Authorities give 314 citations during a three hours crackdown in South Los Angeles
By Rubén Moreno
Since the Metro Blue Line began running more than two decades ago has not only seen more passengers aboard but more people dying along the route connecting downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Over 800 accidents and 100 fatalities have occurred along the 22 miles stretch making itself the deadliest light rail route in the United States.
Authorities believe that the high number of travelers -more than 90,000 daily- and the high population density around the areas through which the route passes are key factors helping to increase the odds for accidents. They also argue that the vast majority of them could be prevented if the pedestrians and drivers had made use of common sense or had not been distracted when crossing the tracks.
Being in a rush and disobeying traffic signals give rise to tragedies, even when the police officers are present.
For a third year, Metro collaborated with several law enforcement agencies to conduct a safety crackdown in order to remember the importance to wait for the train to pass. This time, the crackdown was done along seven miles section between Vernon and Del Amo stations where trains run at 55 miles per hour. With the visible presence of the law enforcement officers, the objective was to fine more than just scare all of those pedestrians and drivers who violate the rules.
«Maybe this is the only way for people to understand they have to respect the signs and not cross when a train is approching,» said Rafael Acosta, who sells tamales on a street near the Florence station. He thought the safety operation was «a wonderful thing.»
Again and again, Latino California witnessed how both pedestrians and drivers were quick to pass when the red lights were flashing and the bells had already started ringing at the Florence and Graham intersection.
«We often see people running through red lights and crossing the tracks when the barriers are already down,» said Los Angeles Sheriff’s Lieutenant Diana Holloway. «People do not pay attention; neither walking nor driving. They are always distracted or talking on the phone without realizing that a train is coming.»
CALL FOR PATIENCE
Lieutenant Holloway had to yell, «Stay there» to a young man who was about to cross the tracks with his bicycle when the barrier started to come down. In similar circumstances, another pedestrian got a $200 ticket after he decided to keep walking once the bell began to ring.
According to Metro spokesman Jose Ubaldo, pedestrians and drivers do not have to wait too much to cross the tracks. Once the barriers start coming down, it only takes 58 seconds for the barriers to be lifted again. During peak time, trains are running every 5 minutes in an average.
«People do not understand that the train takes less than a minute to pass by. People prefer to hurry up and cross the tracks because they are already late when there is no need to run,» Ubaldo said.
During the three hours operation, authorities gave 314 citations; almost two every minute. There were 141 citations given to pedestrians.
«Many times people do not realize that although the train has passed by, another train is coming from the other track,» Ubaldo said.
The fine amount depends on the type of violation, but according to Holloway they range between $100 and $950.
The authorities also fined those drivers who were violating other traffic laws, like those who were talking on the phone while driving and those who had their front windows tinted.
Jorge Garcia was one of them. He had just washed his car and did not want to roll down his front windows so the water would not stain the glass. Instantly he had a motorist officer stopped behind him. Now he must remove the tinted windows and go to court.
A DEADLY PATH
Just last year there were 27 accidents on the Blue Line resulting in nine fatalities. Four of those were people who committed suicide. The fact that the tracks run parallel to the road without a barrier between trains, vehicles or people at a large part of the route creates a perfect situation for those intending to commit suicide.
«The suicides are not preventable. You’ll never know when someone wants to commit suicide, so we ask people to call the police when they see something rare,» Ubaldo said.
Metro meets all the rules to prevent accidents including warnings from flashing lights to bells, gates, horns on approaching trains and signs both in English and Spanish saying that it is forbidden to cross the tracks and pass the barriers once the bells have started to sound.
«People have to respect these signs, but unfortunately many are failing to do so or are distracted,» Ubaldo said.
«Often you can see people here who do not obey the signs and they run with the lights on,» said a woman who spreads flyers daily near the intersection of Florence and Graham. «Now because the police officers are here, people are respecting the signs, but tomorrow everything will be the same as before.»
In the history of the Blue Line, there are also railway impacts against Metro public buses. Although drivers of all buses must make a complete stop before crossing a track, even when the light is green and there is no train approaching, some of them are in a rush to pass as soon as they can.
During the crackdown operation, Latino California also found that a Metro bus driver decided to pass the safety barriers when they were half way down. Several Sheriff’s deputies saw it and talked about the incident, but decided not to fine.
Even the authorities are not safe from accidents happening on the Blue Line. In 2010, a patrol car was struck in Long Beach by a convoy when the train’s driver ran a red light. Four years before that accident, a fire truck was also struck in Los Angeles when his driver crossed the tracks while responding an emergency call.
Lieutenant Holloway’s recommendation is to use common sense and be patient. Losing a minute in life is nothing compared to losing your life in a minute. But for that, we must start by respecting the signals.
Fines given during the safety operation
20 for driving while using the phone
2 for passing a red light
3 for exceeding the stop line limit
3 for failure to yield to pedestrians
35 for other offenses
132 for crossing when the barriers, lights, and bells were activated
2 for crossing where it was prohibited
12 for failure to obey pedestrian signals
7 for other violations
82 for not paying for the trip
1 for smoking on the platform
1 for riding a bicycle on the platform
1 for carrying hazardous materials inside the train
9 for driving without required permits
4 vehicles towed because the driver had no driver’s license
1 minor violation
Source: Metro / Los Angeles Sheriff Department