I think I misfired a bit by focusing on the bogus liability discussion and not on the broader safety issues John Niles was raising. (By the way, Mike Lindblom did a great piece on this subject back in 2004.) A few points and I’ll leave the subject — at least till the next accident.
- We trade safety for convenience and cost all the time. Holding Light Rail to a standard beyond all other modes of transportation doesn’t make any sense unless you’re trying to stop light rail.
- Almost everyone agrees that, all else being equal, grade separated is better than not, for many, many reasons. Some people really don’t like the visual impacts of elevated track, but that isn’t me. The problem is that all else isn’t equal. For various political and financial reasons grade separation simply wasn’t going to happen if this were to get built at all. If you put basically no value on having rail in the region that’s a small price to pay, but for the rest of us that’s a big deal.
- Running Light Rail down the street is not a daredevil stunt. It’s done all the time in cities across the United States and around the world. There’s likely to be an adjustment period, but after that people will get used to it. There’s no reason to be an alarmist.
- I went back and read John Niles’s report more carefully. I think the technical core of his argument is that non-passenger injuries should have been included in the FTA safety analysis, and therefore that the project should have been rejected by the FTA. Different strokes for different folks, I guess, but I should point out that (a) it’s far from clear, from a legal standpoint, from the document that one should include external injuries; (b) I don’t see any reason to view the FTA criteria as particularly valid, in a metaphysical sense, given the way we treat other transportation modes; and (c) given that the money is already awarded and spent, the whole argument is irrelevant.
- All that said, the reason we’ve been given that there isn’t a short, tasteful fence along the length of the surface segment is that emergency vehicles have to be able to make turns and U-turns over the tracks. That’s a valid interest, but someone ought to do the analysis on whether that actually saves more lives than fencing the thing off except at designated crossings.