‘Rails-To-Trails’ Fails to Prevail On The Scales of Justice

ALPERN AT LARGE-So the Supreme Court nailed the "Rails-To-Trails" effort to convert old rail-of-ways to bikeways right-:, but should we bail on the sale on these trails and fail to nail this opportunity for more bikeways ... or just let the land go stale because of this legal travail? 

This Supreme Court decision used some very old laws, but in a nutshell it means that if the government requires and imposes a land use that requires a rail line to go through private property--and the owner of that property to endure the rails and trains to pass through his/her land--the required governmental imposition goes away if the land isn't used any more for a rail line. 

In other words, if a strip of land dedicated for a rail right of way, or "easement" through private property is no longer going to be used for a rail line...but rather will be used for, say, a bikeway...then the government has to pay the owner of that private property or forfeit it altogether. 

The Rails-To-Trails idea is a nice one, with bikeways being used for easements no longer planned for rail lines (but which were legally reserved for future rail lines), but the Supreme Court maintained  that private property is, in fact, private property and can't be used for anything the government wants should it change its mind. 

The Times editorial staff probably captures the opinion of many a transportation or transit advocate, in which we want our rail rights of way, or easements dedicated for future rail lines, to be maintained for the express purpose of those rail lines.  We also favor bikeways in addition to rail lines, but the former shouldn't preclude the latter--and private property should be declared open to public use only for the legally-established land use for which it was intended. 

Bikeways are a special issue in the transportation world, because some view them as vital alternatives to transportation, and others view them purely for recreation.  Arguably, they are a bit of both at this time although future land use and business locations might morph into a situation where we have large groups of riders daily accessing school, work and the like to clarify and establish a bikeway as truly transportation-related. 

For example, the ever-increasing popularity of CicLAvia in Los Angeles draws many bicyclists from all over the City...but does that translate into a daily commute, or just a demand that our streets and our time be devoted to exercise and recreation for ordinary citizens? 

The Expo Line is an example of where a Bikeway and a Light Rail Line were to be built in concert with each other, and the land use and engineering of the rail line has often eclipsed that of the Expo Bikeway, much to the grief of disappointed bicyclists (many of whom are the reason why the Expo Line even exists)...but clearly the rail line is the centerpiece of the Expo Line project. 

That said, the ability of bicyclists to access the Expo Line and to use that easement is one that is vital for both transportation and recreational purposes, in that it parallels the I-10 freeway and will serve as a key part of any future skeletal/backbone Bikeway grid for the City of Los Angeles.  An Expo Line without good and proper bicycle amenities is ridiculous--but despite past and ongoing disputes, the Expo Authority does have a reasonable (if not probable) chance of being paired with an excellent Expo Bikeway (if not quite the Bikeway us Expo activists had anticipated). 

The future of the next big rail right of way, the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way which connects LAX to the ports and to Downtown (perhaps Union Station), has to contend with the Rail-to-River project being pursued by Metro planners to use this land strip/easement for a bike trail and greening until a future rail line is created. 

The Rail-to-River project is particularly hampered, if not stopped cold, by this Supreme Court decision. 

Frankly, I am somewhat pleased by this Supreme Court decision in that I want this rail right of way to be used primarily for a rail line--and the likelihood of tearing out trees and a bikeway for a future rail line between LAX and Union Station/Downtown is small if the Rail-to-River project is created...no matter what safeguards were formally announced and planned to ensure a future rail line. 

Rail lines demand planning because of the different technologies and land use/space demands that they have...to say nothing of the stations that connect to the rail lines. 

Of note is that the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) Green Committee, which first brought the Rail-to-River project to my attention (long overdue on my part!), entirely prioritized and demands a rail be placed on the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way before any bikeway can occur, in the same way that the Transportation/Infrastructure Committee did.  I am entirely grateful for the efforts of that Green Committee, and the Board of the MVCC just unanimously passed a motion to this effect by consent. 

The Green and other committees of the MVCC, as do many if not most of us in the City, want rails and parks and bikeways...but the right balance and priorities have to be established, and in the right order. 

The time is NOW for a Major Investment Study as to the right type of transit for the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way to connect from LAX to the Blue Line, to Downtown and Union Station...and it would be a shame for this study to not at least TRY to find the space to include an accompanying bikeway and green belt.  

If we have to purchase more land to have the width of this easement/land strip to do all this...then so be it! 

But despite the veil of the legal trevails these bike trails have because of the need for rails, our tale of trails and rails will pale to the tragedy if we fail to prevail in our need to nail the right land uses---and right now, we're planning the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way line at the pace of a snail. 


 (Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected].   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us .  The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)






Vol 12 Issue 22

Pub: Mar 14, 2014