By DARRELL CLARKE
The Expo Line light rail from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica will finally provide a fast, convenient alternative to horrible traffic along the jammed I-10 corridor. It will benefit not only the commuters to downtown Los Angeles, but the growing "reverse" commuters to Westside jobs in Culver City, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Phase 1 from downtown to Culver City received final approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2005 and is well under construction. It is scheduled to open in 2010. Phase 2, which will run the rest of the way to Santa Monica, will follow in about 2015. It is Metro's top-priority next project, and it is now undergoing environmental study.
A major part of Metro's 2001 decision to go forward with light rail for the Expo Line was the outpouring of support and endorsements from those who live and work along the corridor. I'm active in Friends 4 Expo Transit, a group of volunteers that has been supporting the Expo Line since 2000.
We want the kind of rail service that many other cities enjoy in Los Angeles west of downtown.
The editorial in the July 28 issue of the Business Journal (headlined "Street-Level Debacle") that criticized the Expo Line for its street-level design displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what light rail is. The standard for light rail is mostly "at-grade" cost-effectively at ground level along private railroad rights-of-way with gated crossings or in boulevard medians under signal control with the flexibility to bridge over or under when needed for heavy traffic or lack of space.
Recently built examples of street-level light-rail lines include the Pasadena Gold Line, just celebrating its fifth anniversary; the Eastside Gold Line, scheduled to open next year; and lines in Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Minneapolis; and Houston.
Only a half-mile of the line is in Culver City. The one street crossing there, the intersection of Washington and National boulevards, must be aerial because of the adjacent aerial crossing of busy Venice Boulevard. Similar bridges over busy La Cienega Boulevard and La Brea Avenue will be in Los Angeles.
Phase 2 of the line to Santa Monica will be much like Phase 1. In fact, the city of Santa Monica requested the line stay at-grade along the median of Colorado Boulevard into downtown because it would better fit the city. City officials said at-grade light-rail corridors provide greater opportunities for retail businesses, and enhance pedestrian environments and walkable connections to the neighborhoods.
Safety is very important, and the excellent record of the Pasadena Gold Line demonstrates the effectiveness of current standards. Also, note that crossing trains stop traffic far less than a typical traffic signal that turns red once every minute 1,440 times per day.
Mobility is critical for the successful future of the business community in Los Angeles, and the Expo Line is a vital next step.
Darrell Clarke is co-chairman of Friends 4 Expo Transit.
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