RR Fence Op Eds and Letters

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This is a reposting of Enterprise op-eds and letters on the topic of the Olive Drive Railroad Fence.

Olive Drive residents deserve safe passage

By Alan C. Miller | Special to The Enterprise | November 27, 2010

For more than a century, the Olive Drive community has been part of Central Davis by virtue of easy pedestrian access over the railroad tracks. At any given moment, one can stand on the east end of the station platform and view a nearly constant flow of pedestrians across the tracks at several access points.

As a child visiting my sister at college in the early 1970s, I remember watching hippies pass through the mysterious hole in the fence across from the train station. The railroad welded some rails in front of the hole years later. A new hole 'formed' in the fence at the end of this barrier and the flow continued.

Olive Drive's history as part of Central Davis, however, is about to end.

A Nov. 4 article in The Davis Enterprise alerted residents that a fence would be erected along the tracks. Here are the details: The fence will be 'impenetrable' steelreinforced wrought-iron; 3,800 feet long and 8 feet high; cost $250,000 in materials; begin at Richards Boulevard and end nearly three-quarters of a mile east at the Olive Drive offramp just a few hundred feet short of Sudwerk; and have no access points.

The Olive Drive community will quite literally be walled in.

Deaths have occurred along the tracks at random intervals and locations at a rate of about one every year or two for the past few decades, yet not even a simple fence has been erected to block access at L Street or Hickory Lane as a token. That is, not until a quarter-million dollars in public transportation bond funds became available.

Of the dozen person-vs.-train accidents in Davis proper over the past couple of decades, fewer than half were adjacent to the proposed fence, and only one or two might have been prevented by this fence. Most have been suicides, very intoxicated people, vehicle incidents, crimes or other random events. None that I can recall were happy sober persons crossing the tracks, who, like the proverbial chicken, simply wanted 'to get to the other side.'

The fence attempts to address the symptom (people crossing the tracks), but not the problem (no convenient, safe way for Olive Drive residents to reach downtown). History has shown that one cannot simply wall in a community that has been part of another community. There is something unseemly about walling in the area of town with the lowest income, lowest rate of car ownership and highest percentage of minorities with what amounts to a border fence. The sheer number of crossings may be curtailed, but even more risky behavior to circumvent the fence will be the result.

Pedestrians and bicyclists will move to cross beyond the limits of the fence. On the east end, some children heading to schools in East Davis will find the end of the fence and cross near Sudwerk, passing in front of the dangerous freeway offramp to Olive Drive, then crossing the railroad at a point where there are four tracks, trains are accelerating, and parked railroad cars and switching operations pose additional hazards.

On the west end, there is legal passage, but safety remains a concern. Taylor Jaco Pope, an Olive Drive homeowner and father of two young children, is concerned about his children's safety when the fence is erected.

'Now we have easy access to downtown through a coded gate,' he says. 'My children know about trains and to stay out of the way. With this fence, we will be forced to pass through the very busy intersection at Olive and Richards. We've seen two accidents there in the last month. What we'd really like to see is a safe and legal way for our family to get downtown.'

There are two needed crossings, one into downtown and one into East Davis. A ramp from the east end of Olive Drive to the Pole Line Road overpass would offer safer access to East Davis and additionally would offer safer access to South Davis. As the bridge is already built, the minimal amount of additional infrastructure can be completed at a relatively low cost.

Downtown, a pedestrian/ bicycle bridge from Hickory Lane into the Amtrak station can be constructed using city-owned land, but the structure itself will cost a couple of million dollars.

A quarter-million dollars is a good down payment on that bridge. The city should request that part of the available public safety funds go toward these legal crossings to give the residents the option of safe passage. By cobbling together local funding sources, money from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and with assistance from state and federal representatives, these long-needed crossings can be built.

Olive Drive residents will no longer have to play chicken to cross the railroad, just 'to get to the other side.'

For more information, see the Facebook page for the [WWW]Olive Drive Preservation Society.

Think safety and protect the trees

To the Editor:

The recent proposal by the Union Pacific RR and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority to build 3,800 feet of steel fence between the Olive Drive community and Davis north of the tracks, while well-intentioned, does not, we believe, improve safety along the tracks. Rather, it pushes the problem of illegal crossings to the periphery, and in addition, has a number of unintended negative consequences.

One negative consequence of the fence-building will be the destruction of a number of full-growth trees along the stretch of track where the fence will be built. Those of us who commute by rail from Davis or live in the neighborhood know there is an almost continuous line of trees from the city-owned land behind Design House to the Olive Drive offramp from Interstate 80 (where, if you slow for a moment, you can see a coast redwood in the middle of the turnaround).

These trees include many native and mature oaks and other species, including one large palm tree across from the rail depot.

These trees provide significant benefits to the Olive Drive and Old East Davis neighborhoods. They provide a pleasant view for citizens living in proximity to the tracks. For residents on the north side of the tracks (I, J and K streets), they dampen the sound of the nearby freeway - a constant buzz that can be heard throughout Davis, but particularly in the downtown area. And for those in the Olive Drive community they provide shade, and finally, they provide habitat for hundreds of animals.

A solution to illegal track crossings is needed for the safety of our community. It is our view that merely building a fence will not provide this safety, does not adequately address the issue of illegal and dangerous track crossings, does nothing to address the need for a safe and convenient means of track crossing, and will do irreparable harm to the urban landscape in this part of town.

We urge the city of Davis to work jointly with the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority, the Union Pacific Railroad and other stakeholders to design a comprehensive safety solution that provides a safe means for track crossing while preserving the existing trees and their multiple benefits to the neighborhood.

Robert Canning and Tia Will
November 30, 2010


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2010-11-30 23:09:09   Two pedestrian bridges would probably be overkill for such a small neighborhood, especially since Olive Drive is already served by the Richards Blvd Underpass. A more viable option might be a gated pedestrian crossing. It would be much less expensive, have a much smaller foot print, and still provide safe passage to downtown. —jefftolentino

2010-12-01 00:00:59   Not trying to play devil's advocate here (I will show for the protest), but realistically the city has no control over this issue and the railroad will view the cost of saving an extra five minutes of walking time as a tremendous waste of time, money and resources as far as building a walking bridge is concerned. —Wes-P

2010-12-01 03:56:58   I agree with Jeff and Wes, another crossing at Richards seems like somewhat of a waste, so the Pole Line connection makes a little more sense to do first. Both projects are mentioned here [WWW]http://www.sacog.org/projectdelivery/04-STIP%20Attach%20B%20GG%20Revised%202008%20Spreadsheet.xls, with the Richards project estimated at $3,800,000 and the Pole Line project at $2,800,000. There is also more information about various bike public works projects in [WWW]the Initial Draft Comprehensive Bicycle Plan (is there a final one?) —NickSchmalenberger

2010-12-01 07:39:05   Having lived there, there is a distinct feel that you are right in Central Davis because of the direct walking proximity to everything by heading over the tracks. I question how they are going to keep the fence up — people are pretty good at poking holes in unpopular walls. —JabberWokky

2010-12-01 07:55:55   Alan's article comes from an understanding of the legal and practical constraints. An "at-grade crossing" is not something that can legally be created ad hoc (which is what the gate from Slatter's Court into the station is); another community has to give one up that they're not using. The City has some history of mis-investing in the Olive Drive area, as when gutters and curbs were put on the street instead of a safe access to downtown. Any pedestrian/bike bridge or tunnel will be expensive, but I'd find it a much better investment in the community than an "impenetrable" fence. —DougWalter

2010-12-01 12:20:59   With every project, we can be either become more like Star Trek or more like Blade Runner... —JimStewart

2010-12-01 13:45:45   If I were a betting man, I'd say that someone with an acetylene torch will cut a useful hole or two within two months of the fence being completed. This seems like a waste of money. —WilliamLewis

2010-12-01 14:13:14   The railroad and the highway are like a river. They greatly reduce pedestrian and cyclist mobility. What's worse is that no matter how many fences you have you will still have people getting killed at controlled crossings. This move should be considered as analogous to security theatre since those who are going to get themselves killed will do so anyhow. —ThrowAwayAccount100

2010-12-01 16:08:47   As far as being a preventive measure for deaths, it doesn't seem to me as if it would stop it. If the person is truly suicidal, they will either jump the fence or go to a more convenient spot, as they have done in the past (heading to the slightly hidden but easily accessible spot behind NAPA for example.) As for the drunks... you tell me when a fence has stopped the inebriated from doing stupid things? An at grade crossing would be best for the common user, but regardless of what happens, people will still die no matter which option is chosen. Therefore 'death deterrent' should not even be an issue for this proposed fence. —Wes-P

2010-12-01 16:46:11   The notion that the fence is intended to or must prevent all deaths strikes me as a straw man. I suspect the question is whether it's reasonably likely to prevent at least one death. You can easily argue that if there's a reasonable chance it'll save a life, the fence is worth the cost, and that the inconvenience of having to walk/bike around pales in comparison.

I'm not arguing in favor of the fence, I'm just saying that I think the weight of opinion here seems to be against an argument that no one is actually making, and that no one in their right mind would really consider making. —TomGarberson

2010-12-05 04:54:52   railroad-deaths.pngRailroad Deaths Folks, I totally agree that the city should build a safe passage across Olive Drive. But the idea that we won't need the passage if we build that fence is nonsense. This stretch of track is [WWW]the most dangerous half mile in Davis as measured by fatalities. Four men have died on these tracks since 1998: Nanda Butler, Patrick Allison, Samuel Carrasco, and Fred Nightbear Iyotte. Consider what the argument is really saying to the families of these four men. It's saying, a fence wouldn't have done any good because they were just alcoholics and suicidal head cases that would have found some way to kill themselves anyway. I know that it's not intentional, but that is a callous and false answer to an important safety question. Yes, there should be a safe passage, and moreover, the tracks are dangerous and crossing them directly is just not acceptable. —GregKuperberg

2010-12-05 14:04:56   I'm not a lawyer, so this isn't legal advice. Maybe a real lawyer should look into the various forms of easements, particularly "easement by necessity". —JimStewart

2010-12-05 14:19:34   Incidentally, I ride the Amtrak to San Jose quite often and have observed workers installing fences along several parts of the line. I'm not sure whether those installations are related or not but it would seem, due to the timing, that the installations are related. In other words, this may have less to do with Davis, per se, than with a system wide upgrade. But that's my humble observation. Also, if the fences are the same, they seem fairly hardy. One would require quite powerful tools in order to cut a hole. —BrianPakpour

2010-12-05 14:36:06   We've got several crossings from central to east davis as the tracks go north/south without incident. I've wondered for years why 2nd and L isn't a crossing to Olive, would make it so much easier and an alternative exit into town. —RichardL

2010-12-16 18:11:36   To BrianPakpour. You are correct, the fencing you see going up in the Bay Area is part of the same program, materials purchased via CCJPA, financed by Proposition 1B and given to Union Pacific for installation. In these other locations, there are either fencing off a station or walling off mid-block short-cuts, to highly encourage pedestrians and bicyclists to go to the next legal crossing. The Davis Olive Drive situation is somewhat unique, in that an entire neighborhood has multiple short cuts into different major sections of town with only one legal way out that adds a significant amount of time relative to the short cuts that have been there as long as the railroad has been there. Olive Drive is not your typical grid pattern with crossings of some sort every X number of 1000's of feet apart as in Richmond and Oakland where the fences are going up.

To Richard L. The City has long wanted to cross the railroad tracks at L Street for cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Cost is one factor, design is another, as there is little room to safely ramp Olive and/or L Streets up/down/around for a crossing. Also, at-grade is completely out-of-the-question here, as this is the west throat of the small Davis interchange yard. The railroad would never allow an at-grade crossing where trains switch, as people get impatient and climb through stopped trains which is one of the most dangerous activities pedestrians (and even bicyclists) can engage in around railroads. Hickory Lane is actually an easement the City bought from the Calori Family in the 1920's (I've seen the transfer deed), with the intent of connecting I Street to Olive Drive. Southern Pacific never granted the City the two needed at-grade crossing to connect I Street to Hickory Lane. This just goes to show this problem has been brewing for nearly a century. —AlanMiller

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