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Road Is Paved for Valley Busway’s Opening Day

Times Staff Writer

On Saturday, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will roll out the Orange Line busway to the public for the first time. The region’s biggest mass transit construction project since the Pasadena Gold Line light rail opened two years ago, the Orange Line cost $324 million in state and local money and stretches 14 miles across the San Fernando Valley.

To encourage the public to give the new line a try, the MTA and local groups will hold community events at five stations Saturday, and free rides will be offered all weekend.

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Question: What is the Orange Line, and where does it go?

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Answer: The Orange Line -- named after the area’s once-abundant citrus groves -- is an east-west rapid bus corridor built over an abandoned railway generally running about a mile north of the 101 Freeway. Planners once envisioned using the route for extending the Metro Red Line subway, but political opposition and a lack of funding shot down the idea.

The paved route, between the Red Line subway station in North Hollywood and Woodland Hills, resembles a two-lane expressway but is reserved for special Orange Line buses and no other vehicle traffic. The line crosses 36 intersections, but its buses are equipped with transponders that can extend green lights and allow them to encounter fewer red lights.

West of the De Soto Avenue stop, the corridor ends and the buses continue another mile on regular streets to loop around Warner Center.

The Orange Line has 13 stations, including at or near such landmarks as Valley College, the Van Nuys Government Center, golf courses at Sepulveda Basin and Pierce College. A 14th station, to the west in Canoga Park, will open next year.

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Q: How is the Orange Line different from regular bus service, and how frequently will it run?

A: Custom-built by North American Bus Industries Inc., an Alabama company, the silver 60-foot Metro Liner vehicles have 57 seats, compared with standard 40-foot coaches with 40 seats. The 30 Metro Liners in the Orange Line all have accordion-like middles for easier steering, rounding street corners sort of like giant caterpillars. The buses have three doors instead of the usual two, and riders may enter through any of them because there is no fare box on board.

As with many vehicles in the MTA fleet, Metro Liners run on natural gas, producing fewer pollutants than diesel buses.

Buses will run a reduced schedule this weekend: Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 5 a.m. to midnight. After that, they will operate from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week with buses scheduled every five minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours, every 10 minutes midday and every 20 minutes at night.

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Q: How does a rider pay, and how much will it cost to ride the Orange Line?

A: As on the MTA’s rail service, fare collection relies on an honor system. Passengers are expected to already have a transit pass or have purchased a ticket from a vending machine at a station.

Prices are the same as any Metro bus or train: $1.25 for a single ride and $3 for an unlimited day pass that includes free transfers. An adult monthly pass is $52.

To deter cheaters, the MTA plans to periodically send fare inspectors aboard. A violation fine can be up to $250.

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Q: How much time will I save by riding the Orange Line?

A: It depends on what time you travel, where you are going and traffic conditions at the busway’s intersections.

Overall, the MTA estimates average full runs at 42 minutes. One recent westbound test ride by a reporter took 35 minutes from one end of the route to the other, and the return took 40 minutes. But that was with bus drivers skipping many stations because there were no other riders to be let on and off. The trips were also in the middle of the day, when traffic was light.

Riding the busway could be much quicker than driving during rush hour on the clogged 101 Freeway. But walking time and any additional bus or rail transfers need to be factored in and the total time compared with the time it would take to drive. The MTA’s online trip planner at www.metro.net can help with figuring out transfers and estimating travel times.

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Q: What if I drive or bike to a station?

A: There are new free parking lots with a combined 3,200 spaces at five Orange Line stations: Van Nuys, Sepulveda, Balboa, Reseda and Pierce College. Commuters complain that an existing lot at the North Hollywood subway station is often filled by midmorning.

A new bicycle lane parallels much of the route, and every station between North Hollywood and De Soto Avenue is equipped with bike racks and lockers. Metro Liners also have fold-down seats in the front to accommodate up to two bicycles.

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Q: What about the people who live alongside the busway?

A: The Orange Line, as with many transportation projects, encountered community opposition because it cuts through some residential areas. Neighbors feared it would be unsightly, noisy and dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.

To mollify critics, the MTA installed five miles of sound walls treated with an anti-graffiti coating and paved the corridor with rubberized asphalt for a more cushioned and quieter ride. The agency also planted 5,000 trees and more than 800,000 plants.

To address safety concerns, city traffic engineers have installed extra street signs and lights to control traffic and warn motorists and walkers. But there are no barriers or crossing arms. The MTA recently launched a safety-education campaign related to the new busway.

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Q: Where and when are Saturday’s community events?

A: Simultaneous events will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at or near the North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Balboa, De Soto and Warner Center stops. Attractions will include live jazz, high school marching bands, improv comedy, dance, food booths and Halloween-themed activities.


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