Thu, Jun

Uneasy Rider … Nixes Garcetti’s Monorail


TRANSIT WATCH--In the Los Angeles Times June 14, 2017, article in the California section, Mayor Garcetti proposes to run a monorail above the San Diego, 405, Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. This ignores two issues:  


  • The experience to riders when transit lines and stations are in the middle of, to the side, or above freeways.  
  • The continuing dream of monorails. 

In my many years since 1992 of regularly riding transit in Los Angeles, the worst experiences are riding the Green and Gold Lines when these light rail trains are in the middle of freeways.  

On the stations a horrendous cloud of noise overwhelms and assaults the senses. The incessant noise hits the ears, and the body stiffens. There is the very high probability of hearing loss from standing in a train station in the middle of a freeway waiting for the next train. As a transit rider, this is a repeated experience of every day of the work week, twice a day. 

Another assault to the body is the inhalation of vehicle exhaust. It is a toxic stew known to cause among other health issues asthma, COPD, and can lead to cancer. Sometimes the exhaust can be tasted. The clothes reek of it after standing in the middle of the concrete wastelands of freeways. The eyes burn. 

Placing people in the middle of freeways, or above, or to the side, is an assault on the health of individuals, and is inhuman.  

Transit riders do all a favor by reducing carbon gases escaping into the air creating hazardous air pollution. These gases of burned fuel then drift high into the atmosphere to trap heat in the earth, and cause the crisis of global warming and climate change whose effects we are now witnessing with heat records year by year being broken. The rising temperature of the earth is creating with greater frequency more powerful storms, rising sea levels, and higher ocean temperature threatening one of the greatest food sources for mankind.  

Moreover, transit riders reduce gridlock through the simple equation that they are not driving and adding to the lunacy of stuck in traffic bumper to bumper, mile after mile, on boring and ugly freeways. 

In the article Garcetti does not mention if there would be monorail stations in the Sepulveda Pass. Recent studies on a proposed subway underneath the pass have stations, so it is a safe assumption that the monorail would also. Indeed they would be needed to serve at least the Getty Center and UCLA, which the proposed subway would. But a transit station on the ground in the middle of a freeway, on the side, or above would be on a desert island in the freeway wasteland, with the rider surrounded by freeway concrete, assaulted by noise and pollution. It is an utterly unwelcoming place, devoid of humanity.  

We transit riders should be accommodated with transit services which are amiable to the experience. Any transit system in the middle of, to the side, or above a freeway completely ignores the transit rider, and is indeed an insult. 

This is my judgment from experience, but should those wish to try this, ride the Green Line and get on and off stations in the middle of the freeway. For the complete inhuman experience get off at the Vermont and Harbor Freeway Stations.  

The Vermont Station is under Vermont Avenue. The noise from the freeway bounces up and down, side to side, creating a deafening roar. Vehicle fumes get concentrated under the overpass ceiling.  

To experience what it is like to be above the freeway while riding transit, the next stop on the eastbound Green Line is the Harbor Freeway Station. Here the assaults are double dose. The top of the station is on the Century Freeway, the 105, and beneath is the Harbor Freeway, the 110. The underneath station is startling. It is one of the greatest architectural stations of any Metro Rail. It is spacious with a grand staircase. It is almost luxurious, and it is the worst experience because the vehicle exhaust is trapped inside and the noise bounces around to higher and deafening decibels. It is more of torture chamber than a welcoming station for transit riders. 

The continuing lack of perception on the effects on transit riders from the locations of transit routes and their stations remains a source of great frustration, and continues to illustrate that there are too many in power in elected offices, and those in power behind the scenes, who have not one glint of the daily and years-long experiences of riding transit in the middle of, to the side, or above freeways, or anywhere else for that matter considering the many less that satisfying experiences I have with riding buses (“To Get More Riders, Think Outside the Bus). 

The other issue is the quizzical, ongoing insistence of monorail as a transit solution. The Times article has a Garcetti quote that they are not as fast as rail. That in itself is a major deduction.  

The Times states monorail carries less riders than subway or light rail. Deduction two.  

Garcetti carries the torch that monorail is cheaper to build. This was the false argument of the Las Vegas monorail, which was built behind schedule and over budget. Deduction three.  

Garcetti is further quoted that monorail can be designed to withstand earthquakes. Yes, that may be possible, but is this safety predicated upon national, state, and county requirements for earthquake safety, and would the cheaper to build sales pitch still be true?  

In my many discussion on monorail, this cheaper to build statement is always raised, yet there has never been presented to my knowledge a fully detailed and audited construction proposal which would demonstrate complying with earthquake safety standards could result in lower costs. 

If one looks into the history of earthquakes and transit systems, the safest seems to be subways. In the 1984 Mexico City earthquake portions of the city were leveled, but their subway system suffered no major damage and was even used as an emergency safety station. In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake when parts of the Bay Area Bridge collapsed and a double-decked freeway tragically pancaked, the San Francisco Bart System, even the portion which travelled under the bay, was in operation without major damage. 

The 1994 Northridge Earthquake saw the demolition of the Santa Monica Freeway La Cienega Boulevard overpass and the dramatic collapse of the freeway interchange in northern Los Angeles County, but Metro’s Red Line subway remained operational without major damage. The 2011 Washington D.C. and New York City earthquake caused widespread damage, and yet again both cities subways, and particularly New York’s famously sprawling network, did not suffer major damage.  

Monorails go back to 1825. This is not a Jet-Age Disneyland fantasy ride, but an existing system, well known, but not even remotely greatly used by the transit agencies of the major cities of world. There are reasons for this. The primary reasons are, as the Times article states:  they are not as fast as subways or light rail, and they do not carry as many people. That monorails are cheaper to build remains questionable.


(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.)


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