By Noel T. Braymer
Proposition R raises the sale tax another half cent in Los Angeles County. This money will be used to help build the “subway to the sea” which will extend subway service west down Wilshire Blvd. There will be money to extend Light Rail on the Gold Line east from Pasadena towards Montclair and the Expo Line west from Culver City to Santa Monica. There is planning for a downtown connector for new trackage to connect the Blue and Expo Lines to the Gold Line. There are plans for extending the Green Line to LAX. But there are no new services planned for the San Fernando Valley. What can be done is improving what the Valley has, which would be Metrolink and the Orange Line.
The Orange Line is a “busway” built on an old SP branch line that crossed the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. In a perfect world this right of way would have been rebuilt as a Light Rail service. The Orange Line starts across the street from the terminus of the Red Line in North Hollywood. Again in a perfect world the Red Line would have been built so trains could branch out from the subway to light rail segments like the Muni Metro in San Francisco. But this is a political not a perfect world. Instead passengers have to transfer from Orange Line Buses, cross the street and then go underground to catch the Red Line.
The Orange Line Busway was sold as cheaper than rail transit. Well, you get went you pay for. With in a year of the Orange Line’s opening it was nearly at capacity at just over 20,000 passengers a day. One reason for the low capacity of the Orange Line is unlike a train these buses stop at red lights. While they get some priority at traffic lights, they don’t have the right of way like a train, and so are slower than rail service. The Orange Line has 60 foot articulated buses which are approved for street use. They have to be since the buses leave the busway to go to the Warner Center stop and to the bus garage for servicing. Larger buses would be a problem for street use and it is doubtful there is a practical technology to MU buses and run them as trains.
It is clear when riding the Orange Line that the vast majority of riders transfer at the North Hollywood Red Line Station. The buses are full coming into and leaving North Hollywood. But on a midday run it was clear that most of the ridership was between Van Nuys and North Hollywood, West of Van Nuys the buses are fairly empty. If the Red Line was extended to Van Nuys the majority of the ridership for the Orange Line would dry up. Well it is unlikely that the Red Line will be extended further in the San Fernando Valley or any other expensive transit projects will be built in the Valley any time soon.. So any near term improvements will require using what is available.
RailPAC President and Valley Resident Paul Dyson is advocating upgrading and double tracking the railroads in the Valley and expanding Metrolink service to twice an hour, seven days a week. It would be possible to use the Orange Line to act as a feeder to expanded Metrolink service. There is planning now to extend the Orange Line to the Chatsworth Transportation Center which is also a Metrolink and Amtrak Station. It also makes sense to extend the Orange Line service east to the Bob Hope Airport’s train station and the downtown Burbank train station.
One problem with expanding Orange Line service is the buses are full between Van Nuys and North Hollywood. The solution is clearly to run more buses, but running more buses will cause problems with the traffic signal priority system and disrupt auto traffic. A way around this is to run the buses behind each other so they can share the same green lights and not force cars to stop for additional stop lights. Now you don’t need to run additional buses all the ways to Chatsworth. You can turn the additional buses at Van Nuys. In fact as long as you are in Van Nuys one could bring the Orange Line Buses up to the Van Nuys Train Station. You might run the Chatsworth buses up to the Bob Hope Airport area serving the airport, commercial area around the airport and the nearby train station.
The Van Nuys buses could be extended to Beautiful Downtown Burbank and connect with other services at the downtown Metrolink station.