On Feb. 13, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) rejected the City of Davis’ request to implement an at-grade pedestrian/bicycle crossing at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that connect the Olive Drive neighborhood with the rest of the city.
The City of Davis filed the request on Aug. 11, 2011 in response to the fence Union Pacific had put up between the railroad tracks and Olive Drive neighborhood.
The fence has been a source for contention over the last two years, as it has prevented the residents of Olive Drive to cross that particular section of the railroad — considered the most direct route to downtown Davis.
“We want to maintain this crossing that’s been used for the last 70 years. It is the most direct route that students and residents use to get to work, campus and the general downtown area,” said Anne Brunette, property management coordinator of the Community Development and Sustainability Department for the City of Davis.
The Olive Drive neighborhood of approximately 700 people is the lowest-income neighborhood in Davis, with 30 percent of the families living in poverty and 55 percent of households with incomes under $25,000.
The city believes that a more direct access to downtown — as opposed to alternatives located at Richards Boulevard, Putah Creek and Mace Boulevard — would alleviate the gap between Olive Drive and the rest of Davis.
Additionally, arguments were made that the at-grade crossing would provide for a safer alternative, as evidence has it that residents forgo the fence and illegally climb over or crawl through it.
Furthermore, the city contended that the fence only creates a more hazardous environment, as the crossing had previously seen only three deaths since 1992 — two of which were alcohol related.
“It is beyond comprehension that the CPUC could find that a crossing that existed for over 70 years without an accident is all of a sudden unsafe because we want to add warning bells and lights,” said Mayor Joe Krovoza in a press release.
The request for an at-grade crossing is very much supported by the community. Local emergency authorities support that it would provide better access to the neighborhood during emergency situations.
The CPUC, however, maintains that the city “[doesn’t] persuade us of an absolute need for an at-grade crossing.” The Union Pacific Railroad supports the CPUC’s decision.
“Safety is a top priority at Union Pacific and we are confident that the residents of Davis can already safely and conveniently cross the railroad tracks at nearby grade-separated crossings,” said Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media from Union Pacific in a statement via email.
The City of Davis and community supporters will continue to find solutions to what they believe is an unsafe decision and hope to find plausible options for taking future action.
“The city council hasn’t decided what to do, but we anticipate a closed session this coming Tuesday evening to discuss possible solutions,” Brunette said.
GABRIELLA HAMLETT can be reached at email@example.com.