City Pushes Application for At-Grade Pedestrian Crossing

Train-Slide.jpgTwo weeks ago, the Council received a status report on the application for an at-grade crossing.  The council has, since January, opposed the construction of a 3800-foot long fence by the Union Pacific Railroad that threatens to cut off access to downtown by residents of Olive Drive.

Union Pacific has made it very clear that they intend to construct the fence, even without the city’s approval, for what they claim are issues of safety, but are more likely due to liability concerns.

As a result, on May 24 the Council was briefed on the crossing locations that will be included in the CPUC application, the draft California Environmental Quality Act “CEQA” documents, very preliminary cost estimates and other minor issues.

According to the city staff, the proposed project consists of two at-grade crossings of the railroad tracks.

The first would be a bike/pedestrian-only crossing which is at the depot, lining up with the main access to the platform.

The city staff describes it as “generally” across from the Slatter’s Court gate.

They describe the following, “The crossing would connect to a new path (on the south side of the tracks) that runs parallel to the tracks connecting to Hickory Lane on the east and city property on the west (just past Davis Mobile Estates). The existing property fences would remain in place and a new short fence (5-7’) would be added between the path and tracks. This would funnel all bikes/pedestrians to the new at-grade crossing. This fence would need to extend from Richards Blvd. to a point east of the Olive Drive off-ramp from I-80 in a manner that makes it difficult for bikes/pedestrian to go around.”

The second location would be for emergency vehicles only and would provide access to the crossing connecting L Street to Olive Drive.  Writes city staff, “This crossing would be fully gated and locked such that only emergency responders could use the crossing during emergencies for access to the Olive Drive neighborhood or used as an evacuation point if no other options exist.

The city staff adds, “This access point addresses a real concern that any fencing of the tracks from the Olive Drive neighborhood creates safety issues since the south side of the East Olive Drive neighborhood is bounded by I-80, with the Richards/Olive.”

The city’s concern at this point is Union Pacific’s notification to the city that they will build a 380- foot long, 8-foot high fence on the south side of the tracks “in an attempt to barricade Olive Drive residents from crossing the tracks.”

As the city notes, “The fence would not stop residents from crossing the tracks but rather push them to less safe locations where historically fatalities have occurred. The city at-grade pedestrian/bike crossing would mitigate the impact of the Union Pacific Railroad fence.”

The city is also concerned that the fence would harm downtown business by making it far more difficult for Olive Drive residents to gain access to the downtown.

A Mitigated Negative Declaration was prepared, stating the need for the project to mitigate the proposed fencing project by Union Pacific.

City Staff is recommending that the City Attorney and staff attend the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority meeting on June 8, 2011 to respond to any questions from the CCJPA Board.

In their declaration the staff writes, “A large number of pedestrians and bicyclist have been crossing the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at multiple locations for close to 100 years. The pedestrians and bicyclist are coming from and going to the Olive Drive neighborhood.”

The report continues, “Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR) has proposed construction of a 3800 foot long fence running east west along Olive Drive on the south side of the tracks. The proposed fence would theoretically eliminate all pedestrian and bicycle access across the tracks and could result in a less safe situation with pedestrians and bicyclist trying to go around the fence by crossing a freeway off-ramp on the east end of Olive Drive to access the east end of the fence or near the Richards trestle.”

They add, “Historical data shows that the fence pushes pedestrians closer to locations where trains are traveling faster and previous fatalities have occurred. The purpose of the city proposed project is to improve safety by constructing an at-grade pedestrian crossing in conjunction with the construction of a fence so pedestrians and bicyclist are guided to a gated and signalized location with automatic gates that close when trains are approaching.”

The city had apparently analyzed this site as part of the 2001 General Plan update, “The potential environmental impacts of development of the project site were analyzed as part of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the City’s 2001 General Plan Update. The EIR evaluated the overall buildout of the City under the General Plan. The action to approve the General Plan adopted a statement of overriding considerations for significant unavoidable impacts in the areas of traffic and impacts on roadway systems, air quality, and noise among others”

The EIR concluded that the proposed project will not have a significant effect on the environment for at least 17 different stated reasons, nor will it conflict with the City’s General or Specific Plans.

Therefore, they conclude, “That although the proposed project could have a significant effect on the environment, there will not be a significant effect in this case because the mitigation measures described herein have been added to the project. A MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION will be prepared.”  That was signed by Cathy Camacho from the City of Davis’ planning department.

To see the full impact report go to page 17 of this document: report.

As reported earlier, the City’s opposition to public funding for the railroad fence through the CCJPA forced Union Pacific to drop its efforts to gain public funding from the CCJPA (Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agreement).  In response, in April, the railroad fenced off an access gate at Slatter’s Court.

Instead of backing down, the city has fought on.  Instead, it issued a strongly worded statement.

“The city is extremely disappointed that UPRR has chosen to proceed with construction of the fence to block these gates,” the statement read

Mayor Joe Krovoza also issued his own strong statement, “This unilateral action by UP flies in the face of what the city believed was progress, and only makes more difficult a permanent, safety-enhancing solution”

The city knows that it lacks the power to prevent a fence from being built.  It also knows that the railroad believes, for issues of liability, that it must build one.

Moreover, legal issues aside, it is not good policy to have people trespassing and crossing the tracks illegally.  The city knows the ultimate answer is to get safe and legal crossing options for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The cheapest route to go is to get an at-grade crossing.  In January at a city council meeting, a spokesperson from the Public Utilities Commission said that the California Public Utilities Commission has authority over at-grade crossings and the city would have to file an application through the CPUC if they wanted an at-grade crossing.

However, he argued that everyone would protest that proposal, citing other crossings, which are less convenient, for people who are walking.

He argued that the primary goal is protecting public safety and each new crossing increases the number of crossings and thus injury risk.  He believes that the current area is problematic for the number of trespassings and that the railroad and the CPUC are unlikely to agree to an at-grade crossing.

The city believes it has a real chance at getting approval for this at-grade crossing, but others are more skeptical.  We shall see how this process goes.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]He argued that the primary goal is protecting public safety and each new crossing increases the number of crossings and thus injury risk. He believes that the current area is problematic for the number of trespassings and that the railroad and the CPUC are unlikely to agree to an at-grade crossing.

    The city believes it has a real chance at getting approval for this at-grade crossing, but others are more skeptical. We shall see how this process goes.[/quote]

    The representative from the CPUC said it is unlikely to agree to an at-grade crossing. So how can the city believe it has a “real chance” at getting approval for an at-grade crossing? At best it appears to be a long shot…

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