Streetfilms: BRT and Bikes on LA’s Orange Line

Who would have thought that one of the best Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
systems in the U.S. would be in its most sprawling
city?

In October 2005, the Los Angeles County Metro Authority
(or Metro) debuted a new 14-mile BRT system in the San Fernando Valley
using a former rail right-of-way. Unlike many "rapid" bus transit
systems in the U.S., the Orange Line is true BRT: it features a
dedicated roadway that cars may not enter, has a pre-board payment
system so buses load quickly and efficiently, and uses handsome,
articulated buses to transport passengers fast — sometimes at speeds approaching 55 mph! The roadway is landscaped so ornately you could almost call it a bus greenway.

But that’s not all. The corridor also boasts a world class bike and
pedestrian path which runs adjacent to the BRT route for nearly its
entire length, giving users numerous multi-modal options. Each station
has bike amenities, including bike lockers and racks, and all the buses
feature racks on the front that accommodate up to three bikes.

Perhaps the biggest problem is its soaring success: ridership numbers
have some calling for the BRT to be converted to rail, and Metro is
exploring ways to move more passengers, including buying longer buses.  Expansion plans
are also underway.

Whatever way you slice it, this is truly a hit with
Angelenos. A formerly 81 minute trip now takes 44-52 minutes — over an
hour in round-trip savings — making a bona fide impact in the lives of
commuters.

  • EC

    Wow where to start with this post. I grew up in Los Angeles and just recently moved to New York and there is a lot this post leaves out.

    First the BRT was built over a rail right of way that already existed. What this means is the county tore up existing tracks (although unused) to do this.

    This was despite many many people clamoring for heavy rail or light rail because it could be a heavily traveled corridor. Why? Because the local Jewish community fought a rail line. So the idea that it needs to be converted to rail is a bit disingenuous.

    Secondly to say it reaches speeds of 55 mph is also disingenuous. It does, but it also crawl along in most areas due to not having its own grade separated right of way. During periods of heavy traffic it can be quite slow.

    All and all it half of what it could have been if rail had been adopted in the first place.

  • EC- Not sure what you are getting at here. Firstly, yes it does reach up to 55 mph (note I wrote: sometimes), but as is said in the video some sections it cannot and doesn’t. Some sections have 35 mph limits, others 45 mph, which is still incredible. Heck, some people here in NYC would be doing jumping jacks on buses if they could go 15 mph.

    Secondly, I rode three-quarters of the line and the entire line up until then was physically separated. I am told only the final stop at Warner Center (the final half mile or so loop) is not physically grade separated. So for you to write it “crawls along in most areas” is completely inaccurate. .5 miles out of 14 is not separated.

    Of course I know this par for the course: when you post positive things about BRT, LRT advocates get upset. When you post positive things about LRT, BRT people get upset.

  • EC

    >> EC- Not sure what you are getting at here. Firstly, yes it does reach up to 55 mph (note I wrote: sometimes), but as is said in the video some sections it cannot and doesn’t. Some sections have 35 mph limits, others 45 mph, which is still incredible. Heck, some people here in NYC would be doing jumping jacks on buses if they could go 15 mph.

    Oh I agree that its great that it goes 45 mph or even 35 sometimes. However, when one looks at what could have been, it cant be seen as a success is my point, yes its faster then the average bus, but its also slower then what rail could have been on that corridor (it was originally proposed to be part of the Red Line reaching speeds of 55mph the entire line).

    >> Secondly, I rode three-quarters of the line and the entire line up until then was physically separated. I am told only the final stop at Warner Center (the final half mile or so loop) is not physically grade separated. So for you to write it “crawls along in most areas” is completely inaccurate. .5 miles out of 14 is not separated.

    I think there is a mixing up of terminology here. When I say grade separated, I guess I should have been more clear in saying it is not on its own isolated right of way, independent of cross traffic. Thus it often has to stop for cross traffic unlike a rail line does.

    Thus it is “grade separated” but not “grade isolated” how is that? 🙂 And during peak traffic hours it can be slow due to the stop and start nature of waiting for signals.

    >>Of course I know this par for the course: when you post positive things about BRT, LRT advocates get upset. When you post positive things about LRT, BRT people get upset.

    I have no problem with BRT in areas where there wasnt a right of way for rail already in existence. However in this case, I feel it was a huge failure of what could have been, especially considering it will have to be upgraded to rail at some point.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Grade separated means no intersections. That’s the key — and the cost. The subway is grade-separated. This line is partially grade separated, but has intersections. Not perfect, but better than anything in NYC.

    To speed it up and raise capacity, whether for rail or buses, they would have to build a bunch of underpasses. The good news, I suppose, is that it could be incremental rather than all or nothing — with intersections eliminated in order of cross-street priority.

    Although it would have meant tearing up tracks, this is what they should have done with the SIR. For the same money it took to rebuild the line, one could have had a fully-grade-separated network including the North Shore line.

  • Larry and EC –

    Thanks for the grade separated lesson. Now I got it. So dedicated, physically separated is not necessarily grade separation. Never knew that.

  • Shemp

    Also regarding Larry’s point on the SIR, an SIR bus-way could include ramps to the bus/HOV lanes on the SIE, making that whole corridor a lot more useful (for the big Manhattan-bound express bus market as well as the ferry connection market) and perhaps opening up some room on Hylan Boulevard for some badly needed place-making.

  • I love Lynne Goldsmith (I want her cool T-shirt). I had the pleasure of meeting her at Walk Bike California in 2007. Really feisty and she rides that neat low step-through Dahon!

    I wish we had such passionate bicycle-minded planners working for our transit agencies out east.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “SIR bus-way could include ramps to the bus/HOV lanes on the SIE, making that whole corridor a lot more us.”

    Could have. The MTA spent huge money redoing the signal system. Huge, huge money. The line just finished being rebuilt for rail.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “So dedicated, physically separated is not necessarily grade separation.”

    Just think of what the “grade” of a structure is — its placement relative to ground level. Grade separation means it is at a separate level from other traffic, higher or lower.

    Unless you get enough ridership to MU (multiple unit with one driver), which is what rail gives you, the key isn’t bus or rail. It’s grade separation and “stations” with fare pre-payment. Had this been grade separated, rail could have been laid if ridership ever justified three- or four-car trains.

    You at least need grade separation at major intersections.

  • Nice to see triple bicycle racks. Thanks for posting, Clarence.

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