Thursday, November 01, 2007

Need For Grade Separation In Rail Transit

An article that appeared while I was on my Eastern and Canadian trip in the L.A. Times strongly pointed up the need for grade separation in Los Angeles rail transit projects. The article, by Jeffrey Rabin and Howard Blume in the California section Oct. 21 discussed popular resistance to the plan to run trains at the level of automobiles on the Expo Line, now being constructed, past Dorsey High School in the Crenshaw district.

With an eye to past fatalities on the Blue Line from L.A. to Long Beach, and questions about accidents on other lines, many believe the Metropolitan Transit Authority should either build a bridge over the intersection near the high school or tunnel under it. But, so far, MTA officials are refusing because they say this would cost $25 million, which is not in the Expo Line budget.

I believe this is short sighted and that grade separation should routinely be made part of rail transit projects, even if the costs go up.

Among the impediments to the rail transit that is essential in Los Angeles, if traffic congestion is ever to be overcome, and essential when one realizes that the price of oil is shooting up toward $100 even as this is written, is a need to emulate Europe in providing grade separation for most all lines.

Of course, by its very nature, the Metro Red Line subway from downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood has grade separation because it is built entirely underground.

But in Europe light rail lines as well, as distinct from ordinary streetcar lines, are commonly built at a different level than roads and highways, thus preventing most accidents and allowing the trains to run at a higher speed.

A few years ago, I took the rather flimsy light railo line between San Sebastian, Spain, and the French border a few miles away. It wound over and under all intersections, even though it was clearly built some time ago at low cost.

The Rabin-Blume article discusses the issue only at Dorsey High School, which has traffic crushes at the beginning and end of each school day, in depth. But the discussion needs to be extended to all light rail lines in Southern California. Already, there have been close to a hundred fatalities on the Blue line, and a number of crashes between lengthy buses and other vehicles where the Orange line in the San Fernando Valley intersects various streets.

Grade separation is simply what is required for modern rail transit. We can't afford to do less in the long run.

--

The same day, Oct. 21, L.A. Times Washington correspondent Noam Levey had an excellent story on the political troubles in Republican primaries facing those relatively few GOP legislators who have joined antiwar Democrats in bucking the Bush Administration's Iraq war commitment.

It took Levey, who seems to have antiwar views himself, a long time to recognize that the Republican minority would not be enticed from backing the President, even though it might do them harm in the 2008 election. In earlier coverage of the war funding issue, he virtually ignored Republicans, except to say that more and more would come to accept the position of the Democratic critics.

Now, it is better late than never that he has revised his coverage. This article recognized that while Democrats, by very large margins, are opposed to the war's continuation, Republicans, by not so large but still a decisive margin, support it as necessary and in accord with long range U.S. interests in the Middle East.

This makes Levey a better correspondent than he has been up to now. He is now covering both sides of this fractious issue, and he deserves to be complimented for learning how to more fairly fulfill his assignment.

--

Sen. Hillary Clinton's unwillingness to take a firm debate stand on the proposal to issue illegal immigrants drivers licenses in the state of New York was a prominent subject on the front page of both the New York Times and L.A. Times this morning, the L.A. Times making up for its failure to give prominent display on the gaffe in its initial report on the debate, and the New York Times wisely running a transcript on the full debate exchange. The L.A. Times this morning runs an editorial on the subject.

It is clear already this directs attention to Clinton's fuzziness on some issues, in an important way, and it recalls also the political trouble Gov. Grey Davis of California got into in his Recall after he endorsed drivers licenses for illegals.

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