Thursday, January 21, 2010

LA Residents Fighting for Grade-Separated Transit: At-Grade Rail Unsafe for Kids, Elderly, All

You have to wonder why some of us don’t bother to learn the lessons others have learned elsewhere. In the midst of our community debate over at-grade rail vs elevated rail, other communities are determined to run their tracks anywhere but at-grade.

In Los Angeles, residents appalled by at-grade rail’s poor safety record are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority from building the Crenshaw Boulevard line at-grade, and they’re winning. From the Fix Expo Campaign’s website:

“For the first time in the history of the current process, MTA will now conduct a study and identify a funding strategy to keep the entire Crenshaw Blvd portion of the Crenshaw-LAX Line in a subway. A full Crenshaw Blvd. subway would allow our children, elderly and the public at-large to walk/drive across the street without having to negotiate with 225-ton trains….”

But here in Honolulu, architects in the AIA Hawaii chapter’s Transit Task Force are campaigning for at-grade transit through the heart of town. They want to build the system at ground level in the mix of pedestrians, cars, trucks, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, skaters, scooters and Segway pilots.

Safety is #1

LA citizens understand the safety issue and Honolulu architects don’t. Anyone who isn't dazzled by the architects’ vision of planning purity can see that at-grade rail systems are more hazardous to the public welfare than grade-separated systems. LA residents want a subway, which they believe is the right kind of grade-separation transit for their community.

For financial and aesthetic reasons, Honolulu intends to achieve grade separation by elevating the rail line. Going underground in Honolulu would be prohibitively expensive, but beyond the cost, it would be unthinkable to build our core transit link underground below one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Doing so would be like draping blankets over paintings in The Louvre.

Regarding Aesthetics

The architects want you to believe a 30-foot-tall elevated guideway would be an abomination, while 300-foot high-rise buildings aren’t. They’re like stage magicians who attract your attention by waving one hand around so you don’t see the other hand stealthily setting up the trick. “Don’t look at the high-rises we’ve built,” they say. “Just look at this narrow canyon between them and how terrible it would be to put anything in it.”

It’s looks and sounds hypocritical, but whatever it is, they take it even further. The architects insist that the narrow view planes they’re intent on preserving are more important than the poor safety record of at-grade systems compared to grade-separated rail. Without any doubt whatsoever, at-grade rail in Honolulu would result in accidents, injuries and possibly deaths. Why wouldn't it? That's what happens everywhere at-grade is built.

In other words, preserving the makai view down Bishop Street is more important than building an elevated system that is virtually accident-free. They’re trying to convince the public (including the Governor) that building at-grade on Hotel Street through Chinatown’s crowded sidewalks and cross streets is preferable to putting a 30-foot-tall structure in our city.

That’s simply bogus. Citizens concerned about pedestrian safety and surface traffic congestion, which would increase with at-grade rail, must stand up to the building and interior designers who are passing themselves off as transit experts.

More better Honolulu architects use their expertise to integrate our elevated rail system into the urban landscape, including transit-oriented development. That’s something they may understand. Transit – not so much.


PRT Strategies said...

All is not well in southern California. Check out John Stossel's Fox Business column on how much is really costs to provide rail service: And fyi, the informal estimates as far as burying rail in subways here run from $500 million to $1 billion per mile.

The premise that at-grade rail is dangerous is correct. We've begun collecting arguments against it at Yes, the pictures we've used are sensationalistic, but light rail mixed in traffic DOES kill people. The 20-mile Blue Line running between Long Beach and Los Angeles has been involved in over 90 fatalities since it began operation in the early '90s.

PRT Strategies said...

In reviewing the AIA PowerPoint presentation that's downloadable from their website, we noted out of 64 total slides, only ONE discussed safety with any statistical information -- and it was actually a comparison of automated (driverless) trains vs. those with operators -- a non sequitur in this argument which should discuss accidents, injuries and fatalities for rail systems on a per mile basis. As discussed here and on, rail mixed with traffic in high-density situations is dangerous. Other information that would be valuable in this debate is the actual COSTS incurred by the American rail operators for accidents, injuries, fatalities, property damage and legal support when these incidents inevitability occur.

We'd challenge the AIA to take accountability for their deceptive recommendation and be responsible for the first death that will occur if their at-grade preferences are realized. At least, the AIA should be honest about the threat and accurately portray statistical information from which citizens could assess the risk.

Doug Carlson said...

Thanks for your right-on comments, PRT Strategies. We may have different visions on how to move people around our town, but we're in total synch re the AIA's at-grade train recommendation.