Courtesy Juan Ocampo
As part of an intensive safety campaign focusing on reducing accidents along the 22-mile Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Blue Line, dozens of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officers issued 295 citations and impounded 34 vehicles in an operation to enforce traffic laws along the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
The safety efforts, which took place on March 24, focused on enforcing traffic laws; catching jaywalkers; and citing drivers for running red lights, making illegal left turns, and using cell phones or texting while driving between 7th/Metro Center and Washington stations.
The safety crackdown was conducted in response to the fact that the rate of pedestrian accidents has remained stagnant, even while there has been a steady decline in train versus vehicle accidents on the Metro Blue Line.
The Blue Line was singled out for the safety campaign because the other Metro light rail lines — the Green Line and the Gold Line — have not had any fatalities due to accidents, according to Metro officials.
"The Blue Line was the first one we opened and doesn't have all the safety measures that the Gold line has. So, we tried to come out with campaigns and engineering that will improve the safety of the line," said Jose Ubaldo, senior communications officer.
Metro's program of "Education, Engineering and Enforcement" targets illegal left turns and running red lights as the primary causes of train-vehicle accidents with the Metro Blue Line. With pedestrians, the top causes of accidents in the gated segment of the Metro Blue Line alignment are illegally crossing the tracks against active warning signs, including flashing lights, bells and lowered gate arms indicating approaching trains.
Ubaldo said that this was the second in a series of safety campaigns. The first took place at Washington Boulevard and Los Angeles Street in downtown Los Angeles in February, and the third, planned for May, will take place in Long Beach.
"We are finding out that all the efforts [are] working on the motorist side, but [with] pedestrians, we're trying to find out how to keep [accidents] down," Ubaldo said.
Metro published a four-part series of posts on its blog, The Source (http://thesource.metro.net/), to update the public on the campaign. In the series, author Steve Hymon said that "Of the three light rail lines that Metro operates, [the Blue Line] is the most heavily ridden and is one of the busier light rail lines in the United States."
Since the Blue Line opened in 1990, 26 motorists have been killed in collisions with Blue Line trains and 51 pedestrians have also been struck and killed by trains. Altogether, there have been 99 fatalities involving the Blue Line, according to the blog.
Metro has made several safety improvements to the Blue Line since it opened, including the installation of four-quadrant crossing gates at six intersections; reducing the height of fencing along the tracks so that train operators have a better view of cross-traffic; installing a "cyclops" light on trains to improve their visibility and adding pedestrian gates at several crossings; and installing LED "TRAIN" signs to deter motorists from making illegal left turns in front of the train and running red lights.
Despite these efforts, pedestrian deaths and suicides on the Blue Line have not declined in the past decade. In one of Metro's blog posts, Hymon wrote that there were 33 pedestrian deaths from 1990 through 1999 and 39 from 2000 through 2009.
In attempts to reduce pedestrian accidents, Metro contracts with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for five officers to patrol the Blue Line corridor and run periodic sweeps of the line with additional officers, and is looking into whether there is space on sidewalks to accommodate pedestrian swing gates at 27 more locations.
Metro will also put two "Rail Safety Ambassadors" on the Blue Line for the next few months.
The agency also offers safety education videos for children to community groups and schools.
Still, Ubaldo said the all these efforts require the cooperation of the public to be effective. "They are the ones who make the decision on safety. There is so much we can do with technology, engineering, law enforcement, but...we need [people] to pay attention."