It’s Not Easy Being Green: Community Opposition, Funding Hamper Expansion for Green Line

Image: Metro

Last week Metro held public hearings for the environmental studies for the environmental hearings for the Green Line Extension to the South Bay and the Green Line Extension to LAX was featured in an article in the Los Angeles Times.  Needless to say, it was a rough week for the Green Line.  The environmental hearings, at least in Lawndale and Redondo Beach, were raucous events where opponents and NIMBY’s dominated the event.

The Times article on the Green Line extension to LAX is a curious piece.  The first part of the article is an explanation of why the Green Line doesn’t connect to the airport, the last part an illustration of why a rail expansion is needed and the middle a list of reasons why such an extension may never happen.  Despite the promise of rail transit to the airport being one of the centerpieces of the Measure R promise, there are issues with both a plan to run light rail directly to the central terminal and with plans to have a “people mover,” similar to ones in other major cities around the country, transport people directly to LAX from the current Green Line terminus.

From the Times:

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, said running the rail line above ground by the south runway protection zone would raise some of the same issues that challenged the Green Line from extending into the airport in the 1990s. Those issues include whether the overhead catenary wires would interfere with runway operations and whether the rail electronics would cause problems for air traffic control.

As for the people mover option, it may just be too expensive.  The Measure R sales tax passed in 2008 dedicates $200 million towards an extension to the airport.  A people mover would cost $600 million, at least.  It’s no wonder Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is eyeing the funds dedicated to the airport extension in Measure R as a possible source for  a Leimart Park Station and grade-separated Crenshaw Line.  If LAX is considering paying for part of the people mover as the Times suggests, then they might want to make that dedication public soon.

Meanwhile, the Green Line Extension south to Torrance, a proposed seven mile extension that would run south to the  ran in to a different set or road bumps in public meetings last week.  The Daily Breeze and Neon Tommy detailed arguments made by residents and the government of Lawndale at a public hearing in the same city.  Opponents complained that the extension would decrease property values adjacent to the tracks, would create for children who walk adjacent to the tracks, and your typical “noise and safety concerns.”

As we’ve stated before, light rail does have a history of being one of the less safe modes of transportation in the country.  However, that statistic comes with two major caveats.  First, the number of crashes and fatalities when a pedestrian is hit by a train includes suicides.  Unfortunately, suicide by light rail is an all too-common phenomenon.  Second, as one can tell by examining the construction and crash statistics for the Gold Line versus the Blue Line, you can see that Metro has come a long way when it comes to making light rail a safer form of travel.

Image: Metro

Second, economics studies have shown that overall, communities that are served by rail transit have higher than average increases in real estate value.  It’s true that houses along the tracks won’t see that benefit, but overall Lawndale and other communities that would be served by the extension should see a stronger real estate market as a result of the Green Line extension.

As for noise impacts, it’s hard to argue that trains won’t make any noise, but of course every passenger on those trains that would be driving a car would create far more noise than the relatively quiet electric train.

In Redondo Beach, a more specific argument has taken hold.  Because the station in Redondo Beach is designed to service the Galleria mall, and because the Galleria has been a magnet for crime, thus the rail line will be transporting criminals in to and out of Redondo Beach and do little else.  Unsurprisingly, this argument rankled people who plan to use the line and was dismissed out of hand by others supporting it.

The earliest construction could start on either project is 2014, and that assumes that Congress and the President act on America Fast Forward so that Metro can borrow against future sales tax revenue to build thirty years of transit projects in the next ten years.  However, it is unlikely that either project will begin construction, even under optimal conditions, for several years.

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