Changes in the works for the Orange Line

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro is studying several changes to the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley to make the bus rapid transit line more attractive and appealing to riders and the community.   

Among those: Measure M grade crossing improvements, new zero emission battery-electric powered buses (known as ZEBs), travel time improvements and a proposed new Warner Center Shuttle and Reseda Station shortline (much more on those below) will all be studied with some of those implemented.

The passage of Measure M sales tax in November means there are two projects now in the works:

•The first project involves getting the Orange Line through intersections more quickly, either by building grade separations (i.e. bridges or underpasses) or other improvements.

A technical study is now underway and is looking at five different intersections as candidates for a grade separation (Fulton/Burbank, Woodman/Oxnard, Van Nuys, Sepulveda and Reseda). Once a final study report is approved by the Metro Board of Directors, this multiyear construction project would be built to rail standards to make it easier to convert the Orange Line to rail. Other improvements are also being analyzed, including crossing gates and traffic signal upgrades. Groundbreaking is planned for 2019.

•The second project is more long-term and will convert the Orange Line to light rail. The groundbreaking on that project at this time is proposed for 2051 although Metro continues to explore ways to accelerate the larger Measure M projects. I know that getting your mind wrapped around ‘2051’ probably isn’t super easy and/or super fun. But it’s worth considering that the more near-term upgrades should shave minutes off Orange Line rides and make it easier to convert the line to rail.

•The Metro Board of Directors last year asked Metro staff to begin operation of ZEB battery electric-only buses on the Orange Line by 2020. Orange Line buses currently run on compressed natural gas (CNG), which is substantially cleaner than diesel-powered buses — but CNG is still a fossil fuel and produces greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of this effort, Metro has ordered five 60-foot articulated electric buses to test on the line. These buses are very quiet and would initially be used with the existing fleet of natural gas powered buses. Once the initial test is completed, a larger order of buses would be made to replace the remaining CNG buses.

•Metro began increasing the speed of buses across some intersections last year after a study revealed that it could be done so safely. Buses began running at 10 mph across intersections in 2005 to avoid collisions with cars running red lights. That move also caused buses to miss more green lights because the traffic signals (which are controlled by the city of Los Angeles) were never adjusted to reflect the slower bus speeds.

•To improve safety, Metro is also planning a limited test at four locations of in-pavement lights and parking-lot style gates to prevent motorists from making illegal right turns across the busway. Installation of both is anticipated to begin in early 2018.

•Metro is proposing to implement a new shuttle route within Warner Center to make this commercial and residential part of the Valley more accessible to Orange Line riders.  

The Orange Line buses that divert off of the busway into Warner Center currently have only one stop in Warner Center — which isn’t terribly convenient for many riders, some of whom have long walks to reach the bus. It is also not practical to add on-street stops for the Orange Line buses that requires rail like stations that are 150 feet long, with ticket vending machines, ticket validators, gated stations and more.   

Ridership on the Warner Center segment of the line has been small (in Sept. 2016 there were 750 average daily boardings) compared to the 25,000 average boardings on the average weekday — and given the fact that Warner Center is attracting tens of thousands for visitors, workers, shoppers, dinners, residents each day.   

There are likely several reasons: Warner Center to date has been a very car-centric place with plenty of parking and served by major roads and the Orange Line has only that one stop on Owensmouth Avenue.

The proposed shuttle would replace the Orange Line buses in Warner Center, would operate frequently, make stops every quarter-mile or less, directly serve the Canoga Orange Line station and serve more of Warner Center than the current Orange Line route. The shuttle would run every eight minutes during peak periods and every 16 minutes at other times. The shuttle schedule would also minimize the time it takes to transfer to/from the mainline Orange Line at the Canoga Station.

Here are the two proposals being discussed:

The idea with this proposal is to eliminate the use of the big articulated buses in the Warner Center area and instead operate a smaller shuttle that stops more often and will hopefully be of more use for those traveling to and within Warner Center. That’s an important consideration with many on-going and future residential and commercial developments happening in Warner Center and efforts being made to make it more of a work/live/play type place. 

As regular Orange Line riders probably know, the Orange Line’s current route between Canoga Station and Warner Center takes place on surface streets whereas the rest of the Orange Line has its own busway that is separated from regular traffic lanes. As part of its efforts to electrify the line — and make it quieter and a smoother ride — Metro needs to build charging stations at the terminals of the Orange Line. Building those types of facilities is not feasible on the street-section part of the line in Warner Center. So that’s another consideration.

•As part of the shuttle proposal, a ‘shortline’ between North Hollywood and Reseda is proposed for the Orange Line. The reason: ridership drops substantially west of Reseda. In peak periods, service will still be every four minutes from North Hollywood to Reseda, and every eight minutes to Chatsworth with timed connections at Canoga Station to the proposed shuttle.

During mid-day hours, service would be very eight minutes between NoHo and Reseda and every 16 minutes between NoHo and Chatsworth. This reworking of frequencies would save service hours that would be reinvested back into the Warner Center shuttle.

The new Warner Center Shuttle and Reseda Station Shortline proposals will be vetted by Metro’s San Fernando Valley Service Council and other stakeholders. If the shuttle goes forward, it would begin running as part of Metro’s annual service changes in December.

Your thoughts Orange Line riders, potential riders and readers?

34 replies

  1. These are all amazing changes! I’ve also noticed how ridership west of Reseda Station has been low. The proposed shuttle serving Warner Center is a great idea!

  2. The Warner Center DASH was canceled due to low ridership and this shuttle will probably not do much better. It may be better to make sure that existing bus routes that terminate in the vicinity of Warner Center, like the 161, 169, and 750, to relocate serve Canoga and Victory instead, or build a transit center on the underutilized Canoga Station parking lot where Warner Center passengers could transfer to various routes that pass through the area. The problem with the Warner Center Transit Center is that it sits next to the dead Promenade Mall and a building for a headquarters of a corporation that no longer exists. Canoga Station will be home to thousands of residents on the old Rocketdyne site and is within walking distance of Topanga Village.

    Rather than creating an odd mismatch of headways between 12 minute Red Line and 16 minute full length Orange Line service, why not run the entire route every 12 minutes off peak instead? There is less of a need to shortline during middays when capacity can be accommodated with existing vehicles. Midday, evening, and weekend should match the Red Line with any extra shortline trips, based on historic ridership, to run a few minutes ahead or behind the long line bus.

    On the other hand, at least this will eliminate confusion between the unlabeled Orange Line branches, which trip people up when they get sent to Warner Center when they meant to go to Chatsworth or vice versa.

  3. A better idea would be to persuade the City of L.A. DOT finally to give clear priority at traffic signals to the Orange-Line buses, thereby greatly speeding up transit between NoHo and all the stations along the line. This change can be accomplished relatively cheaply and would encourage more SFV travelers to switch from their cars to Metro.

    Replacing the current Orange Line BRT (bus rapid transit) line with a MUCH more expensive light rail line (as Metro is considering) is a terrible idea!

    For example, consider how often service on the various Metro light-rail lines (Expo, Blue, Gold, and Green) has to be halted completely, and even thereafter, often slowed down for an extended period of time–seriously inconveniencing hundreds of passengers on the affected light-rail lines and often producing snow-balling negative effects on other rail lines and the rest of Metro’s system.

    Such breakdowns on Metro’s light-rail lines have been occurring more and more frequently, for many reasons: vehicle traffic accidents that cause track blockages or damage Metro train cars, as well as electrical outages in the power system, track problems, train-malfunctions, etc. Compare the increasing frequency of such light-rail breakdowns with the relative INFREQUENCY of breakdowns on Orange Line buses.

    In addition, consider the minimal negative impact that the breakdown of a single BRT bus will have on other buses on this BRT, as compared to the often disastrous impact of the breakdown of a single light-rail train upon the operation of all the other trains on that line, not to mention upon other parts of Metro’s system.

    One has to conclude that a well-run BRT line (like the Orange Line) is MUCH MORE RELIABLE THAN A LIGHT RAIL LINE–not to mention operationally more flexible and NUCH LESS EXPENSIVE!

    • You have some strong points, but the vantage of rail over buses is capacity, speed, comfort and a much improved riding experience. The breakdowns on the rail lines are poor management and can be improved. The same for the signal priority and slowing for crossings. This can all be improved. But overall just compare the ride quality on the Orange bus to the ride on a LRV.

  4. I didn’t see anything about improving the bicycle capacity when replacing the busses with battery electric ones! I believe there should be a space inside the new busses dedicated to bikes, strollers, etc. The triple racks were just a one more bike per bus, and there should be an enlarged ability for the orange line to handle more.

    • A road trip to Vegas or even San Bernardino would show how BRT can accept more bikes than Metro does now.

  5. “That move also caused buses to miss more green lights because the traffic signals (which are controlled by the city of Los Angeles) were never adjusted to reflect the slower bus speeds.”

    HUH?! Never?! Why?! Now that buses are now going thru intersections at higher speeds are the lights timed up? The working relationship between LADOT and Metro is shameful and incredibly frustrating. I used to ride the old 741 to the Orange line then ride the OL all the way to Warner Center and yea ridership is low, I bet it will be even lower once you go to this shuttle thing.

    Unbelieveable that in 10+ years LADOT and Metro can’t sync up the Orange Line signals. Oh wait yes it is look at the Blue Line 25+ years of crawling thru Long Beach blvd and Flower st. Or the current Expo line where it takes 20 minutes to get from LATCC to Pico.

    • When the Orange Line opened, the signals were in sync with the buses. Cars did run red light and not stop at the limit line and hit the buses. Solution from our micro manage board at the time led by an ex board member. Have all buses come to a complete stop that started the delay.

      Maybe this is the reason the LADOT does little to help public transportation because of how Metro micro-manages things. Not saying that LADOT is not working with Metro, but Expo is a prime example of the problem.

      • So because of other drivers, this became a requirement?? After having to take a trip on the Orange Line yesterday, I must say I’m glad to know some drivers don’t come to a complete stop at the intersections.

        One thing I did notice though, is that one of traffic lights did not turn green until we actually got to the intersection, but it seems the driver knew this so he slowed down enough to where the light turned green without them slowing down completely.

    • YOU re right the relationship between LADOT and the MTA is shameful. Both have new managers within the last year or so. Whit the stakes so high it is urgent that they work together. LADOT is still operating under mid Twentieth Century thinking before we had rail transit. Giving 25 cars with 35 people right of way for a minute instead of giving a train right of way with 300 people for 30 seconds is not how to move people. not cars, but people.

  6. I’d imagine Orange Line ridership west of Reseda will pick up greatly when the line’s connectivity expands not just to the Red Line far way in North Hollywood, but to the (fingers crossed… heavy rail?) line through the Sepulveda Pass to UCLA/LAX. Hopefully that’s taken into account by Metro’s engineers.

  7. Glad to see grade separation in the works. The entire line needs to be grade separated before it turns into rail, otherwise you’ll lose all the advantages of rail and make it even slower when there are crashes between cars and trains. Much easier to move a bus out of the way than a train on a track.

    Thinking really long term (and in fantasy land), once the line becomes rail, it could be split at Victory/Canoga and a grade separated (elevated or underground) branch could stop at Victory/Topanga (serve the malls) and then at Oxnard/Owensmouth (serve Warner Center offices and the new massive redevelopment there).

  8. I think these changes will completely mess up the ridership past Reseda on the Orange Line… People can’t rely on a bus that runs every 16 minutes (Even the number 16 is so bad, every 15 minutes would be a lot better for remembering the timetables by people considering using the Orange Line). That means, even if you start a new Warner CT shuttle, the people won’t use it, because the headway on the Orange Line will be so poor. BRT is built to provide frequent service, and 16 minutes interval is ridiculous! What you need to do is to connect the local bus routes in the vicinity of the underutilised Orange Line stations directly to them. Of course, if those bus routes run every hour, that’s not gonna help at all… You should upgrade the intervals on the local routes, so the Orange Line stations can be accesible by frequent local routes. That’s how the people will get used to take the Orange Line.

  9. I ride the buses from Sherman way and white oak to UCLA in Westwood and weyburn and sometimes I had to go to Santa Monica UCLA. Any plans on doing that too?

  10. I have been riding the Orange Line from NoHo to Warner Center since its inception – and, frankly, it’s terrible. Since the Chatsworth extension opened, the frequency to Warner Center was cut in half – and these shuttle proposals will cut it further. Also, ridership as far as Pierce College/Winnetka is really pretty good – it’s only that last phase, to the horribly confusing Canoga station (where, exactly, do I catch the next bus? The overhead signs are useless), and Warner Center with its reduced frequency. I’ve never been to Chatsworth, but I’m told the parking lots are underused. I have given up on the Orange Line and begun taking LADot Commuter Express to bypass the whole issue (whenever I can meet their limited schedule). Agreed with those who decry the lack of cooperation between Metro and LADOT – there’s no reason a couple of cars should delay a BRT or train (Expo, Blue, Gold) at every single crossing.

    • Last night I waited at the Canoga station from 6:50 PM to 7:16 pm for a North Hollywood bus. I wish it was a 16 minute schedule

  11. I’d personally eliminate the shuttle idea altogether and honestly keep everything as is. If Dash had a similar route like the proposed shuttle and canceled it, that alone should send a message. What I can tell you from past experiences in Warner Center (haven’t been out in years), is the bus frequency out there sucks. I was pretty much stuck walking out there once I arrive. Better to focus on current bus connections instead.

    Really though?? Short Lines?? Yeah, from my experience I can tell you NO ONE likes those. Also, don’t forget that upcoming projects in the valley will eventually result in ridership increase including the Orange Line, including west of Reseda.

  12. We continue to see the competence of the MTA. The Orange bus line dose have a capacity and speed problem and both would be fixed with upgrading to a rail line, but waiting until 2051 seems a bit long. Grade separations could help, but not as much as a rail line. After all this was a rail line converted to a bus line by the MTA in its infinite wisdom.

    They will continue to loose ridership just because of the overall poor experience of riding the cramped rough riding buses.

    Also the idea of ZEB’s seems to make little sense. The best advantage of battery buses is in stop and go traffic with assorted high and low speeds, waits, and many stops. The advantage of a battery bus running at speed with few stops is mostly lost. The highest and best use of battery buses would be on local bus lines in traffic with many stops. The Orange bus line or interurban freeway service is the worst use the MTA could pick for battery buses.

  13. I have to agree with Mr. Fishel. Put hybrid and/or battery buses on street routes. Braking actually recharges battery on most hybrids. Those that don’t are not very intelligently built because that capability is trivial to add to a hybrid system.

    On the other hand, grade separations are crucial to speeding up the Orange Line and turning it into a legitimate Bus Rapid Transit system. Right now, you have a sorry half-measure that has to stop at traffic lights. Crossing tunnels and crossing bridges would basically turn the Orange Line into a freeway for buses only. Definitely build the tunnels and bridges to light rail spec. However, keeping the Orange Line a BRT-lite for a while, building bridges and/or cut-and-cover tunnels could be done piecemeal, and while each grade separation was worked on the buses could divert onto streets briefly. Losing the Orange Line would be horrible for Valley transit connectivity even for a few months. We have to do this in a clever way that preserves the connectivity.

    By the time 2051 (or sooner) rolls around, and all the grade separations are done, putting in track and overhead wiring would be trivial by comparison. Who knows? There might even be a better way to electrically power the light rail that would replace the Orange Line in its true BRT configuration by that time.

    • You are so right – Zev Yaraslovsky, who represented the area, specifically prohibited rail construction.

  14. Eliminating the Warner Center stop would mean that there would be only one Orange Line route route instead of the current two. A Canoga Orange Line station could be used as a shuttle bus only station. The Orange Line buses would only run from Chatsworth to North Hollywood. This would also make it easier to implement bi-articulated 80-foot buses as these would not have to travel on mixed use streets from Canoga Ave to Warner Center.

  15. As a valley denizen this is overall great news! Glad to hear the orange line busway is being taken more seriously lately (and on to LRT conversion)! These will be long overdue improvements. Hopefully there can be some grade separations west of Reseda too as there are often still traffic light delays on this section. I do share others concerns however that the shuttle idea is not terribly well conceived given the proposed 16 minute intervals and the assumption that ridership west of Reseda will somehow remain low despite growth and development nearby as well as existing centers like Pierce College. Additionally, the future connection to the Sepulveda Pass/Van Nuys rail line and possible service improvements on the LOSSAN commuter rail corridor serving Chatsworth station are reasons to expect ridership improvements. There must be other factors not mentioned as to why this pattern currently exists. Is the western end of the orange line busway surrounded more by less transit dependent communities? If so, reducing service on this end would make even less sense as there would be a further disincentive to use said service.

    Even if that isn’t the case, as Dennis Hindman pointed out, it would be a lot simpler to have the service simply be one line and would allow a consistent level of service on the entire Chatsworth to NoHo route (assuming a a well-timed Warner Center shuttle has shorter intervals than proposed). If not, then eventually when this line is converted to LRT, an elevated spur would be welcome for Warner Center. In any case, for LRT, crossing gate preemption at (mostly) 55 mph will be a given since this a railway ROW, eliminating the perceived need for slowdowns at grade crossings as well as a smooth ride and level boarding at stations, which will be great and I imagine travel times will be improved substantially. However, I would hope the Chandler right-of-way segment is not considered “street-running” but given current layout of the left turn lanes here… well… I would think that this can be reconfigured. If not, this segment should be an additional candidate for grade separation to avoid such problems.

    I also think Daily Rider makes good points on rail line delays vs the rerouting ability of buses, however that’s more of a problem of how metro has handled their infrastructure and equipment rather than those issues necessarily being endemic to rail. I have to disagree with the notion though that these issues should preclude LRT conversion. Rather, better overall maintenance and more weather resilient design should increase reliability as well as grade separations to avoid the possibility of accidents.

    • With regard to rail signal preemption – please look at the expo line. There is no rail signal preemption anywhere in LADOT territory, and everything is considered to be street running.

      Also, with regard to eliminating the Warner Center “spur” – the Orange Line began as a Warner Center to North Hollywood line, and as a regular user of that portion of the line, I think it would be a shame to remove it; it’s already almost criminal the way the frequency has been reduced, especially after 7 PM. I think the frequency reduction is a large part of the ridership problem with that portion of the line.

      • Sections of the Expo Line as well as the Gold and Blue lines have Signal Preemption (Crossing Gates) in the LADOT territory. Also the Blue Line along Washington has signal synchronization, some blocks are shorter than the length of the trains.

  16. In my opinion, it seems that the best approach would be to have three different services:

    NoHo-Canoga-Warner Center. After passing the Canoga stop, the bus will be local servicing many stops in the Warner Center area. The bus should travel all over Warner Center, similar to the loop in Option B.

    Chatsworth-Canoga-Warner Center. After passing the Canoga stop, the bus will be local servicing many stops in the Warner Center area. The bus should travel all over Warner Center, similar to the loop in Option B.

    NoHo-Canoga-Chatsworth. Similar to what currently exists. Transfer to other services at Canoga for local access to Warner Center. This service will be relatively infrequent, compared to the other two. The service will brieflly leave the busway to service the Canoga stop.

    The transfer between the three services at Canoga should be as easy as possible. They may have to rebuild the bus stops there so that the transfer can use the same stop (or across platform) and avoid crossing the street as much as possible. If a whole bus center is built here, then it may make sense to route many nearby routes to stop as well: 150/750-Ventura, 161-Thousand Oaks, 164-Victory, 165-Vanowen, 169-Saticoy/Warner Center, 244-De Soto, 245-Topanga Cyn. Essentially, buses can access the bus center from the busway or from Canoga Ave.

    The current situation of having two separate platforms does not work well and makes the transfer difficult.

    And as a general comment: Let’s add a stop at White Oak, this is a noticeable gap in service.

  17. Definitely agree on the frequencies for Warner Center, there was no reason whatsoever for metro to cut those.

    Regarding crossing gate preemption, City controlled traffic signals are technically overridden when the railroad crossings with gates are activated. LADOT or other city DOTs don’t have jurisdiction on these stretches where the corridor is legally considered a “railroad right-of-way”. The section of expo you are referring to is only from the tunnel just before Pico station to just beyond Western station (still a very long segment obviously) and briefly while crossing Crenshaw blvd. (probably due to the right turn lane next to the crossing). The rest of the line is a gated right-of-way when at-grade until it reaches 17th st. in Santa Monica for the last mile. So it really is a matter of where they are inserting the tracks and how much legal buffer space there can be to consider it a proper railway vs. being effectively a streetcar. The only at-grade tracks metro should build are along a private rights-of-way to avoid this problem of “LADOTism”. If it merges into a street or street median or the route requires deviating from the ROW, then go over or under.

  18. The fare isn’t good for commute riders. You give 0 incentive for the business traveler on the orange line. $3.00 a day to go back and forth less than 10 miles I’m just going to use my car. It would cost $60 a month – still cheaper to drive my car with gas and insurance. So instead of half empty buses, give the 9 to 5 business traveler a $40 a month option or distance based on stops.

    Bikes – you only allow 3 a bus – have to wait around all the time for it.

    Disney has successfully operated a monorail in earthquake territory for years. I would rather be 15 to 20 feet above ground than 900 feet under ground. As for specifically the orange line. Make it monorail.
    Elevated platforms and gets it off the street.
    Increased speed and safety
    And to appease the eco fans – the trains and platforms and all sorts of options to put a massive and miles long solar array attached and go completely electric.

    Oh and what dolt didn’t connect the LA River Bike path with the orange line path needs to be fired.

  19. I would like some insight as to the current Orange Line overhead signage where when one end of the line that starts (or ends) at Lankershim-you look up and it says Chatsworth and at Sepulveda waiting for the eastern bound it will say (I believe) North Hollywood. Every stop or station’s opposite or ending or whichever, but doesn’t show when the next bus is arriving at that very stop. Used to where indicated, ‘next bus 3 mins.’ or the like…?