L.A.'s San Fernando Valley does need rail, but they need to wait their turn

Within the last few years, the city of Los Angeles and its residents have finally figured out that mass transit is the way to spread the traffic load around evenly. Recent projects such as The Metro Expo Line that runs from Downtown L.A. to the westside community of Culver City (with an extension to Santa Monica next year), along with future projects like the Purple Line Subway extension through the heart of the westside in Miracle Mile, Century City, Beverly Hills, and Westwood, and the creation of the Crenshaw Line that will finally give Los Angeles a direct rail connection to LAX airport, are fantastic examples of this. However, this action is occurring in Central, West, and South Los Angeles. What region is missing from all this? The San Fernando Valley.

Although I'm a ten year resident in this part of Southern California, I've only recently recognized the few mass transit options available in the San Fernando Valley: The northwestern end point of the Metro Red Line Subway, and the Orange Line (don't be fooled by the name) busway. After doing alot of research on the valley's transit history, which began decades ago with the southern pacific electric railroad, it is a little disappointing to see the meager transportation options this region ended up with.  When the Red Line subway was originally constructed, it was planned to stretch farther into the west valley and end in Warner Center, a downtown section of suburban Woodland Hills. In addition, part of the line was to be placed on Ventura Boulevard, which is the entertainment equivalent strip of Wilshire Boulevard, filled with high-density and front facing retail shops. Unfortunately, a vocal minority ended up speaking for the vast majority of valley residents, and refused any proposal for a rail system of any kind due to conflicts with the technology and the religious beliefs of this minority. The result was The Orange line, a dedicated busway that opened back in October 2005, which runs from the Red Line terminus station in North Hollywood to Chatsworth, a town in the northern valley. Fast forward ten years later, and it has become a very popular transit alternative, with many buses packed with commuters throughout the day. However, the line has become too popular to the point of being over-capacity, and residents are now demanding a conversion of the busway to the light-rail line that the service is pretending to be. There is also talk of an extension into Burbank and Glendale, with a link to the Metro Gold Line in Pasadena.  As a current North Hollywood resident, I'm all for this but as the title of this blog states, The valley needs to wait their turn for other projects. 

These projects are of course, the other rail lines that need to be completed in other areas of Los Angeles first. With a limited amount of funding for these transportation projects, not every area can have what they want-----especially for an area that got a mass transit line (albeit in a half-assed fashion). Also, there is another rail project that is planned for the valley that still trumps an Orange Line rail-conversion in importance: The Sepulveda Pass Rail Project. For years, valley residents longed for an alternative to Interstate 405, one of the most congested freeways in Southern California, as short-term solutions such as on-and-off ramp repairs and adding carpool lanes only keep the traffic issue car-centric. Imagine being able to use a light rail line running from Sylmar through Van Nuys (the current line proposed), but also taking that line above the 405 freeway, elevated over the median to Westwood, all while connecting with such existing lines as the Orange Line, Purple Line, and Expo Lines. Such a north-south addition to the rail network could even provide a more direct route from the valley to Los Angeles International Airport by rail with an additional connection to the Crenshaw Line at the same station that will connect to the Expo Line. So yeah valley, let's take care of this bad boy first.

Now, once those projects are finished, we can definitely start on this Orange Line upgrade. This upgrade should not merely be a complete light rail conversion of the entire route----which contains two different endpoints at Warner Center as well as Chatsworth. We have to look at where the need is by focusing on the most heavily used section of the current busway, which is why I propose that the Orange Line be broken up into two sections: The Chatsworth to Canoga section should remain a busway, while the Warner Center to North Hollywood section be converted to light rail (with the Warner Center station to Canoga Station portion being underground). For a Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena extension, the new light rail Orange Line can run underground the North Hollywood Station (with a 7th street-like connection with the Red Line), then at-grade on Magnolia Blvd to the Downtown Burbank Promenade,  a great pedestrian friendly shopping center that's just crying out for a mass transit connection. Further extensions into Glendale and Pasadena to meet up with the Gold Line are also essential, though I'm not sure on what route or form a converted Orange Line rail would take from that point. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, the Orange Line just needs a few improvements to make it a more efficient system: Better signal priority (which all street-level light rail should have but don't), and having two of the 60-foot long buses run together eastbound and westbound. Such a change would really help with overcrowding, and justify the long station platforms, which were designed long enough to hold a pair of the articulated "Metro Liners."  Aside from that, the line runs very smoothly, with buses running no longer than twenty minutes during non-peak hours, and about 4 minutes during rush hours. Don't worry valley folk, there will be a time when you'll see tracks on that busway with sleek new rail vehicles that will take you as far east as Pasadena, and as far west as Warner Center, but just be patient.