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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

The changes that come down the tracks

By John Pixley

When it comes to transportation, it’s hard not to feel like a fool this April 1. Or any time these days. It seems like we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. In talking about how we all get around, at the very least, there are no easy solutions.

I certainly felt like a fool when I first read about the proposed elevated railroad bridge over Indian Hill Boulevard in the Village. I did a double-take—more like a triple-take. I couldn’t get my head around what was being proposed, couldn’t even imagine it. A big overpass, like the one for the 10 freeway further south, right in the Village? Okay, next to the Village. But, really, what’s the difference?

And what about the grading leading to and from the overpass? Wouldn’t this mean a big, ugly wall in—or next to—the Village?

No. I had to have been dreaming when I first read about it. I couldn’t imagine it.

But I had to. It wasn’t a dream. I kept reading more about this railroad bridge over Indian Hill Boulevard, and the city council said that it had to be considered. Sam Pedroza said everything had to be given a fair hearing, that was the way things were done in Claremont.

People asked if the railway couldn’t go under Indian Hill. After all, the 210 freeway is below grade, passing under streets, in northern Claremont, notably unique among adjacent towns. Couldn’t the same go for Claremont for the railroad crossing? But the “below grade” option was “prohibitively expensive,” we were told. No, the rail overpass in the Village has to be imagined, has to be considered.

Maybe it wouldn’t be worse than when the big office buildings were installed along First Street, just north of the railway tracks. Or what about when it looked like a huge monstrocity was about to swallow the Village as the new Village extension was going up hard on the west side of Indian Hill Boulevard?

Who’s to say that we’d ever get used to a big railway bridge, like we now accept these and all the other additions and changes over the years as part of the Village? But it looks more and more like we’re fools for being shocked and upset that this latest project is being considered.

After all, it’s what we want.

In the past 20 years or so, it has been a big deal that there’s more public transit in Claremont, providing us with more ways to get to places like Los Angeles without driving our cars. It was a big deal when there were more buses stopping in Claremont, and it was even more of a big deal when the Metrolink train to Los Angeles began stopping in Claremont.

We all went day-tripping to LA on the train, with a number of commuters using it faithfully to get to work, and we were proud that the old Claremont depot was revived as a public transit hub. Judy Wright was called a town hero for championing these efforts. And now we’re eagerly awaiting the further extension of the Gold Line light rail from Pasadena, and now Arcadia to Montclair, with a stop in Claremont.

And for good reason: Not only does the Gold Line have the potential to bring more visitors and shoppers to the Village—the first extension to Arcadia has been so popular that extra cars have been added. More importantly, it should mean that there’ll be that much less traffic on the freeways.

Yes, traffic. I have written frequently about the frustration over traffic on our freeways. I wrote about it last month. But don’t just take my word for it; according to an annual study by Intrix that was recently released, the greater Los Angeles area once again has the worst traffic in the nation. Reportedly, freeway drivers in this region spent 81 hours idling in traffic during 2015.

And not only will more trains hopefully mean less traffic on the freeways, plus an efficient, attractive way to get around, whether for those who visit Claremont or for those here going to other places. Less traffic should also mean less smog.

All good things, right? I doubt there are many who would argue that having trains stop here hasn’t made Claremont even a better, more lively, more alluring town, not to mention one that promotes environmentally-friendly practices.

But we are fools not to consider that there are things about trains stopping here that aren’t so good. When the Metrolink trains first came to Claremont, I was thrilled that there was an easy, less stressful connection to LA and the rest of the world. It was novel and romantic. I still like that there is this connection here, but there are also the whistles that wake me up in the early morning. Do they really have to be so long and loud? I sometimes wonder if there are conductors who get a kick out of blowing the horn as long and hard as they can.

One of my pet peeves over the years has been the way the crossing gates at Indian Hill Boulevard and College Avenue go down before the train stops at the depot. This means that the drivers and pedestrians on Indian Hill or College and maybe at subsequent crossings—depending on if the train is going to or from LA—have to wait until the passengers get off and the train gets going again. This can take several minutes, especially if there is a passenger, such as one in a wheelchair, who needs assistance disembarking. What I want to know is why can’t the crossing gate go down as the train leaves the Depot?

No doubt a bridge over Indian Hill Boulevard (and also College Avenue) would take care of this irritant. This, in fact, is one of the arguments put forth in support of the rail bridge. With more trains coming through Claremont after the Gold Line extension, the crossing gates will come down more often, with more delays for drivers and pedestrians. A study cited in support of the bridge estimates that, with the current trains and the new Gold Line trains passing through, there will be 23 minutes per hour of traffic delays with the crossing gates down, up from the 12 minutes that occur now.

The bridge over Indian Hill makes sense, given this, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. 

As pointed out by Jim Keith recently in these pages, the study didn’t take into account that the train station will be moved east of College Avenue from the depot (which will reportedly house the Claremont Museum of Art) and that therefore the gates at Indian Hill won’t have to be down for so long, since they won’t be down while a train is stopped at the station. This will result in 15 minutes per hour of traffic delays at Indian Hill Boulevard—50 percent less than what the study came up with. Mr. Keith also mentions that drivers will probably find alternative routes, like Cambridge Avenue, and that they should anyway, with Indian Hill currently at capacity, regardless of the Gold Line.  

I don’t know what the station moving will mean for College Avenue. Will it have 23 minutes of traffic delays an hour? And what about Claremont Boulevard to the east? Then again, as Mr. Keith pointed out, drivers will probably find alternative routes.

Maybe the railway bridge is just talk, an idea that won’t pan out. That’s what many are hoping. But as things change for the better, like with the Metrolink and now the Gold Line coming to Claremont, there will surely be more changes, whether or not we like them. We’d be fools to think this won’t happen. 

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