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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023


By DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter For nearly two decades, the solution to the San Fernando Valley’s mass transit problem was believed to be an ambitious public-works project one that required a costly subway, a futuristic monorail or a state-of-the-art light-rail line. These days, the expectations are considerably lower and are keyed to, of all things, the lowly bus. The bus? In car-crazed Los Angeles, the bus is seen as the transport of last resort used only by the very poor or the blind. But with transportation dollars becoming ever scarcer, the bus is being viewed as the backbone of transit planning especially in the Valley, where hopes of building an extensive rail network now seem as likely as snow in August. “It’s something I’ve been preaching for about two years,” said Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board. “Finally, in the last two months or so, the activists seem to be sold on it.” The concept is to set up so-called “dedicated busways” special lanes that only buses could use. In some cases, the busways may just be lanes painted on asphalt. In other places, they may be separate thoroughfares with their own bridges, or “flyovers,” to carry them above intersections without being forced to stop. Those routes would be combined with other public transit systems van shuttles, existing bus lines and the Metro Rail, which soon will reach the southeast Valley to allow residents to move across the Valley and to points beyond without an automobile, proponents say. But even with an increasing consensus, several questions remain: Does the Valley have the political clout and will to make the dedicated busway system a reality? And even if it does, is the busway system best for the Valley particularly after its taxpayers have spent more than a billion dollars on the region’s rail system? Riordan said he is prepared to travel to Washington and lobby members of Congress to devote federal money to the busway system as a demonstration project. “Right now it appears that, magically, everybody is getting on board on this, which you need,” Riordan said. “You can be a leader, but if you don’t have the consensus standing beside you, you don’t get things done.” But support for dedicated busways in the Valley is not unanimous. Several question whether the area should really give up on rail. “I think it’s wrong to say that subway is dead or rail is dead, because we’ve learned that attitudes can change in Washington,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who serves as an alternate on the MTA board. But Alarcon acknowledged that, at least for the short term, the busway proposal is gathering support. “I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a consensus. The only consensus I would grant you is there is a consensus to look at it,” he said. If there’s agreement on one thing, it’s that a “transit zone” needs to be created to give the Valley authority to plan the public transportation system for the area. A consensus on that was reached by the 16 members of Congress, state legislators, L.A. county supervisors and L.A. City Council members who attended last month’s “Valley Transit Summit II.” Also last month, Alarcon won approval from both the City Council and the MTA board to study a “Valley Transit Zone.” The zone would not separate the Valley from the control of the MTA, but would give it some planning independence, similar to that enjoyed by the 27 cities that run the Foothill Transit system in the San Gabriel Valley. “Generally, I would say that the consensus is very strong for the transit zone,” said Larry Gray, co-chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association’s transportation committee. “I have a hard time finding anyone who would speak against that.” But Adrian Moore, director of economic studies at the Reason Public Policy Institute and author of a report on transportation options for the Valley, said that a transit zone as opposed to an independent transportation district is unlikely to give the Valley the power it needs to institute a busway system. “I don’t think creating a zone will be sufficient to leverage that kind of change out of the MTA,” Moore said. “(The MTA has) never been willing to seriously discuss busways in the past, so I don’t see that as consistent at all.” Furthermore, others question whether the busway which is based on a system used in Curitiba, Brazil, where Riordan aides visited is appropriate for the decentralized Valley sprawl. “A lot of people took a beautiful trip down to Brazil,” said Richard Close, co-chairman of Valley VOTE, which has pushed for the Valley’s right to secede from the city. “But the Valley is not Curitiba.” Close said that Curitiba’s system in which feeder buses and shuttles transport travelers to a central bus lines is only appropriate for an area where most people are traveling to a central downtown area. “It’s an idea that should be explored,” Close said of the busway system, “but too many people may be thinking of the beaches of Rio rather than the realities of the San Fernando Valley.” Nevertheless, several lawmakers are ready to move forward on designing and finding funds for a Valley busway. “I know, among myself and my colleagues in Sacramento who were there (at the transit summit), we have this ‘let’s just get it done’ attitude,” said Assemblyman Robert M. Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “I don’t think it means just putting more buses on the streets, but I think it means a dedicated bus route that looks like the Curitiba line.” Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Mission Hills, said that he, too, is intrigued by the busway idea particularly because it can be built more quickly than a rail system and would be willing to pursue the plan by seeking federal funds now allocated for rail projects. But Berman said he will not look for those funds until local officials come to a realistic, clear agreement on what the busway would look like including how it would tie into other public transit systems, and on what routes it would operate. “Nothing is going to happen at the federal level until there is an effective local plan,” Berman said. “It’s not going to happen otherwise.” As to whether the Valley has the ability and drive to make the busway system a reality, the answer was a resounding “yes” from many who attended last month’s transit summit. Former Assemblyman Richard Katz, who chaired the Assembly’s Transportation Committee and who is now running for state Senate, said the emerging agreement on the issue is the clearest sign that a busway system can be a reality. “What you have that was lacking in the past is real recognition that everyone is pulling in the same direction,” Katz said, noting that in the past lawmakers have had widely varying opinions on what needs to be done for transportation in the Valley. “We need to put those aside and all push in the same direction, or we won’t get anything done for the Valley,” he said. “And I think that’s what you see emerging from the process.”

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