Officials discuss motion seeking to improve Orange Line at media event in NoHo

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Three Metro Board Members and other elected officials, activists and business leaders held a media event on Friday morning at the NoHo Orange Line station to discuss the Board’s passage Thursday of a motion calling for feasibility studies of improving the Orange Line and potentially connecting it to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

A video with some nuggets from the media event is above. Sorry about the shaky camera — I left a key piece of my tripod at home 🙁

I’ve had several people ask why is this an issue now and the answer is twofold:

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who represents Van Nuys and the surrounding area, wrote a bill reversing a 1991 bill that banned any kind of rail project on the old Southern Pacific rail corridor that became the Orange Line. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.

•With a potential Metro ballot measure on the horizon in 2016, officials and activists realized that could be an opportunity to fund such a project but that having some studies done would help this effort.

I can’t emphasize enough that the motion only asks Metro to study possible upgrades for the Orange Line. Despite what may be said, at this time no decisions have been made about any possible improvements, nor is such a project funded or in Metro’s long-range plan.

It’s important to note that the Board also on Thursday approved an amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directing Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to its long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying a future ballot measure. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds.

In other words, there is a pecking order in which transit projects are funded at Metro and at present, that order begins with the projects funded in part by Measure R.

There was also a separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian that was approved by the Board that directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. The point of emphasis here: a lot of planning needs to be done and funding needs to be secured for these BRT projects to happen.

Could the Orange Line be converted to a light rail line? That optimism is certainly expressed by some in the above video. And the short answer to the question is yes it’s possible, but but there are many rivers still to cross. A potential 2016 ballot measure could certainly be used to fund new transportation projects, but keep in mind there are still Measure R projects — including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor — that also need additional funding to get built.

All that said, it is refreshing to see people talking about improving something that is already by all accounts, a very busy and popular transit line (in the past two years, there have been several months in which there have been more than 30,000 boardings on the Orange Line). It may turn out that there are ways besides conversion-to-rail to speed up the Orange Line and add capacity. We’ll know more in September when Metro staff and the Board discuss the different types of studies that they could potentially undertake.


15 replies

  1. Chance, State law can be changed if there is a good case, just as it has recently been changed to allow light rail. If the Orange Line effectively has the status of a private road, then much longer vehicles could be allowed provided they can be shown to be safe. The current size of vehicle would still be required where the route goes off the busway to the Warner Centre, but the longer vehicles could be used to Chatsworth. For sure there is a loss of flexibility should a section of the busway be closed, but that’s no different from light rail – both are confined to their route. An order of say 14 long buses at $1.5m each would cost $21m and be sufficient to cover services between Chatsworth and North Hollywood. This could probably double the capacity of the busway. When there is a 5 minute frequency on the Orange Line linked to a 10 minute frequency on the Red Line, the larger buses would be timed to meet the trains, with the smaller current buses 5 minutes later.

    Buses typically last only 10 years. By then, hopefully, funding would be available for its conversion to light rail.

  2. @Chance Buses on the orange line and “signal priority” depends on how you define priority. Buses frequently have to stop and wait at red lights because they miss the bus cycle. If a bus keeps to it’s schedule, it will have priority on the route – the signals are timed to match the timetables – but if a bus falls out of sync, it’ll hit red lights. As we know, there are many reasons why a bus might spend more time at a station than it is timed to.

    At some intersections/stations, such as Reseda and White Oak, there is traffic parallel to the busway. At some point, this traffic must move forward – so, bus there or not, the cycle will change to allow this traffic to go. If a bus rolls up right at the end of it’s cycle, it’s going to have to wait for the next cycle, because now the cross traffic needs to go. Intersections like Reseda are on a timer, and buses simply must make it through the intersection at their allowed “time” in the cycle – they aren’t given priority over cars. LADOT’s attitude is that they aren’t going to change a light or shorten a green cycle because a bus is there.

    Most people consider signal priority to be that, when a bus comes, the light changes – priority of the bus – and this is not the case. Bus there or no bus there, the light for cross traffic will be green for the same amount of time. I’ve sat at many red lights on the Orange line.

  3. In understand that grade separation would be a major construction project, but why aren’t there crossing gates on the Orange Line? After all, if bus rapid transit is “as good as rail” as many of it advocates claim, why wouldn’t one include the gates? We would never have a Metro light rail train without them would we?

  4. Whatever happened to the connection that was supposed to link the orangline and the noho redline? What is the Southern Pacific building thats being renovated to be used for?

    • Hi Jon;

      I’ll try to find out about the pedestrian tunnel between the two. The depot is being rehabbed but last I heard no decision was made about what to use it for.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. @ jake bloo: are you sure buses don’t have signal priority?

    @ Michael M: state law prohibits using bigger buses and even if bigger buses could be used, the standard infrastrucutre couldn’t support them and the buses’ “flexibility” is no longer an argument. So if youre going to build custom infrastructure, why not just go with the better long term choice, rail.

  6. I don’t think the Orange Line should be converted to Light Rail because its doing well the way it is now. The issue with the Orange Line is horrible signal priorities PLUS why were the stations built across the street? Instead of having both platforms opposite from each other, they build it so you have to cross the street. Why didn’t they build the platforms on the closer side of the street? We have to stop at the light, then stop at the station.

    Not addressing that will not make the line faster if converted to light rail.

  7. Let not forget that it was the Valley residents who voted not to allow a rail line in the SFV. Also, the elected officials of the SFV had laws passed to prohibit rail lines in the SFV. To bad for the current residents who would like to have the Orange Line converted to rail but, there are other areas of the County who haven’t got a rail line or a bus line like the Orange Line.

  8. Just like adding more RAM to a computer to speed it up years after purchase, there are ways to speed up the Orange Line that do no involve a complete revamp. Introduce larger buses, signal priority, and the ability to maintain a logical speed through intersections.

    It’s mind boggling that a vehicle holding a single person is given the same priority as a BRT vehicle. Metro needs to be forceful, decisive, and confident because that’s what’s best for the system and the people — even if they’re too scared or selfish to be aware of it.

  9. Will the study include using larger buses ? There are now German-made buses that consist of 3 large articulated sections and hold 300 passengers. If conversion to light rail is still 10 years away (because of other projects higher in the queue), larger buses would enable patronage growth to continue, and make an even stronger case for light rail conversion at that time.

  10. Does this mean Metro Liner Bus Operation of San Fernando Valley is going to be discontinued?

    • Hi Mike;

      No. It just means there will be some studies about ways that the Orange Line can be improved.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  11. […] Now that a bill has passed reversing 1991 legislation banning construction of a rail project on the right of way that became the Orange Line bus rapid transit project, elected officials and other leaders are beginning to call for conversion of the Orange Line to light rail, with an extension to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and on Glendale and Pasadena to connect with the Gold Line. At a Metro board meeting yesterday a motion was passed directing Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects — such as this proposed conversion and extension — to its long range plan, including an amendment that noted some Measure R projects remain underfunded and should be given priority. About the press conference, Move LA’s Denny Zane and Beth Steckler concluded that the press conference evidenced a very collaborative — not competitive — dynamic, and credited Councilmember Krekorian for this. Below are some of the things said at the press conference, which can be viewed here. […]

  12. The San Fernando Valley, seeing other areas of the county get rail instead of inferior and inadequate BRT, would probably frown on voting for any transit ballot measure that didn’t at least move towards an Orange Line upgrade to light rail. I support an upgrade but believe for the good of the region, a rail line connecting Sylmar to LAX would be a higher priority. — at least the section between Metrolink and the Expo Line.

  13. Is this city addicted to raising taxes to solve problems that that’s they all can think of? Why not start making profit on your own and use your own money to build rail. And don’t say it’s impossible to make money off of transit because the Asians are able to do exactly that.