Friday, August 20, 2010

Our following op-ed appeared in the September 19 Daily News: Blaming Individuals Misses The Big Picture

Despite the fact that Metrolink operates one of the deadliest commuter rail systems in America and MTA operates the deadliest light-rail system in America, our region’s rail transportation agencies continue to offer the lone-culprit theory for nearly every accident. This time it’s the train conductor; in the past it’s been the hundreds of deceased/injured motorist and pedestrian.

The blame the victim strategy distracts the public from the rail safety cost-benefit analysis that our transportation agencies continue to implement with impunity. It distracts the public from the manner in which our politicians have erroneously translated our requests for traffic relief into an unsafe commuter rail and light-rail system built on the cheap.

It may very well be true that in many rail accidents the transportation system’s user bears some responsibility. But with accident rates so much higher than their peers, it does not logically follow that the policies and the designs of our rail transport systems are not a factor.
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Blaming the victim or implying that accidents can’t be prevented takes the spotlight off inadequate policies, unsafe designs and system failures.

Continue reading for the full op-ed:

Blaming Individuals Misses The Big Picture
LA Daily News
September 19, 2008
By Damien Goodmon

In the rush to judgment in the tragic Chatsworth accident, the focus has been on the actions of the train engineer conductor, a tactic that is beneficial to our transportation agencies.

As a rail safety advocate who for the past two years has been involved in an intense political and legal battle regarding rail safety of a proposed light rail line in my South L.A. community, that line of reasoning is all too familiar.

Despite the fact that Metrolink operates one of the deadliest commuter rail systems in America and MTA operates the deadliest light-rail system in America, our region’s rail transportation agencies continue to offer the lone-culprit theory for nearly every accident. This time it’s the train conductor; in the past it’s been the hundreds of deceased/injured motorist and pedestrian.

The blame the victim strategy distracts the public from the rail safety cost-benefit analysis that our transportation agencies continue to implement with impunity. It distracts the public from the manner in which our politicians have erroneously translated our requests for traffic relief into an unsafe commuter rail and light-rail system built on the cheap.

It may very well be true that in many rail accidents the transportation system’s user bears some responsibility. But with accident rates so much higher than their peers, it does not logically follow that the policies and the designs of our rail transport systems are not a factor.

For the past two years the South L.A. group, the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line, has been on the front lines of a battle with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about rail safety. Our goal has been to secure investment in safety enhancements on the Expo Light Rail Line, which is currently under construction.

We are concerned that the line will have the same tragic consequences as MTA’s Blue Line, which at 90 deaths and 821 accidents is the deadliest light-rail line in the U.S.

In our legal proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s rail safety regulatory body, we’ve used the MTA and CPUC’s own reports, statistics, internal memos and e-mails to explain why the street-level Expo Line crossings will be deadly. World and nationally renowned authorities on transportation system failures, human error, rail accident causation, and car accident causation have testified on our behalf.

At each turn our broad coalition and our rail safety experts have been dismissed by the politicians on the MTA and subsidiary boards citing as their reasons: The recommendations and requests are cost-prohibitive, would cause delay, or “would violate their policy.”

Blaming the victim or implying that accidents can’t be prevented takes the spotlight off inadequate policies, unsafe designs and system failures. Whether it’s implementing more active alert systems, building new tracks so freight trains don’t operate on the same track as Metrolink, or adopting as a standard that light-rail trains be built elevated or underground in densely populated congested urban spaces, our transportation agencies can be doing so much more than they are right now.

We cannot allow the Chatsworth accident report to be shelved, the investigation mustn’t be limited to just this one accident, and we cannot accept as an explanation that the engineer conductor, was only to blame. An independent systemwide top-to-bottom critique that evaluates every policy and budget decision with the goal of creating a series of recommendations is the very least we must do to honor the memories of the victims of last week’s accident and the countless many who have been killed on our region’s tracks before them.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Our op-ed on the Mayor’s proposed 1/2-cent sales tax increase for transportation appeared in CityWatch:




“The discrepancies on the Expo Line need to fixed and this institutional discrimination cannot be tolerated. If the MTA and Mayor Villaraigosa go back and find the additional money for grade separations for South LA like they did for Culver City, or simply scale back the Expo Line and only build the portions they can afford to build correctly, we’re prepared to support his sales tax measure.

“But increasing the tax burden on the taxpayers of South LA, who are being hit the hardest by the economic downturn, for rail projects that primarily benefit other areas, like a subway under Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Century City, or threaten our children’s lives and harm our community, like the street-level design of the Expo Line is simply pouring salt on our wounds and furthering MTA’s discriminatory tactics.”

Click here to read the entire article:

Discussion of a possible ½-cent sales tax increase for transportation that would be forced upon all residents of Los Angeles County has been dominated by Westsiders and the Valley, with those regions demanding something in return for their support. What about the South Los Angeles region, which is among the country’s most economically challenged and whose residents and businesses the tax hike would impose the greatest hardship?

A growing South Los Angeles coalition of neighborhood councils and community organizations, has come together to demand equal investment and equal treatment from the MTA regarding Phase 1 of the Expo Light Rail Line from Downtown LA to Culver City. En route to Culver City the MTA’s train is planned to cut through South LA residential community across the major intersections of Vermont, Normandie, Western and Crenshaw at street-level.

In addition to the adverse traffic impacts of the street-running design, the lack of even basic crossing gates and grade separation (overpasses and underpasses) at almost all of the intersections, ensures that South LA will endure countless accidents and deaths from the Expo Line, as evident by the MTA’s own Blue Line. The Blue Line similarly slices through the black and brown communities of South LA, Watts, Willowbrook and Compton en route to Long Beach from Downtown LA, and is America’s deadliest light rail line.

The close proximity of over a dozen schools and parks, including several that are within a stones throw of the Expo Line, is especially worrisome, and has prompted opposition to all or portions of the street-level design from UTLA, LAUSD Parent Collaborative, and the LAUSD Board of Education.

In the early planning stages of the Expo Line, all residents, teachers and parents expressed safety and environmental impact concerns – in South LA and in Culver City. The Culver City Council responded by passing a motion prohibiting any street-level crossings in their city and threatening to tie the project up in court if the MTA tried to push through their original design that called for all street-level crossings in their city.

MTA eventually complied with Culver City’s demand, adding very costly overpasses and realigning National Blvd so the Expo Line would not cross any street at street-level, thereby imposing no safety risk, no traffic impact and eliminating other adverse impacts. These upgrades came at a price, which is best illustrated by the vast discrepancy in the amount of tax dollars MTA is spending for the one mile of the Expo Line from La Cienega to the Robertson terminus in Culver City ($185 million) vs. the 4.5 miles in South LA (just $140 million).

The MTA’s failure to apply the same standards across all residential communities from Downtown LA to Culver City has resulted in an 8.5-mile light rail line that places all of the safety hazards and adverse environmental impacts on low-income and/or minority communities, and none on the majority Caucasian middle to upper class community west of La Cienega. The legal term for this is environmental racism.

We in South LA paid our taxes, but are not receiving the same safety enhancements, traffic mitigation or amount per mile as the community west of La Cienega. In fact, the City of Los Angeles is contributing $35 million to the construction of the line, compared to just $4 million from the City of Culver City.

South LA is being forced to assume a much higher risk, and be imposed a much greater burden for a project that’s primary purpose is to benefit the areas to our east and west. That’s not right.

Children in South LA shouldn’t be forced to walk across Expo Line tracks, if they won’t be in Culver City.

Residential communities, traffic and emergency response times shouldn’t be disrupted in South LA, if they won’t be in Culver City.

The discrepancies on the Expo Line need to fixed and this institutional discrimination cannot be tolerated. If the MTA and Mayor Villaraigosa go back and find the additional money for grade separations for South LA like they did for Culver City, or simply scale back the Expo Line and only build the portions they can afford to build correctly, we’re prepared to support his sales tax measure.

But increasing the tax burden on the taxpayers of South LA, who are being hit the hardest by the economic downturn, for rail projects that primarily benefit other areas, like a subway under Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Century City, or threaten our children’s lives and harm our community, like the street-level design of the Expo Line is simply pouring salt on our wounds and furthering MTA’s discriminatory tactics.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Next Meeting: Mon Jan 11

Join us at our first community update and organizing meeting in the new decade as we discuss the on-going Farmdale controversy and Crenshaw subway effort.

Campaign for Stimulus & Measure R Funds to Grade Separate the South LA Portion of Expo

MTA now has more resources that by law has to be spent on rapid transit expansion. Now is our time to request these resources go toward FIXING EXPO!

Responding to MTA Spin & Deception

A comprehensive response to the spin, red herrings, and half-truths delivered by MTA/Expo, complete with agency memos, testimony, studies, pictures, videos and all.

Separate & Unequal: Expo Phase 1

Compare the design of the Expo Line Phase 1 west of La Cienega to that in majority-minority South LA and it’s clear that Expo Phase 1 is textbook environmental racism.

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