Tag Archives: San Fernando Valley

LACMTA Valley Bus Ridership – September 2016

Here’s our fourth update on ridership on some of the main bus routes in the San Fernando Valley. As a reminder, for north-south corridors, we have San Fernando, Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and Reseda; for east-west, Ventura, Sherman, Roscoe, and Nordhoff.

For more detail on the sausage-making involved in converting routes that cover multiple corridors to a number for a single arterial road, see the first post.

Here’s the raw data. As always, highlighted cells represent top 10 ridership months since January 2009. All routes put up their best months in the 2009-2010 period; this may be due to the recession reducing car ownership.

valley-raw-201609

Here are the 12-month rolling averages for weekdays.

valley-wk-201609

Saturday and Sunday 12-month rolling averages largely reflect weekday trends, as shown below. The previously noted uptick in Reseda ridership on weekends has reversed.

valley-sa-201609valley-su-201609

As discussed previously, the configuration of rapid routes on Van Nuys was changed in late 2014. Route 761, a rapid that went from Van Nuys in the Valley through Sepulveda Pass to UCLA in Westwood, was eliminated. At the same time, Route 734, the Sepulveda rapid, was extended from its previous terminus in Sherman Oaks through Sepulveda Pass to Westwood. Rapid service on Van Nuys was replaced with Route 744, a U-shaped route on Van Nuys, Ventura, and Reseda. An express rapid service, Route 788, serving the northern part of Van Nuys and connecting to the Orange Line, then running express on the 405 to Westwood, was also created.

LACMTAmap-2012LACMTAmap-2016

Here is the breakdown of weekday ridership on Van Nuys and Sepulveda by local and rapid on each corridor, and total local and total rapid on the two corridors combined.

valley-vns-201609

Since a longer time has passed, we can now also start to look at the 12-month rolling averages.

valley-vns-12mo-201609

The rapid route shuffle seems to have not had much impact on overall ridership trends. Weekday local ridership had already begun to trend down when the shuffle took place.

In contrast, it seems possible that weekend ridership has suffered. While Route 761 ran on weekends, Route 734 never has, and this was not changed when 761 was eliminated. Route 744 runs on weekends, but Route 788 does not; thus on weekends there is now no rapid service from the Valley to the Westside.

valley-vns-sa-201609

Again, we are speculating, but it appears that with the elimination of 761, riders who couldn’t cancel their trips and had no other option to get from the Valley to the Westside shifted to the Sepulveda local route, 234, producing a sudden jump in ridership. The increase in local ridership was smaller than the drop in rapid ridership, so overall ridership has trended down. However, the background trend has been a decline in ridership, so while possible, it is cannot be said with any certainty that the rapid route shuffle caused a decline.

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LACMTA Valley Bus Ridership Update – January 2016 Edition

Here’s our third update on ridership on some of the main bus routes in the San Fernando Valley. As a reminder, for north-south corridors, we have San Fernando, Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and Reseda; for east-west, Ventura, Sherman, Roscoe, and Nordhoff.

For more detail on the sausage-making involved in converting routes that cover multiple corridors to a number for a single arterial road, see the first post.

Here’s the raw data. As always, highlighted cells represent top 10 ridership months since January 2009. All routes put up their best months in the 2009-2010 period; this may be due to the recession reducing car ownership.

valley-raw-201601

Here are the 12-month rolling averages for weekdays.

valley-Wk-201601

Saturday and Sunday 12-month rolling averages largely reflect weekday trends, as shown below. The only interesting countertrend is an uptick in Reseda over weekends.

valley-Sa-201601

valley-Su-201601

The configuration of rapid routes on Van Nuys was changed in late 2014. Route 761, a rapid that went from Van Nuys in the Valley through Sepulveda Pass to UCLA in Westwood, was eliminated. At the same time, Route 734, the Sepulveda rapid, was extended from its previous terminus in Sherman Oaks through Sepulveda Pass to Westwood. Rapid service on Van Nuys was replaced with Route 744, a U-shaped route on Van Nuys, Ventura, and Reseda. An express rapid service, Route 788, serving the northern part of Van Nuys and connecting to the Orange Line, then running express on the 405 to Westwood, was also created.

LACMTAmap-2012

LACMTA Valley bus service, 2012

LACMTAmap-2016

LACMTA Valley bus service, 2016

In our last post, we speculated that the change may have had a negative impact on ridership on the Van Nuys corridor. A closer look shows that this is probably not the case for weekday ridership. Here is the breakdown of ridership on Van Nuys and Sepulveda by local and rapid on each corridor, and total local and total rapid on the two corridors combined.

valley-VNS-201601

valley-VNSzoom-201601

Note that we are using monthly data here, not the rolling 12-month averages, because we want to see the impact of a change to bus service at a discreet point in time, and the rolling averages will obscure that effect.

The reconfiguration of rapid routes at the end of 2014 resulted in a sudden one-time adjustment in the distribution of rapid ridership. We can’t know which riders switched to which routes for sure, but it appears that 761 riders that had been boarding on the Sepulveda portion of the route quickly switched to 734, with total rapid ridership on Sepulveda remaining relatively constant. Riders that had been boarding 761 on Van Nuys seem to have quickly switched to 788, with total rapid ridership on Van Nuys also relatively constant. The large drop in ridership has mostly come from local routes. This is consistent with what we saw on the Westside bus routes.

In stark contrast, the large drop in ridership on the Van Nuys corridor appears to be directly related to the reconfiguration of rapid routes.

valley-VNS-Sa-201601

While Route 761 ran on weekends, Route 734 never has, and this was not changed when 761 was eliminated. Route 744 runs on weekends, but Route 788 does not; thus on weekends there is now no rapid service from the Valley to the Westside.

Again, we are speculating, but it appears that with the elimination of 761, riders who couldn’t cancel their trips and had no other option to get from the Valley to the Westside shifted to the Sepulveda local route, 234, producing a sudden jump in ridership. However, 744 appears to be less useful to riders than 761 was, because the increase in local ridership was less than the drop in rapid ridership that occurred with the cancelation of 761. The net result is that while total local ridership on Van Nuys and Sepulveda on Saturdays has remained relatively constant, total rapid ridership was reduced by over 50% almost instantly.

This strongly suggests that weekend rapid service between the Valley and the Westside was useful to many riders, and Metro should consider restoring it.

LACMTA Bus Ridership Update – San Fernando Valley May 2015

Here’s our second update on ridership on some of the main bus routes in the San Fernando Valley. As a reminder, for north-south corridors, we have San Fernando, Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and Reseda; for east-west, Ventura, Sherman, Roscoe, and Nordhoff.

For more detail on the sausage-making involved in converting routes that cover multiple corridors to a number for a single arterial road, see the first post.

Here’s the raw data. As always, highlighted cells represent top 10 ridership months since January 2009. All routes put up their best months in the 2009-2010 period; this may be due to the recession reducing car ownership.

valley-raw-201505

Here are the 12-month rolling averages for weekdays.

valley-Wk-201505

Saturday and Sunday 12-month rolling averages largely reflect weekday trends, as shown below. The only interesting countertrend is an uptick in Reseda over weekends.

valley-Sa-201505

valley-Su-201505

The only structural change that would be affecting ridership in the Valley is the adjustment of the rapid routes serving Reseda, Ventura, Van Nuys, and Sepulveda in late 2014. Prior to the change, the Van Nuys rapid route extended through Sepulveda Pass to Westwood, and the Sepulveda and Reseda rapid routes ended in Sherman Oaks. This was changed to the Sepulveda rapid route extending through the pass, with the Reseda and shortened Van Nuys rapid routes linked up into a single U-shaped route on Reseda, Ventura, and Van Nuys.

From the point of abstract geometry, it might appear to make more sense for the Sepulveda route to extend through the pass, but Van Nuys is by far the best bus corridor in the Valley. It is impossible to say if the recent sharp decline on Van Nuys is due to the network reconfiguration, but the change does not appear to have helped. Note that it is possible that the decline on Van Nuys has been over-exaggerated by the method of apportioning route ridership to corridors, but no other corridor has seen an anomalous gain in ridership, so some corridor is losing riders even if it’s not Van Nuys.

Stay tuned for Metrolink.

Rethinking Metrolink, Part 1

Last summer, after struggling for a few months to try to write something productive about Metrolink, I decided to just listen to ridership data and media stories for a while. Ridership data has not been good; with the exception of the Inland Empire – Orange County Line, all lines have been steadily losing ridership. The malfunctions of ticket-vending machines have been well chronicled, as have the agencies troubles with equipment and its finances.

The first order of business is putting the house in order. That means getting finances and maintenance squared away, so that trains run on time and passengers can pay their fares. The second issue is a bit more meta: what is Metrolink, how does it relate to the geography of development in Southern California, and how can that be improved? The latter issue is the one set before us today.

SoCal Commuter Rail

Conceptually, Metrolink is no different than traditional East Coast US commuter rail systems such as those in Boston (MBTA), New York (Metro North, LIRR, NJT), and Philadelphia (SEPTA). These networks are designed to convey relatively well-off white collar workers from suburbs to a single dominant central business district in the morning and then back in the evening. As such, they are typified by very peaky service, that is, service is quite frequent towards the CBD on weekday mornings and towards the suburbs on weekday evenings, and very infrequent or non-existent at other times.

This is a poor route and service structure for Southern California. Metrolink is arranged to bring people to downtown LA in the morning and home in the afternoon, but downtown LA is just one of many business districts in greater LA. Its traditional industries, government and finance, have seen slow or no job growth. Office vacancy is higher than on the Westside, and downtown’s boom has been almost entirely residential – people who obviously don’t need to get downtown in the morning, because they’re already there! To complicate things, LA Union Station is on the very fringe of downtown, requiring a transfer to the Red/Purple Line to access the business district.

In contrast to East Coast cities, LA is polycentric. This creates both challenges and opportunities for a rail service like Metrolink. Peer systems in regions that also have major business districts outside of the central city would include:

  • Caltrain, which serves both a traditional downtown in SF and a significant reverse commute to Silicon Valley.
  • Paris RER, which serves an enormous peripheral business district (La Defense) that puts Century City to shame.
  • Seoul, which has numerous business districts both in the city proper (such as Yongsan, Gangnam, and Jongno) and outside (such as Incheon and Songdo). Seoul also has truly integrated subway and commuter rail lines like Line 1, baffling many a US observer.

What Lines Does Metrolink Have?

Metrolink’s lines have different characteristics, both amongst themselves and from many other commuter rail lines. The lines currently operated by Metrolink are as follows:

  • Ventura Line: this line travels from downtown LA past Glendale and Burbank, then through the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. Its entire route is shared with Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, which runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. There are some daily freight trains on the line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Antelope Valley Line: this line travels from downtown LA, sharing track with the Ventura Line past Glendale and Burbank, north through the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita. It crosses the San Gabriel Mountains through Soledad Pass to the Antelope Valley communities of Palmdale and Lancaster. Again, there are some daily freight trains on the line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • San Bernardino Line: this line travels east from downtown LA through the San Gabriel Valley and southwest San Bernardino County to San Bernardino. Freight traffic is minimal on this line, consisting almost entirely of local service.
  • Riverside Line: this line travels east from downtown LA through the City of Industry, Ontario, and northwest Riverside County to Riverside. This is UP’s Los Angeles Subdivision, which together with UP’s Alhambra Subdivision serves over 50 freight trains per day, including both long distance and local traffic.
  • 91 Line: this line travels southeast from downtown LA to Fullerton, then east and northeast to Riverside and San Bernardino. Freight volumes are between 40 and 50 trains per day from LA to Fullerton, increasing to nearly 70 trains per day between Riverside and the infamous, and now defunct, Colton Crossing.
  • Orange County Line: this line shares track with the 91 Line from downtown LA to Fullerton, and then runs southeast through Orange County all the way to Oceanside. There is some freight traffic south of the split with the 91 Line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Inland Empire – Orange County Line: this line runs from Riverside to Oceanside, almost entirely on the same track as the 91 Line and Orange County Line.

The freight volumes on the Riverside Line and 91 Line are an unusual condition for a commuter rail operation. Most East Coast lines don’t compete with freight volumes anywhere near this high. The comparable lines would be Chicago Metra’s UP West, BNSF, and Heritage Corridor Services. Impressively, the UP West and BNSF Lines provide at least hourly service (with a few exceptions) from early morning to late night, even to shockingly low density places like Elburn and La Fox. These lines have many areas of triple track, with more planned, but freight congestion is apparently still an issue. The Heritage Corridor runs only three round trips per day.

What Areas Does Metrolink Serve?

Metrolink serves many different parts of the region, with different travel demand and therefore differing transit needs. As I see it, the Metrolink service region can be broken down as follows:

  • Ventura County: located too far for commuting to downtown LA to generate high ridership. Simi Valley has less than 400 boardings, and Moorpark less than 250. Stations further west do not even achieve 100. These stations can probably be adequately served by improved Pacific Surfliner service and perhaps some express bus.
  • Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley: the three Santa Clarita stations combined pull about 1,000 riders, but Santa Clarita doesn’t have a central business area that could serve as an anchor. The stations are not in particularly dense areas and function as park-and-ride style transit. The Antelope Valley stations are much further away, with each having less than 400 boardings. With the expansion of HOV lanes on the 14 and the 5, many of these riders could be served by peaky transit express bus, which both Santa Clarita Transit and Antelope Valley Transit already operate in direct competition with Metrolink. (Plus, Lancaster Mayor R Rex Parris is not exactly Metrolink’s best friend.)
  • San Fernando Valley: given that the Valley is mostly relatively dense suburbs, the Metrolink stations there achieve appallingly low ridership. Why would you get on Metrolink at Van Nuys, where there are only 22 round trips per day, and pay $7.25 one way when the same trip on Metro services would cost $1.75 with much more frequent services? High-cost infrequent commuter rail is not the right type of service for the Valley; service here should run on rapid transit schedules with rapid transit fares.
  • Burbank Airport – Irvine corridor: this is the highest intensity corridor served by Metrolink, including Burbank, Glendale, downtown LA, and the major Orange County cities (Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Irvine). The curveball is that the heart of the corridor – downtown LA to Fullerton – happens to be BNSF’s main line from the ports to the rest of America. It serves high freight volumes and is abutted by large industrial zones. Thus, while the portion north of LA might be appropriate for rapid transit frequencies, the southern portion isn’t, because abutting land use doesn’t support it and freight traffic won’t allow it. However, the entire corridor is suitable for regional rail service. As Paul Druce of Reason Rail has noted elsewhere, the reverse commute potential on this corridor is just as strong as the normal direction.
  • San Gabriel Valley and San Bernardino County: the western San Gabriel Valley is similar to the San Fernando Valley, and might warrant rapid transit frequency. Further east, the San Bernardino Line continues through established suburbs to San Bernardino, a major node in the Inland Empire. With decent anchors at both ends and a minor node at Claremont in the middle, the San Bernardino Line should warrant relatively frequent service.
  • City of Industry & Riverside Line: the Industry station gets about 1,000 boardings per day, though this is a 30% decline from 2010. This is sort of a super express to downtown LA since there’s only one stop in between. None of the other stations on the line achieve inspiring ridership. However, the lack of HOV lanes on the 60 west of the 605 suggests that it would be hard to replicate this service with bus.
  • Corona – San Bernardino Corridor: this corridor parallels the 91 and the 215, two congested Riverside County freeways. Corona is a minor node, and Riverside is a major business district for the Inland Empire. The density along the corridor isn’t bad, but it’s much shallower than the San Bernardino Line, thanks to anti-development cities like Norco, Jurupa Valley, and Riverside. This corridor is suitable for regional rail, though not with the same level of service as Burbank – Irvine.
  • South Orange County: south of Irvine, Orange County development is similar to Santa Clarita and much of Ventura County in that there aren’t any major business nodes. The stations get relatively low ridership, with less than 400 in Laguna Niguel, and less than 200 in San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. Oceanside gets a surprising amount of ridership, perhaps due to connections to Sprinter and Coaster services. However, this region could probably be served by improved Pacific Surfliner service.

Missing Links

If you want to run rapid transit style services in the San Fernando Valley and western San Gabriel Valley, you don’t want to dead-end them in downtown LA, because it would result in unbalanced demand. So what would you connect them to? There are lots of good options to be discussed; here’s one:

  • Chatsworth – Santa Ana: the existing out-of-service rail corridor between downtown LA and Santa Ana is high on the Measure R2 wish list; connecting it to the Chatsworth to downtown LA service would balance the line. This line would relieve the Orange Line in the Valley, and provide transit to dense cities like Maywood, Bell, Cudahy, and the Gateway Cities. This would be the highest priority.
  • Sylmar – Long Beach: this would overlap with the Chatsworth – Santa Ana service from Burbank to Paramount. The northern section would provide frequent service to San Fernando, while the southern section would help relieve the Blue Line. This would be the second priority.
  • Purple Line to El Monte: this would balance the Purple Line and provide a one seat ride from the San Gabriel Valley to the Westside. It would be the most technically challenging expansion. While the first two lines could be built with standard DMUs (or future EMUs) compatible with other equipment on the liens, Purple Line vehicles have different dimensions that would complicate design. Such an option would have to be accomplished by rerouting Metrolink regional rail to the Alhambra Subdivision from downtown LA to El Monte, or with a technological trick like platform extenders.
  • Conceptual Red Line extensions: these don’t involve the Metrolink lines, but are shown for discussion. An extension north would connect to the Sylmar – Long Beach Line. An extension southeast would provide rapid transit to East LA, Montebello, Pico Rivera, and Whittier. If north-south rapid bus services were implemented on major roads like Atlantic or Lakewood, they would offer transfers to this line, eliminating need for transfers to the LA – Fullerton section of the regional rail line.

Combine this with a couple north-south transit routes on the Westside and in the Valley, like say Reseda/Lincoln Blvds and Van Nuys/Sepulveda Blvds, and you’ve got a pretty solid rapid transit network for Los Angeles.

Regional Rail Services

San Fernando to Irvine is the obvious main corridor for regional rail. That leaves a set of three lines – San Bernardino, Riverside, and 91 – that don’t lend themselves easily to through-routing. C-shaped routes tend to perform poorly because the potential to serve trips passing through the central area is very low. Again, there are many options; here’s one:

  • Through-route the San Bernardino Line and 91 Line into the second regional rail line. Yes, this creates a very tight C, almost a closed loop. This could be mitigated by various means, explored in part 2.
  • Do what you will with the Riverside Line – replace with express bus or keep running it as a super express, whatever you see fit. There’s no reason it has to provide the same frequency or fare structure as the other lines.

The Reveal

At long last, here’s a map of all this:

//widgets.scribblemaps.com/sm/?d=true&z=true&l=true&mc=true&lat=34.05375653600599&lng=-118.0717533218384&vz=10&type=road&width=700&height=550&id=MetrolinkRT-B

I drew this in Scribble Maps, my first time using that tool. I’m curious what people think. It’s relatively easy to draw, add text labels, and edit things, but the text labels don’t scale when you zoom out, so it’s hard to see everything all at once.

Here’s a more conventional map of this improvement, drawn in my old friend AutoCAD. The regional rail lines are shown in tan, Pacific Surfliner in Amtrak blue. Where the routes overlap, blue is shown on top of tan. All other lines are subway, light rail, or BRT, as you like it.

regrail3

I’ve also thrown in proposals from some other posts (Westside transit, more Green Line stations) to give an idea of what this all looks likes together.

Scheduling

The rapid transit service would obviously run with low headways, so there’s not much to say there. The regional rail component is where it gets interesting. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at different options for the regional rail lines.

Sepulveda Pass and LAX Transit

Since both of these topics have been in the news a lot lately, it’s about time for a look at north-south transit on the Westside.

Sepulveda Pass in Context

Before we start laying out transit lines, we need to understand the urban context of the area in question. This is especially important for rail transit and other high capital cost projects, because bad decisions will haunt us for a really long time. So…

First, in terms of network design, Sepulveda Pass is a world-class bottleneck, right up there with San Francisco Bay and the Hudson & East Rivers. Your reaction to that, might be, “well, duh”, but we need to realize the implications for network design. Jarrett Walker goes into more detail in Chapter 4 of Human Transit but the chief points here are that (a) more deviation from straight routes is acceptable at bottlenecks and (b) bottlenecks are natural locations for transfers between parallel transit lines.

Second, in terms of engineering and cost, Sepulveda Pass is a very challenging and expensive area. We’re looking at a 7-mile tunnel from Westwood to Sherman Oaks, hundreds of feet deep in the middle. Vertical access between the tunnel ends is difficult at best for ventilation, and impossible for a station or emergency exit. This suggests that within the current planning time frame, we’re only going to get one shot at transit through Sepulveda Pass, so we’d better do it right and get a ton of capacity out of it. In 106 years, New York has managed to build only seven crossings of the Hudson, to connect all of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, & Queens with all of New Jersey.

Therefore, any tunnel through Sepulveda Pass should serve multiple transit lines on both sides, and provide as much capacity as possible. The stations at each end will be natural transfer points between the lines. It doesn’t make sense to go to the expense of building a tunnel that long if all it’s going to serve in the Valley is one LRT line on Van Nuys. The tunnel should serve at least two lines on both sides, and probably more. We don’t have to actually build all of the lines right away; the important thing is that the piece from Westwood to Sherman Oaks is built properly at the outset. This is probably a great location for one of Alon Levy’s large diameter TBM tunnels, with four tracks running from Westwood to Sherman Oaks, since there won’t be any stops in between.

This also means that the tunnel should serve rail traffic exclusively and have no auto lanes. In addition to having a lower capacity, auto lanes have much heavier requirements for ventilation. There’s also the question of what facilities auto lanes would connect to at each end, since it’s not like there’s a ton of spare capacity kicking around on the 405, the 10, and the 101. (Note: you could argue for a bus tunnel, using dual-mode buses, with exclusive lanes on arterials for the rest of the lines. I’m not going to get into a bus vs. rail analysis here, since the quality of the ROW is more important than the technology.)

Transit Lines Through Sepulveda

Now that we’ve established what the facility through Sepulveda Pass should look like, we can lay out some transit lines to go through it. In my mind, the logical candidates for north-south transit in the Valley are Reseda, Sepulveda (Valley section), Van Nuys, and maybe Balboa. (Anything east of Van Nuys, at least IMHO, is a future north-south line to connect to La Cienega.) There’s also the potential for east-west lines on Venutra, west to Warner Center and east to Burbank. On the Westside, the north-south candidates are Lincoln, Bundy/Centinela, Sawtelle, Sepulveda (Westside section), Westwood/Overland, and maybe, as a stretch, Avenue of the Stars/Jefferson.

Personally, I’d leave Ventura alone as a separate east-west project. Sawtelle is too close to Sepulveda (Westside), so it doesn’t make the cut. The appeal of the Avenue of the Stars/Jefferson route is that it would serve Century City directly from the Valley, but the resulting line has such poor overall geometry that it wouldn’t be very useful for anyone not going to Century City, so I think it’s out as well.

The other intriguing option, which has been suggested by Henry Fung elsewhere, is having the Westside Subway Extension turn north in Westwood and go to the Valley. Assuming the other lines would be LRT, extending the Purple Line would create some technical challenges (including differing vehicle width). I’ll leave that for a future post focusing on that alternative. This option would take care of Century City.

Here’s a rough plot of these options with reasonable stop spacing:

SepulvedaLAX-alllines

Don’t worry too much about the stop spacing for now; we’ll take a closer look at that in future posts. Remember, the important thing at the outset is to serve the right area and choose logical overall route alignments. You also might guess from this graphic that I’ve got some changes in mind for Metrolink in the Valley. Yet another topic for yet another future post.

In terms of sequencing, the consensus is that Van Nuys is the top priority in the Valley. On the Westside, Sepulveda (Westside) and Westwood/Overland are only ½ to ¾ of a mile apart, so whichever of the two is built first, the other should be built last. I’d do Sepulveda (Westside) first, if only because it’s more centrally located and spreads the wealth. It’d be useful to some future users of the Bundy/Centinela and Westwood/Overland lines, whereas those two lines wouldn’t help each other’s riders much. The argument for Westwood/Overland first is that it’s closer to Palms and Culver City, which are denser than Mar Vista, and it’s a good enough argument that you could probably talk me into it.

I’d sequence the lines as follows:

  • Van Nuys and Sepulveda (Westside)
  • Reseda and Lincoln
  • Sepulveda (Valley) and Bundy/Centinela
  • Balboa and Westwood/Overland (no Westwood/Overland if Purple Line is extended)

The benefits start immediately with the first line completed, and are amplified as additional lines are finished. To the south, future phases could extend the lines out Florence, Manchester, Century, Hawthorne, Sepulveda/PCH… more than enough possibilities to leave for a future post.

LAX Transit

Note that all these lines naturally converge near Sepulveda & Century, right at LAX’s front door, and would serve far more people than any LAX rail transit proposal on the board now. So in addition to serving LAX, basically at the future Terminal 0, this project would directly serve a couple million other people who might or might not be going to LAX. In other words, this plan would follow one of Jarrett Walker’s main principles: be on the way!

You might have noticed in the first graphic that I didn’t show any connection from the new lines to the Green Line & Crenshaw Line. Clearly, you’d want to provide that link somehow.

Here’s one option for an initial build with two lines. In this scenario, the Crenshaw Line would take over the Green Line’s route south of Aviation/Imperial, and the Green Line would be extended a mile west to meet up with the new Reseda-Lincoln Line. This gives the combined Reseda-Lincoln-Green Line and the Van Nuys-Sepulveda (Westside) Line front door access to LAX, with decent geometry and without making any through passengers go out of their way.

SepulvedaLAX-2line

I’ve violated my own rules on stop spacing in El Segundo, going to half a mile to provide a Green Line stop at Maple and a Sepulveda Line stop at Mariposa. With this level of transit service, easy access to LAX, the 105, and the 405, there’s no reason El Segundo’s business district couldn’t become LA’s third downtown.

Here’s an option for full build with four lines.

SepulvedaLAX-4line

In this case, I’ve routed Balboa and Bundy/Centinela together, and the line could be extended out Florence towards South LA, HP, Bell, Cudahy, Bell Gardens, and Downey – all dense cities that should get good transit use. I’ve also shown the Purple Line being extended to the Valley and up Sepulveda.

Again, don’t worry too much about the specific stations and routings – we’ll go into more detail on each option in the future.

To Bore or Not to Bore

The decision to tunnel is one of the biggest ones that must be made. Tunneling results in faster speeds and more reliable operations, but the higher cost can push project completion further into the future. Obviously, we’re tunneling through Sepulveda Pass, but on either side, it would be possible to do full tunnels, surface running with selected grade separations (like Expo Line and Crenshaw Line), or full surface running.

Any surface running segments are dependent on the ROW of the arterial roads. Contrary to popular conceptions of LA, the north-south arterials on the Westside are somewhat underpowered. Lincoln and Sepulveda (Westside) are two lanes each way with a center turn lane. Bundy/Centinela and Westwood/Overland are cobbled together, with pieces where the second travel lane is only provided during peak periods by sacrificing on-street parking (always a sign of desperation).

The situation is much the same on Reseda and Balboa, which have the same basic configuration as Sepulveda (Westside), but with more generous proportions. On Balboa, there are three lanes each way with no parking. Sepulveda (Valley) and Van Nuys are wider, at least three lanes each way with a center turn lane plus parking. In many places they’re even wider (presumably where there used to be transit ROW in the middle).

I was going to go into detail and compare grade separation options for each branch, but that would make this post much too long. Now that we’ve got the basic framework set up, we can come back and give each branch the attention it deserves in future posts.

Orange Crushed?

A recent article on capacity constraints on LA’s Orange Line BRT has been making the rounds in the transit blogosphere, and people have been revealing some serious bus bias. Ridership on the Orange Line currently exceeds 30k on weekdays, and in LA the line is generally considered to be successful beyond expectations. That ridership has led to crowding and warnings that the system is at capacity, and rail activists have been holding this up as a reason to invest in rail transit instead of BRT.

Now first of all, you should consider the source: Zev Yaroslavsky, one of the proponents of building the Orange Line BRT. The success of the Orange Line is good politics for him, and if these “capacity issues” are somehow resolved, allowing increased service, that will make him look even better. There’s nothing wrong with that; he’s a politician and he has to answer to his constituents. When a popular service is introduced on your watch, you take some credit, and you promise to make it even better. That’s what politicians do.

So, you shouldn’t take it as an article of faith that the Orange Line is at capacity. That statement is based on the current system running 4 minute headways. The reason that headways are limited to 4 minutes is that LADOT decided to limit them to 4 minutes. There are plenty of other east-west roadways in the Valley, and they conflict with the same north-south roadways as the Orange Line. They meet at regular intersections with regular traffic lights, and they get more than 2 vehicles through every 4 minutes.

It would be fairly easy to retime the traffic lights and improve the transit priority to allow more Orange Line buses through, and in fact, the article says that LACMTA and LADOT are looking at doing just that: by either allowing shorter but more frequent green lights to reduce headway, or allowing two buses to proceed through the intersection in tandem. Note that the station platforms are long enough for double-berthing of buses, so if the traffic lights can be adjusted to allow two buses through in one green phase, the capacity of the line could be effectively doubled without building any new infrastructure. You’d also have the option of running some express service to West Valley, since the stations have pullouts. Simply put, if you are using the Orange Line as an example of BRT being maxed out, you might as well just come out and say that you really like trains and you really don’t like buses.

There are two intersections that I can see as being more challenging than the rest. The first is Burbank and Fulton at the Valley College Station. The Orange Line crosses this intersection on a diagonal, requiring a third signal phase. There is the need to serve two major roadways instead of just one. The other is at Woodman Station, where the Orange Line crosses both Woodman and Oxnard within about 200-300 feet of the intersection of Woodman and Oxnard, so you need some serious coordination between all of those signals. The good news is that if those intersections prove too difficult, LA doesn’t have a problem with pouring concrete to fix it. It would cost some money, but still be much cheaper than converting the entire Orange Line to LRT.

Okay, what if Ben Bernanke decides to do a helicopter drop on Metro and credit our bank accounts with enough free cash to upgrade the Orange Line to LRT? We still shouldn’t do it. Take a look at the San Fernando Valley. It’s not like the Orange Line follows some high-density corridor and everything else is empty. The Valley is prototypical LA – somewhat uniform medium density with a focus on the major arterials. There’s no compelling need to focus transit improvements on the Orange Line.

If Bernanke cuts that check for improving east-west transit in the Valley, here are few things that would be a much better use of the money than converting the Orange Line to LRT. I’m sure there are others; these are just off the top of my head:

  • Building a rapid transit service (type TBD) along Ventura Blvd from Valley Circle to Universal City. The bus routes serving Ventura Blvd today, 150 and 750, already pull about 16k in weekday ridership. This line could continue east to serve Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena and people who commute on the 101, the 134, and the 210. Note that this is one of the greatest strengths of the LA development pattern – you can conceive a totally rational and useful transit service that doesn’t go anywhere near downtown. Take that, Urban Ring.
  • Extend the Orange Line east to Burbank on the existing rail ROW. Again, you could continue east from there if you wanted.
  • Build some infill stops on the Ventura Line and run a DMU service between LA Union Station and Chatsworth.

And the really awesome thing is, thanks to the success of the Orange Line, people in the Valley want more transit! Think about that. In less than 8 years of operations, we’ve gone from being legally unable to build LRT in the Valley to debating how to fund a rail line from Sylmar to El Segundo. In that light, I don’t think you can say the Orange Line is anything other than a success. The only reason to hate on the Orange Line is that you just can’t stand the sight of a successful BRT.