The Sep. 24 Beacon Hill News & South District Journal has an extended piece about the two sides in the light rail safety debate. I’d link to it, but it’s apparent their website is not ready for primetime.
Basically, businessman Ray Akers is nervous about accidents along the line because the Los Angeles Blue Line is also at grade, and has had a bunch of accidents. With legal crossings far apart, people will be tempted to run across the street. The paper quotes “some community members” as wondering why there aren’t any barriers to crossing anywhere along the tracks.
In response, Sound Transit’s Keith Hall points out the redesign of MLK has made it a far safer street. LA Blue Line accidents are “mostly” where the trains travel 50 mph, while along the Rainier Valley Segment LINK will be limited to 35 mph. Busy traffic on MLK, frequent trains, and the threat of police ticketing jaywalkers (cameras on the trains!) will deter crossers. He blames the lack of barriers on community activists who were concerned that barriers would “divide” the community.
Our own Ben Schiendelman, commenting on other posts, has usefully pointed out that the trains are likely to be safer for pedestrians than both buses and driving. That’s a point more relevant to those using safety as a convenient attack on light rail than those hoping to make it work as smoothly as possible.
Ben has also pointed to Tacoma LINK, which uses similar procedures to Sound Transit, as a predictor of an excellent safety record. I’m a little less sanguine, for two reasons:
- Unlike Downtown Tacoma, the neighborhoods along MLK are overflowing with essentially unsupervised small children. As someone who stands along MLK every day, I can also say that traffic isn’t really thick enough to make crossing obviously fatal, as it would be along Rainier Avenue.
- Even if no one gets hit and killed, which we all hope, that doesn’t mean there won’t be problems. If kids (and irresponsible adults) get in the habit of darting across the tracks, it may very well be that operators have plenty of time to slam on the brakes and avoid a collision. There may even be a policy lowering operating speeds as a result. In either case, to have these kinds of random delays on a major regional trunk line is simply unacceptable.
What to do? It was never financially possible to grade separate this segment of LINK, and it’s certainly too late now. I’m not sure it’s necessary to reconstruct the Berlin Wall along the route, either. What I would like to see is a 3-4 ft, tasteful, black iron fence to discourage small children and lazy adults. It wouldn’t really cost a lot of money, and I’d like to see our leaders take this kind of action rather than wait for a tragedy, or do something that compromises the viability of a gigantic capital investment.
Over the longer run, I’d like to see SDOT begin a multi-year (multi-decade?) program of constructing underpasses for the major arterials that cross MLK, not unlike the S 180th St underpass in Renton that was constructed under the BNSF/Sounder tracks. This would have the nice side-effect of allowing trolley wire to pass under the tracks, which opens up a lot of trolley bus routing possibilties.
But for now, I’d settle for the fence.