LRT conversion for LA Orange Line?

Written by Douglas John Bowen
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Pending a signature from California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on a legislative bill, Los Angeles will be cleared to convert its Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to a light rail transit (LRT) operation in the future, reversing a longstanding prohibition and, perhaps, signaling to other U.S. locations that BRT's benefits are, at best, limited when measured against comparable LRT operation.

No money is authorized by the bill for conversion, but the bill (if signed by Gov. Brown) grants Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) to consider the prospect. Given LACMTA’s aggressive pursuit of LRT expansion, such an option could act as a significant indicator for nationwide decisions involving choosing BRT over LRT.

A bill passed by both houses of the state legislature undoes the “Robbins bill” passed in 1991 prohibiting the construction of any above-ground rail transit along a 3.5-mile stretch from North Hollywood to Hazeltine Avenue. Safety concerns, specifically involving grade crossings, was cited as the reason, but pro-rail voices note citizen opposition, aided by some unions opposed to rail development, thwarted original plans for LRT on the Orange Line, itself an old rail right-of-way.

Los Angeles’s Orange Line BRT, the first section of which opened in 2004, handles about 30,000 riders per weekday, with long wait times generated for some users during peak hours. LRT advocates insist light rail could handle more passengers per vehicle and reduce travel time along the route, operating in similar fashion to other LRT services in Los Angeles County.

LACMTA says it has no plans to convert BRT to LRT. But a grassroots group, the Valley Alliance & Commerce Association, has supported the legislation and has formed a coalition to advocate for LRT in the San Fernando Valley, including the Orange Line.

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