Metro staff report refines the alternatives for East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor

Click through the above slideshow to see maps of the study area and the four alternatives. There is also a PowerPoint with the alternatives and notes at the end of this post.

It’s time to check the progress on another key Measure R project: the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor, which seeks to improve transit service between the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station and Ventura Boulevard, mostly along Van Nuys Boulevard, the second busiest transit corridor in the Valley behind the Orange Line, and the seventh busiest bus line in the entire Metro system.

An earlier Metro study (called an Alternatives Analysis, or AA for short) identified Van Nuys Boulevard as the best corridor for a project and proposed several alternatives to be studied in more detail, including bus rapid transit and light rail.

A new Metro staff report has further refined those alternatives. They are: peak hour bus lanes along the curb of Van Nuys Boulevard, a bus lane in the center of Van Nuys Boulevard, a low-floor tram in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard and a light rail line in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard. A tram is a different form of rail than what we have so far in Los Angeles; trams are similar to surface-running rail systems in San Diego, Portland, Europe and elsewhere and platforms may not be needed.

The report from Metro staff explains the rationale for studying each alternative. Staff is not making any recommendations at this time, just providing an update on the study efforts to the Metro Board of Directors, who are only scheduled to discuss the issue at their round of meetings this month in early December (the item was pulled from this month’s agenda). There is more analysis to come as well as opportunities for public input before a staff recommendation emerges and the Board chooses an option in 2014.

I know there are many Valley residents and customers who have been watching this project closely over the past couple of years. A few points that I think are important to consider:

•There is $170 million currently available in Metro’s long-range plan for the project, which is supposed to open by 2018 according to that plan. The big challenge here is that it will likely be hard to build at least three of the alternatives — median bus lane, median light rail and median tram — for that amount of money. Earlier estimates ranged from $250 million to more than $2 billion for those alternatives. The estimates were very preliminary and will be further refined as the study proceeds. Knowing more about what the project would be might — stress MIGHT — allow Metro to pursue other funding sources.

•That means that eventually there will be a clear choice to be made eventually by the Metro Board: pursue a less-expensive project that can be built this decade, delay the project for a pricier alternative to be built later, or build something now and also pursue something else in the future

•All four alternatives are being considered for Van Nuys Boulevard between the Orange Line and San Fernando Road. Why?

The first reason is that the bulk of the transit ridership in the corridor is north of the Orange Line. This is also where current bus service experiences the most delays.

The second reason is more complicated. The study area for this project also overlaps with the study area for the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, which seeks to improve transit in a corridor that runs from the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station all the way to Los Angeles International Airport.

That project is still early in the planning stages and Metro is looking at a number of possible alternatives ranging from a bus lane along the 405 freeway to a possible rail and toll road tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass. As a result, any kind of dedicated rail or bus lane alternative between Ventura Boulevard and the Orange Line will be looked at in the Sepulveda Pass study.

And there’s a third reason: San Fernando Road isn’t wide enough to accommodate a a bus-only lane or rail line. There may not be room to widen the street because of the pending high-speed rail project which may be built in the rail corridor along San Fernando Road.

For all those reasons, the East San Fernando project is concentrating on building something with a dedicated right-of-way between the Orange Line and San Fernando Road. The low-floor tram and two bus lane alternatives could continue beyond these points in mixed-flow traffic. The light rail alternative would be supported by feeder bus service.

•The draft environmental study for this project on Van Nuys Boulevard is due to be complete in 2014 and then the final environmental study will commence.

Questions? Thoughts? Comment please!

ESFV Planning and Prog (2)

Categories: Projects

25 replies

  1. There is a easy and economical way to bring rapid transit back to Southern Calif. Use the prior right of ways granted to the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway. Most of it sits untouched except for trees and grass through out Los Angeles. Where ever you see a street that is divided with a medium your looking at old right of way. The second step would be to avoid expensive construction methods and revert to the basics. It took Henry Huntington 6 months to construct the Long Beach Line from Los Angeles to Long Beach over the same right of way that the Blue Line uses today. However it took the L.A.C.T.C. three years to complete the same task. I always assumed modern methods were more efficient but I guess not at the MTA.

  2. I think this is all good news for the possibility of LRT.

    Another reason the length of the project was probably shortened (in addition to the above) was to reduce the project’s budget. That way, if LRT were somehow chosen, the project would only cost hundreds of millions rather than billions.

    A mostly street-running Van Nuys Blvd. rail line should certainly be feasible for under $1 billion. Further reducing the budget would be fewer stations than on the graphic, as ten is too many. Only *eight* are really needed – Aetna/Orange Line, Sherman Way, Van Nuys Metrolink, Panorama Mall, Nordoff, Woodman, Arleta, and San Fernando.

    The problem, of course, is that it will become yet another L.A. rail line that stops curiously short of major destinations (Ventura Blvd. to the south, Metrolink to the north, though the latter could be fixed with a new Metrolink station on the Antelope Valley Line at Van Nuys Blvd.).

  3. Lorenzo – is gold standard BRT actually any cheaper than LRT? My understanding is that the actual tracks and trains aren’t the real expense for LRT, but rather all the construction that makes it function to the gold standard, like enclosed stations, full crossing priority or grade separation, and so on.

  4. I would normally say that BRT is much better than a tram, but they seem to have defined these things in weird ways. Even the supposedly “similar to Orange Line” “BRT” is said to have 25 stops in 6.7 miles, which is nothing like the Orange Line at all. That’s not even like the 720 bus on Wilshire – it’s like the 20. They really shouldn’t be tying discussion of the technology involved to discussion of how many stops will be there. There’s no reason a BRT couldn’t use the stop spacing they list for the LRT option. (For that matter, you could have a tram with quarter mile stop spacing too, though the capital expense of anything getting dedicated right-of-way makes it more obvious that you actually care about speed and frequency, and not just the existence of the line on the map.)

  5. People seem to assume that if the MTA is studying various alternatives then they must have the ability to get the money to build any of them. And since the ticket price will be the same for any of the alternatives, then why not pick the most expensive one to build.

    The MTA is required to study various alternatives, but that does not mean that there is a reasonable expectation that it can be built within the financial constraints of only having $170 million to work with.

  6. The rest of the world gets to have better things like true rail while we sink into third world status with BRTs. Sad.

  7. I’d take BRT if it was gold-standard BRT. I went to a community meeting this year but forgot to mention this while mentioning how much I wanted an LRT approach. However, seeing as the cost is just too much, can’t we just get the gold standard BRT that was supposed to be the Orange Line? Actual level platforms, enclosed entrances with turnstiles, like Curitiba? Maybe even crossing gates for the congested intersections so the bus won’t have to slow down and will always be given priority. Every time I ride the Orange Line, I think about how the sidewalk could just be a couple inches higher so that we could just walk on board instead of having to jump up half a foot just to board in the back.

  8. I picture Homer Simpson saying “BRT, it almost as good as Light Rail!” So sad. There appears to be no other option. The SFV blew it years ago(with the Orange Line), and this is the result of it.

  9. What runs in Portland (“MAX”) and San Diego (“Trolley”) is NOT a “different form of rail”. It is Light Rail built without high-platforms, something Los Angeles (and St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton; San Francisco went with retractable steps) chose not to do in order to facilitate ADA compliant access and easy boarding in the years before Low-Floor Light Rail Cars were available in North America. In fact San Diego’s original Düwag U2 cars are the exact same ones Calgary and Edmonton use, except that San Diego’s have steps to climb into their high floors, while the Calgary and Edmonton U2s need platforms, and could run on the existing Los Angeles LRT lines.

  10. The tram option is not bad because it reduces the number of bus transfers needed. As a free-standing entity the use of a new mode is not a handicap.

  11. I think this ESFV report is well considered and hopefully driving Metro toward a cheap short-term solution while another study prepares for the future of the same area. Ironically, it is the super success of the Orange Line that makes BRT a bad choice; it too quickly hits capacity. That leaves bus improvements or a rail solution. LRT is attractive due to capacity, but it might be counter-productive to commit to it at this point. Here’s why. Currently, the Sepulveda Pass corridor study, projects daily rail ridership is in the 90-100K range. That is HRT-level demand, and on par with the ridiculously overcrowded Blue LRT Line. It seems Metro is already considering this as evidenced by their dedicating Van Nuys below the Orange Line to the Sepulveda Pass study. Thus, an HRT line and an orphan ESFV LRT line would create a tri-modal transfer station at the Orange Line. A better solution would allow for a Sepulveda HRT southward of Orange and build bus improvements northward which could easily accommodate a potential HRT extension to Van Nuys Metrolink. In the meantime we’d have a nice long, more efficient bus line where right-of-way is a constraint anyway.

  12. Wow, MTA almost matched my exact suggestions !! . Build he center segment and a maintenance base. See what happens on the north end with HSR and ML. Prep the south end to extend under Sepulveda Pass towards LAX. So this can only mean one thing, it won’t happen !!! 🙂

  13. Anybody else notice that the tram in the picture does not have overhead catenary wiring? Light-rail in LA does and this gives it a much less attractive appearance.

    Installing a tram on the Orange Line should be a strong contender for a future upgrade since the buses run in mixed traffic from Canoga Ave to the Warner Center and the tracks can be installed without removing the existing BRT roadway. Unfortunately, just like Van Nuys Blvd, there is no money to make a change like that. There is also the state law that bans light-rail on a section of the Orange Line. This would require a tunnel to be built. That also would increase its cost considerably.

    One of the problems with using buses on the Orange Line is that there are more people crossing the street after exiting the subway train than each bus can carry. One tram would be able to handle the passenger load at this station. Then again, the MTA could decide to have two buses load at the same time at this station. That would solve this problem without increasing costs substantially. The added bus could turn onto Burbank Blvd at Colfax Ave to reach Van Nuys Blvd to eliminate platooning.

    Buses have the advantage of flexibility over rail. If a road needs repair or a bus breaks down, the following buses can be rerouted or drive around the stopped buses.

  14. The proposed configurations for the dedicated bus or rail down the median of Van Nuys Blvd would effectively eliminate any possibility of creating a continuous bikeway due to the width requirement of the transit stations.

    Riding a bicycle in front of cars or buses on a busy street is beyond the stress level that most potential bike riders are willing to tolerate. Any link within a route that goes beyond the tolerance for stress for a bike rider will either cause them to find another route or choose another form of transportation.

    Van Nuys Blvd needs to be multi-modal. Getting more mobility or accessibility to that area should be the focus, not just about improving one or two types of transportation to the detriment of others.

  15. I hate to be the naysayer here, but I like the curbside bus! It’d be quick and easy to build and would go the whole route. My only comment is that the lane should be a mixed bus/bike line. It would really make for a fantastic way to travel north-south across the valley like the Orange Line does for east-west. People need short term solutions, IMHO. Nothing wrong with buses. Let’s get some electric buses and show the world how to do it!

  16. Bus only lanes was tried previously on Wilshire Bl. between Centinella and Veteran/ San Vicente in West Los Angeles. It was abandoned and being reinvented along that corridor at millions of dollars. Why millions of dollars to post signs and paint lines in the street is beyond me. The original segment was police intensive to keep it clear of auto’s using the lanes in bumper to bumper traffic which generated many tickets everyday but unknown how many were upheld in the courts. I have noticed that Sunset Bl. between Figueroa and Stadium Wy is now posted buses only I’m guessing to help both regular bus service proceed in the heavy traffic when the Dodgers play and move the Dodger Stadium bound buses up to the ball park. That segment seems to work from what I have observed. How much it cost is unknown.

  17. The “tram” and the bus options are not viable long-term solutions. In my opinion they are of negligible benefit even in the near-term. This project should be designed as LRT. Build the first section from the Orange Line up to the Van Nuys Metrolink station for $400M (roughly 1/5 the length of the original 11.6 mile line estimated to cost $2B.) Metro should be able to find $230M federal dollars to match the $170M already set aside by Measure R.

  18. Since this project might be combined with the Sepulveda Pass project wouldn’t the Light Rail make more sense since this line is suppose to go from SFV to LAX? Could a tram system handle the distance from the SFV to LAX?

  19. If we take any option other than LRT, it will be an obsolete nuisance in the (probably not-too-distant) future. The Orange Line was a mistake, but that will likely have to wait a long time to get corrected. The lesson is clear: pay what it costs to do it right the first time or don’t do it at all.
    As for the tram, the last thing that we need is yet another distinct form of rail cluttering an already disjointed system. If light rail is implemented, yes, it will be isolated at first, but then that will also certainly increase the political will to extend the system out to meet it. That is apparently the tack that L.A. will have to take in order to get a cohesive comprehensive rail transit system.

  20. Steve, you did not point out that the length of this project has been shortened from over 12.5 miles to 6.7 miles. That is HUGE.

    Additionally, comparing the San Diego Trolley to a tram is an injustice (at best) since it has it’s own right of way, including grade separations, aerial stations (Qualcomm Stadium and Mission Valley for example) and the Trolley is larger than the LRT vehicles on Metro’s own Expo or Blue lines, and more like the Red Line.

    Also, the curb running BRT alternative HAD been ruled out as an option and now it has mysteriously reappeared apparently because Metro could fund that option now.

    Prior public meetings had acknowledged that that option was gone and now Metro has claimed that despite their OWN previous comments this is what should be considered. Metro’s report states that the public wants LRT. Now Metro is changing the rules of the game in the middle of the third quarter. What use were the public meetings?

    It is moves like this that will make Metro skeptics and hatters unite.

  21. From the list of options, anything other than light rail would be a total waste of time and money.

    Enough of these vanity projects, no one is going to get out of their cars for a tram that’s even slower than a bus.

    And BRT is not long term planning. Look at the Orange Line, its already hitting capacity.

    Besides, LA has a history of tossing out trams when convenient.

  22. I thought a Tram was a streetcar, and the streetcar was dismissed as a viable option for this route.

    I would have liked to see Metro combine the ESFVTC and the Sepulveda Pass project into one. I’m still not sure what non-political reason Metro had for creating the two separate projects.