Expo Line Safety Concerns
The Expo Line from downtown L.A. to Culver City opened on Saturday, offering an inexpensive and sustainable transportation option for USC students.
As of Saturday USC will no longer have a shuttle from campus to L.A. Live - students will be able to take the Expo Line to see concerts, movies, and sporting events. The line also takes students directly to Target on the corner of La Cienaga Blvd. and Jefferson Blvd.
But the new Expo Line poses some serious safety risks, according to USC Professor Najmedin Meshkati, who teaches at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering.
"This isn't the same USC anymore on the Exposition side of campus. I beg USC students to be extra cautious, take their earphones out when crossing this intersection. There is a major source of hazard," said Meshkati.
USC Viterbi students and faculty have been highly involved in transportation safety in Los Angeles, partnering with MetroLink to study and prevent rail disasters like the Chatsworth crash in 2008, which killed 25 people.
But unless existing safety problems are resolved, a series of individual accidents could make the Expo Line an even more dangerous rail line, according to USC Professor Greg Placencia.
"Like a faucet, you might see a drop coming down little by little, and over the long run that's going to have more lost water than when the faucet just breaks open and there's a rush of water," said Placencia.
Meshkati has worked pro bono to fight for improved safety measures on the Expo Line, especially near local schools. Meshkati called for "grade separation" to distance the Expo Line from Dorsey High School; instead, a station was put in place to bring the trains to a complete stop when approaching the school. According to Meshkati, a station is still not as safe as grade separation, but it is an improvement.
Meshkati is also calling for the re-design of two other intersections. One is a crossing on Denker Ave., which is close to the Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 school with 3,400 students.
The other intersection is about a half a mile away, where Exposition Blvd. and Rodeo Rd. intersect.
"[It is] probably one of the most confusing and dangerous intersections in L.A. county that could pose serious risk of accidents for future motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians," said Meshkati.
According to Meshkati, the transportation organizations in California derail accountability for safety.
The California Public Utilities Commission approved the Expo Line's design, but if commuters or pedestrians are killed or injured, the CPUC is protected from lawsuits by a California Government Code.
"The concept of 'design immunity' would potentially entitle the MTA to avoid liability for the dangerous conditions of its designs," said Meshkati.
The CPUC is also badly understaffed, according to Meshkati.
"After the major San Bruno gas explosion in northern California, there was a revelation that CPUC has something like 40 vacancies that have not been filled. The CPUC does not have the staff of the requisite expertise to do a good job reviewing this design."
Meshkati is also calling for more accountability from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA created a separate entity, the L.A. Expo Line Construction Authority, to complete the construction of the Expo Line. As a result, safety measures became less of a priority, Meshkati said.
"[The Expo Line Construction Authority's] main mission is to get the job done, get the job done under the budget and on time. After they put down the tracks and the cables and the trains are running, they transfer all this to the MTA and they get dissolved. And that’s why there is no continuity and accountability. They basically go to another part of the country and start another project. Anything that is related to safety or increases costs for them is considered a nuisance. The MTA should be responsible for that, but because they literally sub-contract the project, [the L.A. Expo Line Construction Authority] is in charge," said Meshkati.
"There are several decisions made by the Expo Line Construction Authority in the design that only the good God knows what the rationale was. In my judgment they didn’t have any oversight or accountability."
While Meshkati is pleased that the city is adding to its inventory of public transportation, his concerns about the safety of the Expo Line have cast a shadow on Saturday's Expo Line debut.
"I hate cliches, but this is an accident waiting to happen," said Meshkati.
You can read Meshkati's full report on the "Expo Line's Unfinished Safety Jobs" here.