Making High Speed Rail and River Restoration Work Together
October 18, 2009 § 13 Comments
Creek Freak appears in today’s L.A. Times aritcle by Ari Bloomerkatz entitled “Plans for trains, river may collide.” It’s on how high-speed rail and river revitalization may or may not be compatible. Here’s an excerpt: (follow the link to read the whole story.)
The situation makes for delicate politics. Many L.A. officials strongly support the bullet train concept and believe that the Union Station hub would fit into the county’s efforts to expand subway and light rail service. But they also believe that revitalizing the river is an important part of making the city core more livable for residents and attractive to visitors.
The proposed rail routes would run near Taylor Yard, a 247-acre freight switching facility in Cypress Park that was closed by 1985. Part of Taylor yard, which is north of Union Station, is still used for rail maintenance and storage, but it also includes Rio de Los Angeles State Park and sites for a planned high school, green space and a mixed-use housing development. The Los Angeles River runs next to it.
Both the online and print editions feature a picture of Los Angeles Creek Freak’s Joe Linton walking along the tracks at Taylor Yard.
I think that the article is well-written and clear, but I do want to expand and clarify my position slightly. I think that there are a number of high-speed rail options that could work well for both river revitalization and for increased mobility for Californians. The cheapest option appears to lay down more tracks and more fences at Taylor Yard… which would end up being a barrier to river access.
There are many alternatives for the alignment in this area. Unfortunately the ones currently most focused on by the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority aren’t quite the what I would consider the best ones for the river and the community. Currently, the high-speed rail website shows a simulation of two alternatives: a trench along the existing rail right-of-way and a trench along San Fernando Road.
One positive aspect of these trenches is that they can be lidded, which could create crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists to access the river. The lidded-trench solution is positive in that it can solve access issues across the existing conventional rail tracks. Trenches have some downsides. They act as a barrier to hydrological connections, so it will become nearly impossible to create streams and wetlands that gradually slope down to the river. Even with various lids (as shown in the video simulation) there’s still quite a bit of trench that creates a barrier to river access for nearby communities. The lids can be planted… but end up somewhat barren as they’re not optimal for growing large trees. If we’re not careful they may be built in a very ugly institutional way – think lots of chain link fences and concrete in the middle of a park.
My favorite option, admittedly somewhat difficult (meaning expensive fiscally and politically) one would be to run the rail on an elevated structure in the middle of the 5 Freeway. This would mean that drivers stuck in traffic could watch rail whizzing by… and hopefully contemplate taking the train next time.
Another alternative would be to elevate the rail (both conventional and high-speed) through Taylor Yard, creating plenty of river access underneath the tracks. This would need to be done in an intelligent and aesthetically pleasing way. I am not asking for a minimal foreboding 15-foot wide tunnel under the tracks… more like a graceful extended span opening up a quarter-mile access park below, gently sloping toward the restored riverbed. I think it needs to be very open, with plenty of good sight lines.
I haven’t heard or seen as much about the rest of the alignment – from Taylor Yard through downtown to just south of Olympic Boulevard. This includes Los Angeles State Historic Park, Union Station and about 6 miles of very difficult to access river, with plenty of beautiful historic bridges. This area is among the most difficult for revitalization. It’s also the area targeted for the initial Southern California phase of the high-speed rail project – from Los Angles Union Station to the city of Anaheim. It’s important that we not laden this part of the river with additional infrastructure that will make future access even more difficult.
The high-speed rail project is an opportunity to enhance mobility while setting the table for future river revitalization, but it will take some funding, coordination, creativity, smart planning and community input to arrive at the solution that makes the most sense.