Imagine, if you will, being able to ride a rail line on Van Nuys Boulevard in the northeast San Fernando Valley to the West Valley along Sherman Way and across the Cahuenga Pass to downtown Los Angeles. No, I’m not talking about the distant future, but rather the recent past.
The year was 1911, the community of Van Nuys had just been established in February, and in December the first trolleys operated by the Pacific Electric Railway Co. rolled into the San Fernando Valley from downtown Los Angeles.
Within two years, the line carried more than 300,000 passengers; by 1926 over 1 million people rode Pacific Electric’s San Fernando Line. This early light rail system connected our region like never before and spurred the development of the San Fernando Valley from an agricultural outpost to a thriving economic center.
Not since 1952, however, have residents had the option to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of a light rail system to travel around, as well as in and out of, the Valley. Instead, whether in our personal cars or the public bus, our only option now is to sit in traffic.
Today, with the ongoing implementation of Measure M – a half-cent sales tax for transit projects approved by voters in 2016 – we have an unprecedented opportunity to once again connect the Valley with a high-capacity rail transportation system.
The first project up for consideration is the East Valley Transit Corridor, a 9.2-mile stretch running from the Metrolink Sylmar/San Fernando station along San Fernando Road and Van Nuys Boulevard to the Van Nuys Orange Line station. Several alternatives have been presented for the project mode, including bus rapid transit and light rail.
Looking to our past and considering our present, it’s clear what our future needs: it’s time to bring light rail back to the Valley. The 14-station light rail transit system is the best option for the San Fernando Valley.
What the Valley doesn’t need is another bus line, even if it is bus rapid transit on a dedicated busway. That’s what the Orange Line is, and its overwhelming success is why it’s being converted to light rail. Building the East Valley line as light rail will provide a smooth, convenient ride from Sylmar to Warner Center, Chatsworth or North Hollywood, and, eventually, the Westside and LAX.
A light rail system will spur economic development in the historically underserved communities of the East Valley like a bus system never could. During construction, the use of a local hire program would ensure that construction-related jobs benefit East Valley residents, and Metro programs like “Eat, Shop, Play” and the Business Interruption Fund would ensure that local businesses can continue to thrive during construction.
Post-construction, there will be an incredible opportunity for transit-oriented development, attracting businesses and incentivizing housing development near rail stations. New shops and restaurants will provide jobs and contribute to the community’s economy while new residential buildings will help alleviate the ongoing housing crisis.
During the campaign to pass Measure M, our message to Valley voters was simple: Construct. Convert. Connect. That is, construct the proposed East San Fernando Valley and Sepulveda Pass projects as rail transit systems and convert the Orange Line bus rapid transit to light rail in order to better connect the Valley. Voters heard our message loud and clear.
The Metro Board of Directors is expected to vote on a transportation mode for the East Valley project in June. San Fernando Valley businesses need to stand together and let the Metro board know that we want and need light rail transit. In order to show a united front, I urge you to join the Valley Coalition for Transit (valleyfortransit.org/esfvtc), a VICA-led coalition of diverse stakeholders working to bring rail back to the Valley.
This isn’t just about connecting Sylmar to Van Nuys, but about connecting Valley residents to opportunities to live, work and play in and out of the Valley.
It’s time to deliver on the promise made to voters and start laying tracks across the Valley – from Sylmar to Van Nuys; from Chatsworth to Woodland Hills to North Hollywood; and across the Sepulveda Pass to the Westside and LAX.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, or VICA, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at all levels of government.