By Steve Hymon, October 14, 2013
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 San 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
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!