Why Light Rail is a Bad Idea

On Monday the Associated Press ran a story about the Blue Line and its dubious history of of accidents with pedestrians and vehicles. The story is a shining example of why trains, cars and people should not share the road, and why light rail is a bad idea.

Now in its 20th year of operation, Blue Line trains have had 875 collisions with pedestrians or vehicles. There have been 101 deaths, 23 of which were ruled suicides. Accidents ranged from blind and deaf people wandering onto the tracks, to unimpaired people running onto the tracks trying to beat the train, to drivers running red lights with the same idea.

The MTA is working on the problems, installing video cameras, gates and whatever it can think of to keep people off of the tracks when trains are approaching. The problem is not limited to Los Angeles — light rail systems all over the country are battling the same dilemma.

The only solution is not to build trains at grade. There is nothing that can be done with the Blue Line and its 103 crossings. But future lines should not be built this way. The Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, for example, is being largely built on an already existing right-of-way. But there will be parts of it that will be on the road with cars and people. They should figure out a way to build bridges in these areas so the trains can travel safely.

I have previously championed the idea of a monorail system for Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of some of my readers. If you don’t like the idea of monorails, fine. But you’re got to at least admit that there must be a way to figure out a way to keep trains separate from traffic and pedestrians.

Of course a subway would achieve that goal, but I think the expense and the decades-long disruptions to the city while building it are not worth it. Besides, if it will take 25 years to build a single subway tunnel up Wilshire from downtown to the VA Hospital, how long would it take to build a comprehensive, city-wide system? 200 years? We can’t wait that long. We need relief now.

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