Exposition/Farmdale: More Headaches
Today I return again to a discussion of the oft-maligned Exposition Line under construction in Los Angeles. Most of the first phase of the project from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City is ready to go. When I last checked the progress of the line in early May, tracks were laid and catenary poles were installed. Still, one grade crossing out of thirty nine must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission and the elevated structure for the Venice/Robertson station is not yet complete. The biggest issue is this lone grade crossing, Exposition Boulevard and Farmdale Avenue.
The Exposition Line has always been plagued with intense community opposition, or so it appears. As a grounding statement for this discussion it is important to note that the opposition to the Exposition Line has been a tiny group of people who enjoy close news coverage because of cultural biases against transit in the United States. The worries of few (very, very few) are inhibiting the progress of a billion dollar transit project to connect Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica and relieve the horribly congested 10 freeway and are costing taxpayers millions of dollars due to construction delays. Those are the ground rules of this post, so to speak.
Phase One of the Exposition Line passes by two major schools (Dorsey and Foshay), a large private university (USC) and a community college (LATTC) on its route to Culver City. The line is at grade adjacent to all of these educational institutions with unrelated traffic-based grade separations near USC and LATTC. The major issue with the Exposition/Farmdale crossing is its position right next to Dorsey High School. Fix Expo, a group that claims to be in the best interest of residents in South Los Angeles, is crying foul over this at grade crossing, alleging that trains will run over multitudes of high school kids. They have gone as far to put pictures of light rail crashes (with cars and trucks, not pedestrians, mind you) outside community meeting places and overwhelmed rational thinkers at recent California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meetings regarding the crossing. CPUC rejected Metro’s original proposal for a simple four quadrant guarded grade crossing at Farmdale, largely because of the advocacy of this Fix Expo group. Metro is now proposing a station stop at Exposition/Farmdale so that trains passing through the intersection would be moving very slowly.
First of all, Metro should not even be taking the Fix Expo group seriously enough to appease them with their station proposal. The original plan for a plain at grade crossing was entirely reasonable. Farmdale is not a high traffic street by any measure. Grade separations per Metro’s Light Rail Grade Separation Policy, adopted before the construction of the Gold Line in 2003, dictated that intersections with Venice, La Cienega, La Brea and Figuroa be grade separated due to traffic concerns, but other busy streets such as Western and Crenshaw to be left at grade. If Western and Crenshaw don’t get grade separations it is outrageous for Metro to delay Expo Line Phase 1 by 18 months minimum, and spend 30-40 million dollars on a station that is bound to be lightly used and will greatly slow travel time from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles. All around, even the station compromise for Exposition/Farmdale is unacceptable to me.
Unfortunately, the CPUC has derided my first choice and at the moment the options for Exposition/Farmdale are station or full grade separation. Between these two, the station option is clearly the less potent poison. Again, the argument for full grade separation is that trains will run over high school kids. Well Fix Expo, don’t cars already run over a much, much, much higher number of high school kids every year? How do you feel about Dorsey Students crossing La Brea Avenue near their school with it’s six lanes? If Metro is required to grade separate its train line in front of Dorsey High School, why don’t you lobby LADOT to grade separate every single pedestrian crossing around the high school, or in all of South Los Angeles? Obviously I’m taking this argument a little beyond its original bounds, but really? Light Rail Vehicles are run by professional operators, do not make unpredictable moves because they operate on a fixed guideway and, per CPUC regulation, must frequently sound a loud horn when crossing streets at grade.
Sadly transit in the United States has been maligned as dangerous, especially the recent resurgence of at grade rail transit like the Exposition Line. People accept as a fact of life that automobile passengers and pedestrians are going to be killed in events we even call “accidents”. Using the word accident implies that the event was inevitable and also implies a lack of responsibility. That is how deep car culture is ingrained in the United States.
The logical and comprehensive argument against Fix Expo I just presented leaves only one conclusion: Fix Expo has ulterior motives. Indeed Fix Expo blazes the same trail as several other advocacy groups who tried very hard to prevent the Exposition Line from being built in the first place. Fix Expo’s scare tactics and delay inducing behavior is costing taxpayers one million dollars per month for every month the Expo Line stays dormant. Perhaps they hope to destroy the current resurgence in popularity for transit in Los Angeles. Beyond that, I cannot imagine why this group wants to stop the Expo Line. It is a well designed, modern light rail transit line which will connect communities in Jefferson Park, University Park and Leimert Park to Culver City and Downtown Los Angeles. Metro is building the line with closely spaced stations to serve all the communities along the route and grade separation structures are being used at all intersection where vehicular and pedestrian traffic justifies the (huge) expense. For what it is (see this post), the Exposition Line is a good, even great, transit project.
Hopefully Expo will open to at least Culver City by the time I graduate at USC (May 2013). Personally, I’d enjoy high quality rail transit two blocks from my apartment. At the current pace, I have my doubts.