Cutting Edge Transportation Technology and Environmental Regulation
With environmental evaluation and regulation impinging upon manufacturing, industrial processes and transportation systems to ever-increasing degrees, the eminently efficient and environmentally benign character of all aspects of monorail industry should open great opportunity for development of operating systems and production facilities in locations and under regulatory regimes where no such development could previously take place. The case could be made for the near exemption from environmental assessment and regulation of monorail systems based on demonstrably low levels, or absence of typical environmental impacts associated with other forms of transportation, as well as, the industrial, manufacturing and construction processes by which monorail systems are implemented.
In many states and local jurisdictions, environmental regulations and restrictions on development and operation of transportation systems impose significant impediments and costs to implementation of new facilities and services, while formulaic environmental impact studies and reports provide limited mitigation of basic impacts of rail transportation systems and technology. The state-approved 6,000 page EIR on a proposed 23-mile extension of the Foothill Gold Line at-grade light rail system, in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, proposes millions of dollars of mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of building and operating the at-grade light rail service, without changing the generally negative and disruptive impacts of steel-wheeled, steel rail trains on the environments through which they pass. This brings to light one of the environmental impact evaluation and approval processes’ greatest shortcomings; that fundamentally flawed, and marginally compatible transportation developments and systems can achieve eventual approval without serious consideration of alternative designs and technologies such as monorails.
The assumption of planning and decision making authority over land use and urban growth planning by the California Attorney General, based on local governments’ inadequate development controls and measures to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, has effectively removed basic transportation and land use decision making from city and county governments throughout the state. Local California governments must draft credible plans that address their respective transportation, development and greenhouse gas reduction strategies in order to reinstate their authority over local planning and land use decision making. It appears that monorail systems and technologies can offer a broad range of solutions to the comprehensive issues impacting urban development, transportation and environmental quality which no other building practices or transportation technology can present, or that any existing form of fuel efficiency can achieve.
Building and continuing operation of transportation facilities and systems that marginally comply with environmental safeguards and regulations may impose unreasonably damaging impacts or unsound transportation practices on the settings and local environments that the transportation systems were intended to improve, and can be counter productive to both environmental and transportation system planning, while continued unmitigated operation of existing transportation vehicles and systems perpetuates the negative impacts of inefficient and antiquated transportation technology. Most, if not all such mitigation measures applied to at-grade rail systems require significant reductions in operating speeds. As designed, the Foothill Gold Line trains were intended to operate at 53 miles per hour; but required reduction to 27 mile per hour operation in order that EIR-required mitigation measures would be feasible and effective.
While there is clearly no necessity for conflict or compromising of environmental criteria or objectives with regard to monorail system development, manufacturing processes or service operations, factors generally beyond the scope of environmental assessment and regulation, including cost effectiveness, energy conservation, alternative financing, safety, sustainability of service and rolling stock, enhanced access and economic opportunities, and a variety of extra-environmental contributions to local and regional communities, further enhance the comprehensive potentials and impacts of monorails on their respective service areas and community settings.
Development of monorails along the upper banks of the Los Angeles River would be compatible with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s designation of the River’s 51-mile main channel as “traditional navigable waters”, and could significantly enhance the continuous strips of land below the elevated guide ways with landscaped hiking and bicycle paths developed in the currently denuded upper banks of flood control rights of way, and could link parks and open spaces adjacent to the river. A wide variety of such related development opportunities accompany monorail guide way construction; ranging from landscaping, establishing recreational pathways and linking parks and open spaces, to the reshaping and enhancement of built environments. While none of these potential enhancements of riverbank settings are possible in proposals to develop high-speed train tracks in fenced off, 30-100 foot right of way swaths along the river between Los Angeles and Orange County to complete a section of the proposed California High-Speed Rail Project, American Monorail’s proposed Warner Center to Downtown Los Angeles, and LA to Long Beach commuter express monorails would be built along the upper banks of the Los Angeles River for its entire 51-mile length.