Orange Line extension from Canoga Park to Chatsworth opens Saturday

By Dakota Smith, Staff Writer

Posted:   06/29/2012 07:25:41 PM PDT

Updated:   06/29/2012 08:17:20 PM PDT

An Orange Line bus pulls into the Chatsworth Station following a dedication ceremony for the extension on Friday, June 29, 2012. The four-mile extension of the Metro Orange Line runs north/south from Warner Center to the Metrolink/Amtrak station in Chatsworth. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Pitched as a train without tracks the Orange Line drew skeptics and legal challenges when it was proposed for the San Fernando Valley more than a decade ago.

But with a new extension of the rapid bus transit line opening Saturday, the Orange Line is flourishing, according to city and county officials. | See photo gallery.

Ridership along the current 14-mile route, which adds a four-mile section from Canoga Park to Chatsworth on Saturday, is up. The new bikeway along the entire route is one of the longest of its kind in L.A. County.

And commuters can now transfer easily from the Orange

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gives a thumbs up as he exits an Orange Line bus at the Chatsworth Station on Friday, June 29, 2012 prior to a dedication ceremony. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Line to the Metrolink and Amtrak stations.

"The media, they said we couldn't do this," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday at an event marking the opening of the extension, as he recalled critics who questioned the initial Orange Line.

Named for the orange groves that once grew in the Valley, the initial east-west bus line running from North Hollywood to Warner Center opened in 2005.

More than 25,000 daily boardings now occur along the Metropolitan Transportation Authority line, which draws riders from a mix of incomes and backgrounds: College students at Pierce College to executives headed to Warner Center.

But its path to an opening was unlikely. The inspiration came from Curitiba, Brazil, a city with

a popular rapid bus system. In 1999, a group including then-Mayor Richard Riordan, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and Metro's current chief planning officer Martha Wellborne traveled to Curitiba to study the system.

On the airplane ride back to L.A., Yaroslavsky sketched the idea for a Valley busway on a napkin, the supervisor told attendees at the opening ceremony in Chatsworth.

"We are on a roll," Yaroslavsky said, listing a number of under-construction or completed transit projects throughout the region. "This is the golden age of transit infrastructure in L.A."

At least 17 transit agencies in the U.S. operate a rapid bus transit system with a dedicated lane, according to the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute, a Tampa-based research center at the University of South Florida. And at least 12 agencies are in the planning stages of construction of the lines.

"These cities are showing that you can make a bus behave like a train," said Victoria Perk, research associate at the institute. "If people can have quick and reliable service, then they will ride it, no matter what transportation it is."

Groups like The Transit Coalition want the platforms at the Orange and Red Line stops connected, so commuters wouldn't have to walk across Lankershim Boulevard.

And some Metro board members are pushing for more routes, particularly to extend the Orange Line to Bob Hope Airport and then the San Gabriel Valley.

There are no immediate plans to start a new segment, said Metro spokesman Marc Littman.

But last summer, Villaraigosa asked Metro to recommend at least five corridors in L.A. County where a new bus rapid transit line could be placed. Having recently hired a consultant, Metro is starting the study now.

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