Los Angeles County proposes to partner with Metro by contributing $15M of ARPA funds to support Segment A of the Rail to Rail Project (Rail to Rail). This project, which runs through multiple Qualified Census Tracts (QCTs) will help revitalize surrounding communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of decades of disinvestment. The proposed multimodal connector path spans 5.6 miles from the future Metro Crenshaw/LAX Florence/West station to just east of the existing Metro Blue Line Slauson station. (Segment A is the first phase of a two-segment project that will end at the Los Angeles River. Segment B, which will span the area from the Slauson Station to the river, is in the planning phase.)
ARPA is proposed to fund electrical, lighting, and safety components of the project, including:
• Power service connections
• Site lighting
• Site communications, including closed circuit television (CCTV)
• Emergency and public telephones
In addition to improving transportation connectivity in historically disadvantaged communities in South Los Angeles, the work will also address significant pedestrian safety issues, promote social connectedness, and ease access to the social services that are of critical importance to underserved households. The project also helps improve existing outdoor spaces by converting an existing, but underutilized, railroad right-of-way into a multi-purpose outdoor space with a pedestrian and bicycle active transportation corridor on the western end.
The Rail to Rail project helps address the negative economic impacts experienced by the community in this high-need area of Los Angeles County. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact in South Los Angeles, where the project is located. Indeed, the COVID-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index rates the area as “highest need.” According to 2021 data from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health (DPH), South L.A. experienced approximately 22,000 cases per 100,000 residents, while the county logged roughly 14,500 cases per 100,000 residents. This represents an over 50% higher case count for this area compared to the rest of Los Angeles County. Deaths were also higher, with 313 deaths per 100,000 residents compared to 261 in broader L.A. County. The development of active transportation and urban greening projects in the community, such as the Rail to Rail project, was identified by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, (LISC), a national non-profit organization supporting community development, as a strategy to address long time inequities and challenges existing in South Los Angeles that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
This project also helps to build stronger neighborhoods and communities. ARPA helps to address the harm created in communities where the pandemic contributed to an increase in violence, or increased difficulty in accessing or providing services to respond to or mitigate the effects of violence. The ARPA-funded component of the project will support safety and security measures in the community through investments in technology, electrical and lighting for public spaces.
Currently, pedestrians and cyclists traveling in this corridor have virtually no facilities to support their safe passage. Narrow and overcrowded sidewalks significantly impede safe, comfortable, and convenient bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the south side of Slauson Avenue. On the north side of Slauson Avenue – location of the project right-of-way (ROW) – sidewalks are nonexistent, creating an inadequate and unsafe passage for all users, including bus rider accessing multiple bus stops along the Project corridor. Metro data reveals that the vast majority of transit users in Los Angeles County need this type of active transportation networks to reach transit. A 2014 survey shows that 58% of system-wide Metro Rail users reported that they did not have a car available to make their trip. A reported 65% of riders walked to transit, while 5% biked or skated. This dependence on transit, walking, and cycling is evident within the project area. Over one-fifth of households within the ½-mile project area do not have a vehicle available, and 15% of workers commute to work by public transit, bicycling, or walking.
In addition to supporting economic recovery, the Rail to Rail project will help create sorely needed open space and opportunities for exercise in the area. The COVID-19 pandemic heightened our awareness of the connections between physical and mental health on one hand and both physical activity and social connectedness on the other. This is true at both the individual and community levels, and when indoor gatherings become hazardous to public health, the role of parks and outdoor spaces becomes paramount. Or as one expert noted during the height of the pandemic, “if a city doesn’t have enough green space for the amount of people who live there, that’s a public health issue.” The importance of accessing open space during the pandemic has also highlighted parks and open space access as an environmental and social justice issue. As revealed by the graphic below (from the 2016 Los Angeles County Parks Needs Assessment ), the community surrounding the project corridor is sorely lacking in access to recreational facilities.
Physical activity at parks and open spaces can play a role in population health outcomes, as a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for chronic diseases and more severe COVID-19 outcomes. Parks, recreation facilities, and sidewalks can promote healthier living environments by allowing for safe and socially distanced recreation. Based on the number of community facilities and other key destinations located within a short walking distance of path access points, the Rail to Rail corridor is projected to attract recreational users and increase levels of physical activity in this community. Specifically, Metro data indicates that the project would result in an additional 392 daily walk trips (10-minute walk, or 0.3 miles), which translates to 15,680 calories burned by users of the Project. Metro’s ATP Benefit/Cost Tool assumes 50% of new bike trips displace previous auto trips, resulting in 1,098 additional daily bike trips. Increasing levels of physical activity in this area of South Los Angeles, ranked as “Highest Need” by the COVID-19 Vulnerability & Recovery Index, can buffer the pandemic’s impact in several ways. Residents will be encouraged to engage in both physical activity and social connection, two activities that are known to not only decrease the risk of chronic disease, but also improve mental health and cognitive function. By reducing the incidence of chronic disease in this area of South Los Angeles, we reduce the risk of comorbidities that increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 as well of the severity of the disease.
Furthermore, the pandemic’s consequences have gone beyond physical health outcomes, with growing numbers of mental health disorders and diagnoses across the population. Exercise, even in small amounts, is documented to reduce the incidence of mental health challenges. The Rail to Rail project will support both the mental and physical health of South Los Angeles residents, equipping them to better weather the pandemic’s ongoing impact and actively contribute to their community’s recovery.