When it comes to the under-construction Expo Line light rail that'll go from downtown to Culver City, the street-level crossing at Farmdale Avenue near Dorsey High School is one of the more controversial issues. Locals, as well as groups like Damien Goodmon's Fix Expo, have stated the crossing will create a situation that'll see kids inevitably get hurt or killed. The California Public Utilities Commission, the state agency that regulates railroad safety, initially agreed the crossing was not safe enough and Expo came back with a new option: a station at Farmdale where trains would cross the intersection at 15 mph before making a complete stop. The CPUC, who will ultimately decide if the station option is safe enough, sponsored a community meeting last night at the high school. The majority of residents, students, and parents were dead-set against an at-grade station, asking if Culver City and USC have stations that go above or underground, why can't they? One resident said the train was being grade-separated for cars and industrial/business areas, e.g. La Brea and La Cienega, but not people, e.g. the busy pedestrian crossing at Farmdale.
Groups supporting the current Farmdale station configuration and those against it, both had tables set up outside the meeting.
CPUC commissioner Timothy Alan Simon and Administrative Law Judge for CPUC Maribeth Bushey introduced themselves promptly at 6 p.m., and apologized for the inconvenience some may have experienced with the date and time of the meeting (FixExpo had complained about the meeting and parking issues because of concurrent events at the high school, but there was a shuttle service provided for people to get to their cars).
Eric Olson, the chief project manager for Expo, gave a short presentation on the line (construction about 65% complete) and the new station proposal.
Olson said the station would provide mobility and investment in the community, and that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is supportive of the station proposal. Olson also stated that train operators would only start moving at the Farmdale station when he or she was verified the pedestrian crossing is clear. The area will also benefit from improved street lightning, crosswalks, and a parking lot, he said.
Next up was Goodmon of Fix Expo, who spoke calmly but forcefully about the line and safety. He said the community shouldn't have to choose between access and safety, and that the renderings presented by Expo do not present an accurate picture of what DHS would be like at 3 p.m.
He showed a video of kids milling about and cars forced to stop for them. He added that crossing gates will not be effective, and eventually the trains will increase speed from 15 mph, producing a memo that insinuated Metro had plans to do that in the future. He, and his group, want the line put in a trench (like at USC) or on a Chicago-style riser (like at La Brea and La Cienega.)
Next up were public speakers. About 80% spoke out passionately against the at-grade crossing. No one said they didn't want the train, but rather desiring an above or underground station. Someone worried about gang activity (like gunfire or a fight) and whether that would push kids from the so-called "holding pens," where people will wait as the train crosses Farmdale, into the path of a train. And while others argued that kids would dare each other to race the train, pro-Farmdale station people brought up the point that schools adjacent to the Gold Line have not had one fatality.
Dorsey teachers like Marlene Carter and students like Jevante Davis were not convinced, all saying the staff and students overwhelmingly want the crossing in a trench or on a riser.
Many people remain upset with the fact that, according to FixExpo, $185 million is being spent on the one mile of the line west of La Cienega, but $140 million for the 4.5 miles of the line in South LA. Most of the people voicing support for the Farmdale station were not from the area, but from those who will live near the line's second phase in West LA and members of Friends 4 Expo, a group advocating for the line--they mostly said at-grade systems are successful in San Francisco and Europe, and that the kids should be trusted to cross the street. Other supporters of the Farmdale station option included residents who were employed by the line.
CPUC judge Bushey, who will decide whether the Farmdale station is an acceptable option, would not give a timeline on when that decision might come. But the consensus seems to be sometime this summer (with more public comment coming, too). If she decides the crossing needs to be grade-separated, it'll be interesting to see it if sets a precedent for others calling for grade-separation, like homeowners in Cheviot Hills and the South Bay. And if the judge says the station option is acceptable, the community will likely be furious. Basically, one side will likely be unhappy when the train finally starts rolling along Exposition.
· Coming to a Head: Expo Line Farmdale Station [Curbed LA]