It’s now legal to build light rail in the Valley (Curbed LA)
Gov. Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian that would make it legal to convert the Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley into light rail. The bill reverses the 1991 “Robbins” bill that outlawed light rail along the old Southern Pacific rail right-of-way that would eventually become the Orange Line.
So that’s interesting. Perhaps mostly because it shows how times have changed in the past 23 years. Whereas neighborhoods once upon a time went to great lengths to keep rail projects at bay — and a few still do — many more are actively lobbying for rail projects in their communities.
Coby King of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) says it’s his community’s turn to get a light-rail line that could run north-south from Canoga Park to Chatsworth:
The Metro Orange Line has been a victim of its own success, and is now so overcrowded and slow it has to turn away new passengers. Conversion to light rail is the best option for the Orange Line, with its significantly higher ridership potential and low cost relative to heavy rail and underground subways.
Nazarian himself says that having a train run though the Valley would “lead to greater connectivity to the Red Line and other transportation lines throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.”
There are some mighty tall hurdles to clear for the Orange Line to ever become a rail line. The Metro Board of Directors has not asked for a study of a conversion. Nor is a conversion in Metro’s long-range plan that was adopted by the Metro Board of Directors in 2010. The list of projects in the plan that are both funded and unfunded are below, including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor and the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor:
All that said, a conversion certainly has its advocates in the Valley, which today boasts a population of 1.77 million, according to the Census Bureau. And the Orange Line has certainly proven popular, with almost 30,000 weekday boardings, according to the latest ridership estimates from Metro. The key questions, however, remain unanswered: how many more people could a train carry? Would a train definitely be faster? (the Orange Line currently takes 55 minutes to travel between NoHo and Chatsworth and 45 minutes between NoHo and Warner Center during the morning rush hour.) What is the cost? Where would the funding come from? Assuming money is in limited supply, what’s more important — this or a transit project connecting the Westside and Valley?
The agency has listed 53 properties purchased decades ago by the state in case a surface extension of the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena was ever built. That possibility is gone: Metro is currently studying five alternatives as part of its SR-710 Study including a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit, traffic improvements and the legally-required no-build option. The state owns more than 500 properties in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles — many of which will be sold after the project’s environmental studies are completed.
Who gets to buy the properties? Excerpt:
According to a draft set of rules Caltrans released last month for the sale of the houses, tenants who owned the house before Caltrans bought it through eminent domain will get the first shot. They will be asked to pay a fair market value.
Next in line will be current tenants who have lived in the house for more than two years and qualify as having low to moderate income. Then come tenants who have lived in the house for five years and do not earn more than 150 percent of the area median income, which is $64,800, according to the federal government.
Both of those situations would have the tenant purchase the home at an affordable rate or the “as is” fair market value, which is derived from the comparative home sales.
After that, a public or private affordable housing organization could purchase the home at a reasonable price. Then the current tenant — if they make more than 150 percent of median income or have lived in the house less than 2 years — can buy at fair market value. Last in line are former tenants at fair market value. After that, if the house is still on the market, it will go up for auction for anyone to buy.
The draft environmental study for the project is scheduled to be released in February.
A good overview of the history of the Silver Line bus service that runs between El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway Station using the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 freeways as well as surface streets in downtown Los Angeles.
The post also looks at the issue of too much traffic in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway between Union Station and Cal State L.A. — where there is only one of the tolled lanes in each direction. According to Metro, there has been a marginal reduction in speeds on that segment in recent months (which the agency hopes to correct through by adjusting tolls) although the overall average speed of the ExpressLanes remains above the federally-mandated 45 mph.
Streetsblog also went out and looked at that segment firsthand on several occasions and found:
After hearing from our tipster and from Metro, Streetsblog visited the 10 Freeway ExpressLanes three times. All on rush-hour mornings on weekdays in mid-June 2014. The good news is that there wasn’t any bumper to bumper traffic. The lanes work. Plenty of buses, carpools, and solo drivers were commuting smoothly toward downtown Los Angeles.
The only slowing observed was that transit buses would often develop a “tail” of cars lined up behind them. It appears that buses, driving the speed limit, marginally reduce the speed of other vehicle in the ExpressLanes.
Most likely, the toll lanes are experiencing the dip in traffic congestion that generally occurs in Los Angeles during summer months. Gas prices are generally higher in the summer. Fewer students are commuting to school. Some residents go on vacation. And, lately, according to Mayor Garcetti’s video here, drivers may be playing hooky to watch World Cup soccer.
The comments include some interesting debate about the Silver Line and the ExpressLanes. I’ll echo Streetsblog’s request for any feedback from readers here who use the bus or drive in the ExpressLanes.
Writer Chris Walker argues that he felt safer on a bike in the chaos of the aforementioned cities (and many others in Asia) than he does in L.A. He offers some statistics to back up his argument but much of what he says is anecdotal (not that I entirely disagree with his points). His main point: drivers in L.A. have very, very little regard for cyclists.