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Officials say existing right-of-way best serves Expo Line to Santa Monica

For years now, the big question surrounding the Expo Line light rail project has been this: What's the best route for the train to take from Culver City to Santa Monica? Is it the existing right-of-way through West L.A.? Or perhaps a route using Venice and Sepulveda boulevards?

Although there's still no definitive answer, transit officials today edged closer to one when they released a draft environmental impact report for the second phase of the Expo Line light rail from Culver City to Santa Monica.

By their estimation, the existing right-of-way performs best by several measures -- including ridership and cost. Expo Line Construction Authority officials have, in fact, been saying this for months, but now their arguments have been set down in the environmental report. That said, officials still haven't declared which route they want to build -- they're going to wait until the public has a chance to offer feedback on the report before making that announcement, likely in the next few months.

The choice of the existing right-of-way will be controversial for several good reasons. Officials want the tracks to cross several busy north-south streets -- including Overland, Westwood, Military and Sepulveda -- at street level. Some residents of the area fear that's not a good idea for safety and traffic reasons, pointing out that if traffic is presently stinky at Pico and Sepulveda without a train, it's bound to get worse if crossing gates are continually going up and down at rush hour.

The Expo Line Construction Authority says there are no impacts that can't be mitigated. Its plans, for now, involve widening some of the streets so that traffic doesn't back up as far when the gates are down. Some homeowner groups, meanwhile, are threatening to sue if the train doesn't go underground through the area.

Here's a link to the draft environmental report. Within the report, here's a link to a good map showing the route alternatives -- it's on page 11.

--Steve Hymon

 
Comments () | Archives (23)

Can anyone tell me why we cannot do any better than trains at street level? Seems like we're just shuffling our problems around the surface of the city, trading cars for traffic obstructions. Other cities have been putting mass transit above or below their streets, so is L.A. unable or unwilling to do so? I'm tired of the city pouring more and more money we don't really have into unimaginative and uninventive "solutions."

Mostly-at-grade light rail is the safe standard in many cities, with crossing gates down little more than typical intersections' signals are red. These are not long slow freight trains!

The City of Santa Monica prefers it to elevated, writing, “On-grade light rail corridors provide greater opportunities over time for retail businesses, enhanced pedestrian environments and walkable connections to the neighborhoods.”

Advanced mass transit countries like Japan have light rail running at street level w/o a high number of accidents in a densely populated area. In most cases, the accidents here w/the Metro Blue Line are caused by motorists not paying attention or deliberately running into the trains.
I'll end it there.

Elevated or underground rail crossings are faster but have severe visual impacts if elevated and have greater construction costs (especially if elevated).

There are a LOT of elevated grade separations here, and this project will probably have more grade separation before it's over.

The progressives of Cheviot Hills out in force again - the same type folks who blocked the Wilshire Subway 25-years ago that is now a necessity. These folks have "railed" against light rail on existing tracks because it goes through their neighborhood since 1992 when Prop A money was used to buy the property from the SP. They don't mind creating traffic in other people's neighborhoods with their 3-cars and SUV mentality - but not in their area. Let them pay a special assessment and deck over the depressed tracks and create a lineal park just for their nannys. At-grade transit is used all over the world - another excuse for the NIMBY's and NOTEs to stop progress for the average person and provide a cleaner environment for everyone's future. The average time a grade-crossing is down for a Blue Line train is less than 60-seconds...about the same time traffic is blocked by a bus at a stop.

Fla Joe you are right about one thing. This line could have already been built if the MTA wasn't so rigid and combative in their thinking. The Nimbys you speak of have repeatedly suggested that if the Expo Line was diverted under or around the right-of-way that prime real estate could be developed for other uses and any added cost (ex. tunneling) could be greatly mitigated. I'm sure the Nimby's would also go for a parcel assement to make this thing go away. Please ask the Expo Authority why they've never been interested in those obvious solutuions.

A crossing every 2-2.5 minute in the middle of the traffic capital of the country. How does this even made sense? How can anyone think of advocating for such, let alone for a major project with major objectives like connecting people from Downtown LA to Santa Monica quickly that's going to be around for the next 100 years.

Other major cities like LA had the good sense in the 19th century to know that at-grade crossings were bad for a host of reasons, primarily traffic, safety and capacity.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and somehow a transportation agency of the second largest city in the most powerful and affluent country in the world is proposing this and people are able to keep their jobs.

They're able to save themselves from the backlash here because falsehoods like at-grade crossings have minimal/no traffic impacts are spread by a vocal few. Such comments are public relations spin, counter to common sense, and have been rebuked by every single study that's been done on traffic impacts of at-grade light rail crossings. I guess MTA didn't get the memo that the age of combating science with spin ended at noon on January 20, 2009.

Here are the facts: crossing gates preempt the traffic cycle. Where there are stations this is typically 50-70 seconds per train; where there is no station it's typically 45 seconds. The problems of such on a major metro area like L.A. in the urban core is evident. But even without crossing gates the alterations that must occur in the traffic cycle to find the additional cycle for the train has a severe impact. See it for yourself: go down to Expo Phase 1 communities during rush hour at Western, Vermont and Normandie and see the impact when the train isn't even rolling yet.

MTA knows this, and so does LADOT. In fact, the Expo Phase 1 EIR shows that traffic gets worse at every street with at-grade crossings. Understand, the EIR is MTA's closing argument so to speak. They cleaned up that drunk the best they could before they sent him out for the interview and they still couldn't hide what should be common sense to all and is well documented. Incidentally, in the Phase 1 EIR traffic improves or stays the same at every street with grade separation.

The NIMBY’s continue to complain about the crossings at Overland, Westwood, Military and Sepulveda on the right of way but if the line went on Venice and Sepulveda the same streets would still be crossed at grade along with about 20 additional streets on the Venice Sepulveda route. Something is wrong when this route was even considered. Regarding delays at crossings: If the trains will stop traffic from 30 to 90 seconds every 2 to 3 minutes at crossings which can be improved. This is also typical at highway intersection with a traffic signal. Aren’t the numbers about the same? The train will be caring normally more people through the crossing than people will pass through a highway intersection during the same cycle time.

The only reason that this detour route was introduced was do to the strong political pressure to kill or keep this line away from their 20 of so homes so that it could pass closer to hundreds of homes and apartments just because or their political power. Because of their selfishness and the delays they caused the line to Santa Monica would have been complete by now at a total cost for what it is costing to build the line only to Culver City. Let’s move on and get this line completed where it belongs along the right of way ASAP.

How long will it be before traffic on the West Side will be as it was darning the Tuesday’s tragedy with the closing of the Santa Monica Fwy. This traffic would not have affected the Expo Line if it were running.

The NIMBY’s continue to complain about the crossings at Overland, Westwood, Military and Sepulveda on the right of way but if the line went on Venice and Sepulveda the same streets would still be crossed at grade along with about 20 additional streets on the Venice Sepulveda route. Something is wrong when this route was even considered. Regarding delays at crossings: If the trains will stop traffic from 30 to 90 seconds every 2 to 3 minutes at crossings which can be improved. This is also typical at highway intersection with a traffic signal. Aren’t the numbers about the same? The train will be caring normally more people through the crossing than people will pass through a highway intersection during the same cycle time.

The only reason that this detour route was introduced was do to the strong political pressure to kill or keep this line away from their 20 of so homes so that it could pass closer to hundreds of homes and apartments just because or their political power. Because of their selfishness and the delays they caused the line to Santa Monica would have been complete by now at a total cost for what it is costing to build the line only to Culver City. Let’s move on and get this line completed where it belongs along the right of way ASAP.

How long will it be before traffic on the West Side will be as it was darning the Tuesday’s tragedy with the closing of the Santa Monica Fwy. This traffic would not have affected the Expo Line if it were running.

In order to achieve optimum ridership, the Venice/Sepulveda option must be virtually grade-separated (to say nothing of preserving the ability for automobile drivers to make left turns on Venice Blvd.) at the cost of another $600 million or so.

This figure dwarfs what a completely grade-separated ROW route would cost, although there are other considerations with respect to neighborhood preservation in the tracts by the ROW. Seems to me that elevating at Overland and Sepulveda, but keeping an at-grade crossing at Westwood and Military might be what that region wants with respect to visual impacts.

Of critical importance, however, is that the LADOT hasn't officially weighed in yet with respect to where it wants elevated and at-grade crossings!!!

The well-established science of global warming hasn't stopped its "deniers", just as critics still contest the widespread success of mostly-at-grade new light rail lines across the U.S.:

Charlotte
Dallas
Denver
Houston
Hudson-Bergen
Los Angeles
Minneapolis
Phoenix
Portland
Sacramento
Salt Lake City
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
St. Louis

(See photos at http://friends4expo.org/ltrail.htm )

My point is made when one compares Los Angeles' most congested areas to cities like: Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Hudson-Bergen, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, St. Louis.

And anyone who has been to San Francisco knows the at-grade lines there are SLOW, operate in the middle of traffic, and have stations every few blocks. They're street-cars, similar to a local bus service, not express service like Expo is supposed to be. Express service in the Bay Area for long trips like Downtown Oakland to San Francisco Airport, are handled by BART: a totally grade separated rail system.

Attempting to confuse the San Francisco street cars with Expo and the Blue line is...well the public is smarter than that. In fact, anytime someone suggest Los Angeles should be looking to cities like Salt Lake City, San Diego and Portland for our traffic solutions, as opposed to cities like London, New York, Chicago, Paris or Tokyo, they help make my point that street-level rail is not the answer to Los Angeles' traffic problems, especially not in our urban core.

And I think it's interesting on that very long list of cities, Pittsburgh and Seattle aren't mentioned. Pittsburgh and Seattle are receiving a bucket load of FEDERAL money to build light rail lines in tunnels TODAY.

Also, as for one city on the list, St. Louis, their most recent light rail line (the Cross County extension completed in '06) is a 8 mile line with just one at-grade crossing. The rest is entirely grade separated.

End the spin, support grade separation, lets look for and demand 21st century solutions to solve the problems of this world city.

In the past Damien Goodmon was furious because Phase 1, going through more minority communities, was at-grade and he thought Phase 2, going through more majority communities, would be grade-separated. Now that it was proved he was wrong, he is trying to make himself right again and have Phase 2 grade-separated. That way he can finally file his environmental-justice lawsuit, claiming that MTA was racist with their treatment of Phase 1 vs. Phase 2. And then he will find his way into fame and power. Sorry, Damien, but the world is not so easy for opportunists.

As far as scientific studies are concerned, they have all been done, and it's called an "environmental-impact study." These scientific studies have all refuted the spin of the misrepresentations and distorted and manipulated facts by the opportunists, NIMBYs, and obstructionists.

I just read the EIR. It shows on drawing CP -100 that no matter what route is taken that Sawtelle Boulevard has to be lowered up to 8 feet in spots in order to provide clearance for the elevated platform below the 405. It also shows that the north side of Pico surrounding the intersection would need to be 6 feet higher than its south side. Pico would be slanted through its intersection with Sawtelle. It also shows high retaining walls all around the area with ramps for pedestrains to get up to the sidewalk.

Can anyone with actual expertise tell me if this reasonable? It seems ridculous to me.

Ever notice how the FRNs can't bring themselves to debating a point without engaging in some kind of personal attack, mixed in with false statements, assumptions and innuendo?

Well, alex, as you have nicely discovered, grade separation is always problematic. That's why we, as Friends 4 Expo, advocate at-grade running wherever it's possible, because it's the most environmentally friendly and economical option.

Grade separation at Pico Blvd was deemed necessary and therefore they had to make these alterations there. The maximum grade of Sawtelle will be 4%, which is fully ADA-compliant. ADA limits the compliant grades to a maximum of 5%. From the drawings it looks like there is only one building with access ramps. For the rest of the blocks, pedestrians will have to walk around the retaining walls to access these blocks. But this shouldn't be more than a 30-second walk.

Gokhan --

The reason Friends4Expo advocates ridiculous positons like running across Pico at-grade is because you are rail nuts that actually want traffic to get worse to spite drivers and increase the ridership of rail. Not exactly a position the rest of us sensible people hold.

But the slope of Sawtelle was the least of my concerns. Pico side to side is where I think the problem is.

But more importantly, some of those walls are blocking the entrance to people's homes and businesses. Can we build a wall in front of your home? And the drawing references none of the obvious drainage problems that clearly would occur. The MTA has designed a giant swimming pool that would flood the entire area every time it rains.

The truth is, as we face the real life details of building this line, the added cost of tunneling starts to look better and better all the time.

alex, we do not advocate at-grade running at intersections where it's not feasible. Flower, La Brea, La Cienega, and Washington/Venice crossings got grade-separated out of necessity and we didn't fight to keep them at-grade.

The retaining walls on Pico are rather short and they don't impose significant inconveniences there. There are no homes there. Flooding argument is bogus as plenty of drainage will be provided once it's constructed. There are at least three phases to planning and construction: conceptual engineering, preliminary engineering, and design/build. We are only at the first stage now; so, don't expect to see all the details or assume that everything has been finalized.

What you don't realize is that trenches are more disruptive and inconvenient. They require ugly walls and fences to keep vehicles and people from falling into them. These walls also block access and circulation. There is really no advantage in building trenches over building elevated sections; in fact, it's the other way around.

Anything that is too costly will simply not happen. This is especially true during these awful economic times. Trenches and tunnels could add billions of dollars into the project. Even a hundred million is too much. Your pursuit is infertile at best.

Perhaps you can get a clue if I quote this from the President Obama's inaugural address: "And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."

I got to hand it to you. Only a true, kool-aid drinking, layout in the basement, MTA loving, rail nut would believe that building something though a community over its objections is somehow taking the moral high ground.

Infrastructure should be designed to make the community in which it is built more livable. Communities, large or small, should not be destroyed to make the infrastuture merely cheaper to build. That's why the EIR process was installed in the first place. To prevent self-rightous, fascists like you from impoisng their will.

The main beneficiaries of this rail line are the real estate developers who plan to fill in the gap between the Water Garden and Century City with high-rise developments. Even the MTA projects no reduction in traffic along any of the major boulevards or freeways along this project. And if there isn't any less traffic then there are no real environmental benefits. And we've already seen that any increased mobility to low income workers is going to be mitigated by massive reductions to bus service.

Get a clue.

Objections of the community: Light-Rail for Cheviot http://lightrailforcheviot.org/ has more members than the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Association.

I watched you talk, Alex, at the big Expo Line meeting in Santa Monica in October 2007. You were by far the angriest person at the meeting. I remember you telling that you owned a home adjacent to the railroad tracks in Rancho Park. When I look at my meeting notes, I also see that you advocated selling the railroad right-of-way so that homes could be built there -- homes that no one can afford but perhaps luckier folks like you. And I am the fascist for advocating to build a much-needed transit line, which will save 4,000,000 hours of travel time yearly (see the DEIR).

I will make another quote from Obama's inaugural address. This time he is speaking directly to you. I don't think you will get it though:

"But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed."

You might want to go back and read the EIRs of the Blue Line, Red Line, Gold Line, and Green Line. They also promised fantasy projections of reduced vehicle miles and environmental benfits -- none of which have come true.

Here in Santa Monica a roadblock has come up from Crossroads School who want the proposed route moved from Olympic to Colorado Blvd..the tree savers dont want Olympic either because there are several trees in the large median that will be displaced.
Council members dont like the elevated portion of the route as it crosses Lincoln.
Oympic is far and away probably the most affordable route in my opinion.

No one expected the NIMBYs in Phase 2 to behave nicely. Here are they behaving badly and giving out their lawsuit plot. Check out the red arrows:

http://i388.photobucket.com/albums/oo325/esirgen/nimby/nfsr_meeting.jpg

Don't be mislead: The "Smart" in Neighbors for Smart Rail actually stands for "No." This is their e-mail blast with the attachment above:

IMPORTANT NEIGHBORS FOR SMART RAIL MEETING

Please review the attached flyer and print out for others. Not everyone is on our email list and they need to know about this meeting.

For those who attended the WOWHOA Annual Meeting last week you know that the only acceptable option is to put it underground. We will not be properly mitigated any other way.

For those who think this will only affect those who live on or a block from Expo, Think Again.

The traffic will be stopped over 20 mins each hour. The pollution from cars idling will affect all of us but especially the children at Overland School. In addition the noise impact that comes with a train crossing every 2 minutes in each direction will have an adverse affect on their learning envirornment and our ears.

Many feel "you can't beat city hall" but we have. Many developments have been required to scale down their project and provide more mitigations.

The Mayor and our former councilman tried to force Pico/Olympic on us to help move Santa Monica commuters through our community but we said NO.

There is only 70 spaces in Santa Monica Expo parking lot, yet we get 170 spaces behind residential homes on Ashby and Richland and another couple of hundred on Sepulveda which is already a traffic nightmare for our residents who live behind the post office. People are going to SM not leaving it. SM wants people to come work and spend money there but they don't want any CARS going into SM--leave the traffic congestion to LA.

At the meeting Expo said they do not think this line will signifcantly reduce traffic on the Westside, just give people an other transportation option--we'll thats comforting to know we'll still have congestion along with all the negative impact of a light rail at grade.

We need your help to ensure that we are properly mitigated. Come to NFSR meeting on Sunday, August 25th 2-4 in Palms Park (childcare provided) and learn were we are in the process, what lies ahead and what YOU can do. We listened to their presentations now it is time for us to speak.

"Build it right or not at all"!!!!!!


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