Viewpoint: The Gold Line will be great, not a wall
by Jim Keith
My wife and I were two of 30,000 people riding the new Gold Line extension from Citrus College to Arcadia on opening day. We had lunch in a city close to Los Angeles, watching frequent trains cross a major road with no grade-separation.
Nearby businesses were extremely happy with the Gold Line. The cost to ride the light rail system is amazingly low. Since opening day, the new extension is already so full that they are adding train cars.
I have no doubt that when the Gold Line comes to Claremont, it will bring many people to explore our city, and much demand to live near our Village and train station.
Unfortunately, our city leaders have asked the Gold Line to explore building a bridge over Indian Hill. This request was driven by a very quick and flawed traffic study that greatly exaggerated the need for grade-separation. I spoke at two hearings about the error in the traffic study, but I have not heard anyone else discuss this publicly.
The current traffic study
The traffic consultant measured 3 minutes as the maximum gate-down time for a Metro Link train headed west. The Indian Hill gate now remains down for that long time while a train sits at the station, loading passengers. They multiplied that time by a maximum of four trains per hour, resulting in 12 minutes per hour of traffic delay to start. After adding 11 minutes of gate-down time for the new Gold Line trains, they ended up with 23 minutes per hour of traffic delay. They programmed that amount of delay into their computer simulation, and the resulting report was presented to the city council—giving the impression that we will have a major traffic problem.
Before the Gold Line starts operation, the Metro Link station will be moved east of College to make way for the Gold Line station. When the Metro Link station is more distant, the gates at Indian Hill will never be down for more than one minute—the time for a moving train to pass Indian Hill. Including the Gold Line, the future maximum gate-down time will be four plus 11 totaling 15 minutes per hour. When the simulation was loaded with 23 minutes per hour, it was over 50 percent too high. In addition, a possible two-train overlap of four minutes in the simulation was twice the real two-minute gate-down time in the future.
Another problem with the study
The study assumed no one driving on Indian Hill would divert to another route, and traffic would keep increasing every year. In reality, Cambridge has very little traffic. More of us local residents will stay off Indian Hill at peak times unless the center of downtown is our destination. Our city goal was to move traffic to arterials east and west of downtown.
We don’t have the capacity for increased traffic up and down Indian Hill, regardless of the Gold Line.
What is coming next
I have been assured that the next city traffic study will correct both of the simulation problems I described above. Meanwhile, the Gold Line engineers will design an alternative bridge and will tell us how much more it would cost Claremont residents if we choose that more attractive option. They have stated that they will not pay more than the $23 million cost of the bridge that they first proposed. After all of that analysis, our City Commissions will review the new detail.
The problem with waiting
Many Claremont residents are accepting the idea that a grade separation will be necessary when the Gold Line arrives, and they are dreading that outcome. The prospect of a 30-foot vertical wall will scare away development south of the wall, right where we need to plan a transit-oriented “Village south” that should contain mixed- use residences and destinations for the new people who will want to visit and live in Claremont. Others have already written that a looming wall would alter the character of downtown as well.
The Gold Line elsewhere
Most street crossings are at grade. Please take a ride and check it out. Gold Line staff told me that the new bridge over Towne Avenue will be required because they need to get their tracks to the other side of the Metro Link tracks, not due to traffic. They tell me they are not pushing for a grade separation at Indian Hill.
With a gate-down time of 50 seconds per train, a Gold Line crossing will have no more impact than a red traffic light of that duration. I would propose that money would be better spent synchronizing the Indian Hill traffic lights to the train crossings, so the typical 50 seconds of back-up will clear quickly. The sooner we say, “No, thanks” to the offer of a bridge, the better.