as there is with Expo.

    I disagree. And this is what separates me from most rail advocates: I see trains as a means to a productive end. My conclusion that rail, and then ultimately grade separated rail was not a product of a p.r. campaign but rather analysis. Accordingly, if that end is severely compromised, alternatives need to be considered to achieve lesser but sufficient goals.

    In the case of the Eastside Extension, there were really two possible alternatives:

    1) cutting the line’s length in half and building it as a Red Line heavy rail subway
    2) implementing improved bus service throughout the corridor

    In comparison to what is built, I do think one could strongly argue that the two alternatives are superior to what was built.

    Rail has serious impediments that are best off-set by the benefits provided by grade separation, at least as it relates to the urban core of Los Angeles. If that off-set is not provided all that’s left are the serious impediments. (I say that as a person that does not place much value in the joy ride of a trip every now and then or the bragging rights of X number of track miles. If you believe that P.R. nonsense you might come to different conclusions.)

    Apparently, between Gramercy Pl and Santa Monica Expo will be able to travel at 55 MPH (I don’t even know if that’s true).

    Not at Crenshaw, where the delays will likely be substantial, and only get worse over time as congestion increases.

    One could similarly expect that based on accidents and congestion gates could be requested to be removed from Arlington.

    Will this happen in 10 years – likely not. Is it conceivable that it would be a serious debate in 20-30 years, absolutely.

    And I’d doubt that if at-grade is eventually what is built at many of these congested intersections on Phase 2 (a big IF mind you) that crossing gates would be implemented (Overland, Westwood, Sepulveda, etc.). That would further compromise the 50-52 minute travel time.

    Then it switches to street-running on Colorado, which Santa Monica interests specifically asked for (I don’t even know if that’s true).

    They did in one of the more blatant kill-the-businesses and put-the-people-in-harms-way for the purpose of redevelopment tactics I’ve seen displayed on this line.

    I do not feel that at-grade crossings on a semi-exclusive right of way are dangerous and I don’t mind making cars wait a little longer.

    How I wish the only adverse impact was making cars wait “a little longer,” alas we appear to differ on what we consider adverse impacts.

    I do wonder if similar issues illustrated in my post above originally killed the Santa Monica Air Line.

    Don’t quote me but very few if any Air Line trains ever went west of Jefferson Park, let alone west of Culver Junction. We’re talking maybe 2 trains a day that went all the way to the ocean. Again, this was a time when Leimert Park was being marketed as a suburb of Los Angeles.

  • Also, Darrell, I calculated 28 MPH for the old, pre-eastside-extension Gold Line, 31 MPH for the Red, 35 MPH for the Green, 24 MPH for the Blue, 19 MPH for the Orange, and 15 MPH for the Gold Line Extension using the “Google Map / Timetable” method :)

    The Green and the Red have solid leads, thanks to their “sepped” design. “Small” differences in speed matter when you’re traveling that slowly.

    And the small difference begin to add up if you’re taking a 40 mile round trip. 10 mins here, 3 mins there and a bit more of the same on the way back and you’re looking at a trip that:

    #1 took nearly a half-hour longer on transit than need be
    #2 already was going to take a half-hour longer on transit than the car.

    That 1 hour is substantial impediment to convincing people to leave their cars at home.

    Incidentally, Blue Line end to end with total grade separation = 40 minutes. That’s 13 mins (25%) faster than the current line, a difference that literally amounts to a loss of 10s of thousands of daily trips. Add express service and that figure gets down to 30 mins.

    It’s very hard to make a case that our transportation system can’t be designed to really make a dent in our traffic crisis.

  • David Galvan

    Ugh. This again.

    I was just in San Francisco. They have tons of at-grade light rail there. I rode the N Judah line from downtown to golden gate park. It was fast and easy. In downtown it was a subway, and it became at-grade closer to the park. But even there it was no big deal.

    I realize that absolutists will never be satisfied. But just because a line is partially at-grade does not mean the wrong decision was made.

  • Ugh. This again. [….] I rode the N Judah line from downtown to golden gate park.

    Part of the reasons this conversation goes on regularly David, is because many people do as you just did and attempt to blur the difference between streetcars (N Judah) and the type of light rail we’re building.

    N Judah is by all definitions a streetcar. It has stations every 3 blocks with 35 stations in 8.5 miles.

    Muni is not built for 15 mile trip.

    The comparable system to what we’re building on Expo is BART. So if you want to make comparisons make it to that.

    It was fast and easy.

    To travel those 8.5 miles on the N Judah takes 50 minutes – an operating speed of just over 10 mph. Traveling at equivalent distances on Expo would take 92 minutes from Downtown LA to San Francisco!

    I was just in San Francisco. They have tons of at-grade light rail there.

    They have tons of busways in Curtiba. What’s your point?

    Incidentally, another reason this conversation continues is because in direct contrast to what has gone on here between me, DJB and Spokker, some attempt to dumb this discussion down to “I went to [insert city] and they had at-grade crossings there.” Again, just as you did.

  • Like other cities’ light rail lines, Los Angeles’ fill an important middle ground between heavy rail like BART and our Red/Purple Lines, and traditional streetcars like Muni on the west side of San Francisco.

    Compared to streetcars, light rail station spacing is greater and operating in mixed traffic is rarely done (never in L.A.). Compared to heavy rail, light rail and its stations are generally at ground level.

    Since 1980 at least 16 U.S. cities have opened new mostly-at-grade light rail lines, including Los Angeles (#2 in U.S. by population), Houston (#4), Phoenix (#6), San Diego (#7), and Dallas (#8). Conversely, only one opened a new subway (L.A.).

  • DJB

    Man, I wish the plane I was on all day had internet access. I missed a Dostoyevsky novel’s worth of bickering :)

    I wonder if we could all agree on a minimum speed for all new passenger rail lines in LA County, and a maximum level of noise for people in the vicinity of the lines.

    I think people who care about transit tend to be in a defensive mode. Transit is this fragile thing that barely survives in most American cities and we feel a need to close ranks and stand behind the MTA, etc. I get that. I’ve felt that.

    But do we really want to spend our careers defending at-grade rail complaint after complaint, death after death (yes there’s personal responsibility, and yes cars are dangerous too, but it still sucks when people die)? We need to raise our expectations and respect the communities transit goes through.

  • This thread needs longer posts.

  • Ypres

    Another important thing to note when asking what killed the old streetcars is that streetcar operators and subdivision developers were most often one and the same. In our neck of the woods, Henry Huntington specifically developed the Pacific Electric system to connect all of the various subdivisions that he built (for example, Huntington Park, or the Oneida Junction section of South Pasadena) with each other and with central Los Angeles. The problem was that the streetcars weren’t profitable enough to survive on their own after all of the land had been sold. The lack of profitability is what killed most streetcar systems; the problems they created in mixed traffic was only a secondary thing.

  • Since 1980 at least 16 U.S. cities have opened new mostly-at-grade light rail lines, including Los Angeles (#2 in U.S. by population), Houston (#4), Phoenix (#6), San Diego (#7), and Dallas (#8).

    And L.A. has what in common with Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Dallas that indicates that similar systems would be adequate here? And are those systems even adequate? Among other weakness, you point to Houston neglecting to mention theirs is far more of the a streetcar mold than ours. The takeaway from that is to build the Broadway street car project from Chinatown to Staples Center.

    Lets dissect your implication: San Francisco is the 12th most populous city in the nation behind Detroit (#11) which has no rail whatsoever. Explain this to us? Is it that San Fran really doesn’t need BART and MUNI or that Detroit needs a BART and MUNI?

    Staying in your time period, since the late 1970s, D.C. which has been expanding its system continuously and the same with BART in San Francisco, and that Atlanta, Buffalo and Miami also opened heavy rail systems in the early ’80s.

    D.C. Metro and BART are the major success stories of the 2nd half of 20th century mass transit from a performance standpoint with their systems carrying a bulk of the ridership of their metro areas, which have 40% and 27% transit share respectively.

    Comparatively, the poster-child for light rail (Portland) has the same transit share of L.A. at 12% transit share. (Don’t get me started on the Portland-hype).

    The only other cities that have similarly high transit share as D.C. are Chicago (38%) and New York City (55%). Each of them has almost entirely grade separated heavy rail system as the backbone of its mass transit network.

    By the way, more on the ridiculousness of your population citations, L.A. is sandwiched between NYC #1 and Chicago #3. D.C. meanwhile is ranked #27 behind Memphis (#19), El Paso (#22) and Nashville (#26). Again, playing your little exercise: That must means Nashville needs an extensive heavy rail system like the D.C. Metro, right?

    We’re having a serious conversation here Darrell. Please bring us more than simple talking points if you can.

    We need to raise or expectations and respect the communities transit goes through.

    Dove-tailing off your statement that many feel they need to “close ranks” behind Metro, I think many have no respect for the communities and individuals (90% of which are voicing legitimate complaints). Issues are to be dismissed because of the messenger is [insert at least one] a car lover|anti-transit|pro-highway|racist|anti-growth. I can’t even count the number of ways I’ve seen my statements twisted and things fabricated all with the intent of attempting to lessen the credibility of the Fix Expo message, which in many respects was predicated on what most people already knew and what agencies were already saying.

  • In our neck of the woods, Henry Huntington specifically developed the Pacific Electric system to connect all of the various subdivisions that he built

    EXACTLY!

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    The hallow arguments against grade separation have not changed from then to today (got to crack some eggs to make an omelet, only stupid people get hit, they’re too expensive), and neither has the underlying objective of the lines (serving development interests).

    The difference is, it’s not just connected developers like Casden and paid off politicians like Jan Perry and Pam O’Connor making these arguments. Now there’s a whole crop of citizens making them too.

    It’s no coincidence that the only people in South L.A. that can be circled up for an Expo Line press conference today are all deeply involved in the development and that the Co-Chair of Friends 4 Expo, Darrell Clarke is a former Planning Commissioner of the City of Santa Monica.

  • We’re having a serious conversation here Darrell.

    About “a single-finger salute … I haven’t bothered to read their posts”? Hardly. Oh, and I was an advocate for Expo a decade before being appointed to the Santa Monica Planning Commission (1999-2007), and both are volunteer positions.

    For the larger audience, a little history: BART, begun in the 1960s, led in the 1970s to three more, similar new heavy rail rapid transit systems, in Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Miami.

    But financial reality took hold, that these were too expensive to be built widely. Washington had the federal checkbook and completed its plan a couple of decades later. Atlanta was moderately successful, but Miami was but a short line in the wrong place.

    Meanwhile, a movement began in the 1970s, based on European trams and remaining U.S. streetcar lines, to less-expensively bring rail transit to many more cities. San Diego was first, followed by light rail lines in nearly every major U.S. city.

    They are predominantly at-grade along former railroad rights-of-way, but with the flexibility to be in dedicated lanes in streets, and to bridge or tunnel when necessary for topography or traffic.

    Spacing between trains generally allows light rail to cross boulevards at grade with little more traffic impact than existing traffic signals.

    The appropriate configuration for a line depends more on its immediate setting than the population of the city it happens to be part of. I only mentioned the rank of cities like Houston to refute the argument that it only fits small cities like Portland, and would note that generalities based on averages have become a specialty of transit opponents.

  • The comparable system to what we’re building on Expo is BART.

    Ok, suppose Expo were built like the BART system, on an aerial concrete structure above the Expo right-of-way.

    But you opposed the aerial Expo structure at La Brea and the originally-proposed aerial structure on Crenshaw north of the Harbor Subdivision. Do you favor BART or not?

  • Ok, suppose Expo were built like the BART system, on an aerial concrete structure above the Expo right-of-way.

    I didn’t know they built elevated structures underground. One won’t be able to find a single elevated BART structure in the City of San Francisco. They must all underground.

    Same thing with the recently completed (2003) BART San Mateo extension. It looks like they cleared (or bought) an existing right-of-way and put the train in a cut-and-cover tunnel with shallow somewhat open cut stations with their most recent SFO extension.

    Putting a rail line on an existing right of way underground with open cut stations. Hmm…that sounds exactly like the Fix Expo position!

    So much for your talking point that no “modern,” “after 1980 something,” line “built on an existing right of way” has been put underground. If you’re going to continue using this statement to avoid discussing site specific issues articulated by those who have issues with the alignment (and you will) you’re going to need to add a couple more qualifiers.

    generalities based on averages have become a specialty of transit opponents.

    Really? ‘Cause I see them being used more so by at-grade proponents.

    4 times out of 5 the response to those who point out congestion and safety issues with at-grade crossings, often times with site-specific complaints (i.e. “there are back ups 3 blocks in both directions right now”), is to point to other cities that have them and say (often incorrectly) “There’s no problem with them there.” Heck, it’s on display here in this very thread!

    Clarke you are the chief perpetrator of this tactic. And it is impossible for anyone who sees the rhetorical tactic used to conclude anything but this is a deliberate attempt to precluded a healthy discussion of what is needed (today and 10-25-50-100 years from now) and what is right on specific corridors and at specific crossings in L.A. It is the embodiment of generalization. And it is done, because in comparison to the alternative your arguments are very very weak.

    About “a single-finger salute … I haven’t bothered to read their posts”? Hardly.

    Please leave my hater brigade to the other thread whence they belong. Again, we’re trying to have a constructive conversation here.

  • Ypres

    The hollow arguments against grade separation have not changed from then to today (got to crack some eggs to make an omelet, only stupid people get hit, they’re too expensive), and neither has the underlying objective of the lines (serving development interests).

    I think you’re putting a bit to much of your own perspective on a historical situation. Recall that most of these lines were built at a point when there was still very little traffic or development through much of the L.A. area, and that they followed the prevailing model throughout the nation for local passenger rail lines, that is, at grade and mixed traffic. New York was starting to build the subways at this point, certainly, but that was because they had already gone through the stages of mixed-traffic horsecars and elevated railways, never mind that even subways were much cheaper then.

    In any case, most of this development was largely private, unlike Expo. If Metro was some conspiracy that only built rail lines to serve private interests, is it really likely that we would have all the rail lines that we do? You can think of almost any city improvement like public transit or parks as a sop to developers if you want to, but that won’t stop it from improving people’s lives.

  • mattlos

    Spokker
    in response to post #5:

    Page 98 of Metro’s 2008 Draft LRTP Technical document lists the “Vermont Corridor Subway” as a 9.24 mile project costing $3.6279 Billion, in 2015 dollars. This project appears to connect from Wilshire to the Vermont Green Line station.

    I am kinda curious to see performance measurents for a shorter segement. I gotta wonder how productive the Slauson to Imperial segment is.

    The ridership forecast is 12.99 million annual boardings.

    It is in the “Tier 2 Strategic Plan” and “strategic” plans have no legal standing, only “constrained” plans.

  • David Galvan

    Muni is not built for 15 mile trip.

    The comparable system to what we’re building on Expo is BART. So if you want to make comparisons make it to that.

    Tell me how to get from downtown S.F. to golden gate park on BART and I will start to entertain your point. BART is the creme de la creme of S.F. public transit, and it is centralized within a specific corridor where the distances and population density justifies it, just like the red/purple lines are/will be centralized within a specific corridor. It does serve a different purpose than light rail.

    It is odd to see how you rationalize my comparison between Expo and N Judah as being completely inapt, and yet you are comparing light rail in los angeles to BART. BART is heavy rail powered by a ground third rail. It has higher capacity than any L.A. MTA light rail train, and is capable of much higher speeds. I get that you WANT Expo to be as grade-separated and fast as BART. I would love that too. But just as BART does not have branches going to every place in the Bay area, and instead relies on Muni to cover some of those areas, so too should L.A. prioritize where it puts the money for completely grade-separated rail, because it can’t afford to put it everywhere.

    The trip I took on N Judah was over roughly a 5-mile distance. It took 24 minutes to get from the Powell station downtown to Judah and 19th by GoldenGate park. It takes the gold line about 22 minutes to get from Memorial Park station to Union station, a distance of roughly 10 miles. So the Gold line, which is mostly at-grade, goes roughly twice the speed as N Judah due to making fewer stops. So, sure, you can call N Judah a streetcar simply because it makes more frequent stops. But I don’t see what that has to do with at-grade vs. not at-grade. The Gold line is at grade and goes twice as fast as N Judah, and so, likely, will Expo built partially at grade. And my comment about N Judah being fast and easy still applies. It served my needs very well.

    Technology-wise, Muni IS the same type of light rail that we have in blue and gold and expo lines. overhead-wire-powered large train-cars. In fact, the muni trains are actually more spacious and longer and can thus hold more people than most of the trains I’ve seen on the MTA light-rail lines. Everyone in San Francisco calls them light rail (including Muni itself), and they are indeed light rail train technology. You call them streetcars. Semantics. The point is that system is well suited for the community in which it operates.

    I said: I was just in San Francisco. They have tons of at-grade light rail there.

    You said: They have tons of busways in Curtiba. What’s your point?

    Really? You can’t see my point? Ok, let me simplify: You are arguing against at-grade light rail, saying it is a mistake. I pointed out that there are plenty of examples of at-grade light rail in San Francisco, and it serves the community there just fine. My point is that absolutism (“At-grade is bad!”) is myopic. In certain situations and communities, at-grade light rail is appropriate. In specific, after all your arguments I still am not convinced that building Expo partially at-grade is a bad thing. It’s not because I’m biased against you or against south L.A. or because I am environmentally racist or anything else: it’s just because I think this type of transit system can serve the community well.

    When the west-side subway is built, people will be using that for the long-distance commute from Santa Monica to Pasadena or downtown. Expo may indeed serve more as a streetcar for shorter distances for many people. Both have their uses.

    I’ve asked you before which other MTA projects should be canceled or scaled back in order to provide the funds to completely grade-separate Expo, and as I recall your response was simply that MTA could find the money if they really wanted to. I’d love to see you as MTA chief or Mayor, telling that to the public.

    I stand by my point, which you did not address: Just because a rail system is built partially at-grade does not mean the wrong decision was made. There are plenty of at-grade rail systems that accomplish their goals. Below grade is always better, but it is not always justified or financially feasible.

  • David Galvan

    I didn’t know they built elevated structures underground. One won’t be able to find a single elevated BART structure in the City of San Francisco. They must all underground.

    I just rode BART last week. There are indeed aerial structures, mostly on the south end of the BART yellow and red lines, approaching Daly City station and SFO, for example.

  • DJB

    Is it really fair to characterize opposition to at-grade crossings as absolutist? At-grade always creates noise problems (horns, crossing bells, rail noise), it always creates safety risks, and it is always slower than a grade-separated system, other things equal (e.g. same route, # of stops, era of construction, etc.).

    I’d be willing to take money from the Wilshire Subway to grade separate Expo (I’d rather take it from roads or war though). And that’s saying something, since I live off of Wilshire. For all the Westsiders out there, I’d suggest moving if you want to be closer to good transit. The Purple Line’s not getting out there for a long time :)

    Damn, why didn’t we just build all the freeways like the 105 (sigh) . . .

  • David Galvan

    I was using absolutist to refer to those who think any rail line should be completely grade separated. My point being that you have to weigh both impact AND cost of the at-grade vs. below-grade options, and that the result will not always be in favor of below-grade in all situations.

    Yes, I agree that below-grade will ALWAYS be better. I don’t agree that it will ALWAYS be worth the cost, though.

  • DJB

    Okay, granted, in a rural area there’s no significant noise problem, safety risk, or speed issue with at-grade rail, so maybe we can save our at-grade crossings for places where virtually nobody lives, or will live. That’s more nuanced.

    We should build a system that people brag about, that people fight to get INTO their neighborhoods (as opposed to OUT OF their neighborhoods). That’s the only way to sustain the political consensus that pays for this in the long run.

  • Recall that most of these lines were built at a point when there was still very little traffic or development through much of the L.A. area, and that they followed the prevailing model throughout the nation for local passenger rail lines, that is, at grade and mixed traffic. New York was starting to build the subways at this point, certainly, but that was because they had already gone through the stages of mixed-traffic horsecars and elevated railways, never mind that even subways were much cheaper then.

    I’m not refuting this point. I agree mostly with your historical interpretation. My point was that, specifically in response to the accidents and traffic, there were calls for grade separation from the public, and at the time, public agencies. There were quite literally calls to shut the system down. There was opposition to it in large part because the driving force around the creation of the system were development interest.

    In any case, most of this development was largely private, unlike Expo.

    First, with all of the entitlements, redevelopment dollars, and public-private partnerships it’s not exactly accurate to say even “most” of the development is largely private.

    Second, and more importantly regardless of who dollars are being spent building it, the return is not public, but rather private.

    These private interests are flooding the campaign war chests of the politicians who build these lines and provide direction to the Metro staff who plan them. That’s not conspiracy, that’s what passes for “politics” and “smart business” in 21st century America.

    If Metro was some conspiracy that only built rail lines to serve private interests, is it really likely that we would have all the rail lines that we do?

    My chief point, and others have raised it as well, is that even with our finite budget we have the resources to build rail. The choice is how do we spend this finite sum of money, and the politicos have decided to build in a manner primarily at-grade that inadequately serves our transportation needs, serves less riders than the many alternatives and ultimately costs more to the public over the life of the project. Even the dumbest elected officials know can figure out what they’re doing when they get involved in the traffic mitigation discussion for the development of a private project in close proximity to an at-grade station.

    It would be foolhardy not to question the motivation behind such poor decisions, especially in the face of strong community/constituent opposition and advocacy for feasible alternatives. I chose not to ignore the developer contributions, and the by-right density bonus increases, parking reductions and alleviation from traffic mitigation measures that these projects engender, or the fact that those who seek to gain from these things just happen to be flooding the transit decision-makers campaign pockets.

    And don’t even get me on the construction/design company interests.

    You can think of almost any city improvement like public transit or parks as a sop to developers if you want to, but that won’t stop it from improving people’s lives.

    Its difficult to respond to subjective statements like “improving people’s lives.”

    Take a trip down the Blue Line corridor and you don’t see much life being improved Ypres. Talk to some of the people impacted by the street-closures around Expo to see how their lives are “being improved.”

    But let me respond to your question as though your claiming that the improvement in people’s lives comes from the increased mobility to transit riders. As I’ve repeatedly said, for a fraction of $3B we could build a system that would have equal or slightly less, adverse impacts as this project on the community directly impacted, AND would serve more people and need. I don’t advocate for a system of busways because I recognize their limitations and adverse impacts, just as I recognize the limitation and adverse impacts of at-grade in urban L.A. I advocate for grade separated rail, because I realize that is where the benefits are lessened by the limitations and the adverse impacts are reduced.

    When you realize that the statement that “The only choice is what MTA/Expo propose or nothing at all” is false the perspective drastically changes.

    Furthermore, I’m not claiming that no project should provide a boon to private interests. I’m not anti-smart growth. I’m actually much more pro-smart growth than most of my neighbors. I’m simply saying that those private interests shouldn’t supplant the stated purpose of the project, the transportation needs of the region, the safety of the public, or the concerns of the community impacted. At THE VERY WORST they should be equal. But they’re not even that.

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