A fundamental principle of construction engineering is that any piece of infrastructure – roads, rails, electric wires and other infrastructure – be designed in a way that is safe for use prior to being open and accessible to the public.
In Los Angeles, however, engineers and residents alike are up in arms about an apparent lack of safety on some areas of the much-anticipated Metro-Expo line – an 8.6 mile link from downtown Los Angeles to USC and La Cienega/Jefferson via Exposition Boulevard which opened last weekend.
Problems fall into two categories. First is the design. There are scores of grade rail crossings, including one where Rodeo Road and Exposition Boulevard criss-cross. Whilst the configuration predates the line, now a train runs right through the middle of it.
This, according to USC civil engineer Najm Meshkati, is a design induced error. In bad weather or at night, he says, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
“They [motorists] are not used to seeing a train come from our side and it’s a double track” Meshkati says.
“You may look for the first one [train] and be hit by the second one”.
Meshkati says the blind areas in that intersection could be another factor.
Meshkati’s concerns are not shared by Vikay Khawani, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transport Authrority (MTA) safety executive officer. So long as drivers obey all the signs, Khawani says, the intersection will be safe.
Along with the Rodeo/Exhibition crossing, Meshkati is critical of a lack of new signage warning of the train at Denker and Exposition, where students from Foshay Middle School oven cross.
Such concerns are echoed by local school volleyball coach Edward Rauda, who says that students are not always aware of their surroundings.
That awareness raises a second issue. Apart from the design of the new line, there are fears that local residents are used to using the roads without a train line, and that the introduction of the new line will be a steep learning curve in terms of awareness.
Because of this, the MTA says it has conducted a year-long awareness campaign throughout the neighbourhood, going into schools, senior centres, neighbourhood watch locations and many other community places.
Done well, the introduction of new infrastructure can deliver enormous benefits to those who use it. But as the new line in LA shows, issues relating to design and public awareness can result in serious concerns regarding safety.
Such concerns must always be adequately addressed before any new infrastructure can be safely opened to the public.