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Fanfare Greets Start of Orange Line Buses

The commuter service from Woodland Hills to the North Hollywood subway opens today.

October 29, 2005|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Sporting matching orange lapel ribbons, about two dozen local and state officials gathered Friday morning to dedicate the San Fernando Valley's new Orange Line busway, which opens to the public today.

"For San Fernando Valley commuters tired of the traffic choke of the 101 Freeway, the Orange Line offers an alternative," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "The Orange Line will ease traffic for thousands of commuters."

The mayor, who chairs the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, also saluted County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a fellow MTA director, for having the "foresight" years ago to push the $224-million project.

The Orange Line "simply could not have happened" without Yaroslavsky's advocacy and support, the mayor said at the Lake Balboa station, one of 13 busway stops.

Yaroslavsky beamed as a crowd of hundreds -- which included MTA employees -- rose and cheered and applauded.

"I've labored a long time to get to this day," said Yaroslavsky, who conceived the idea of building a busway instead of a rail line for the San Fernando Valley six years ago, after seeing a similar system in Brazil. "We took the best solution that we found around the world, and we plagiarized it."

MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble called the Orange Line "a train on rubber tires."

Only "Metro Liner" buses -- extra-long vehicles built to mimic the metallic look and spacious feel of a passenger rail car -- are permitted in the transit corridor. The MTA estimates that a 14-mile end-to-end run, from Warner Center in Woodland Hills to the North Hollywood Red Line subway station, will take about 42 minutes. The east-west route, a former freight rail corridor, is about a mile north of the Ventura Freeway.

The Orange Line's stops are near some of the Valley's major activity centers, including Valley College, the Van Nuys Government Center, Pierce College and Warner Center. Officials estimate that transit riders -- who pay $1.25 for a single ride or $52 for a monthly pass -- can save $5,000 a year in gas and other costs by not driving to work.

Friday's ceremony under a giant tent in the station's parking lot included a marching band and singing schoolchildren. Some officials wore pumpkin-colored neckties and cracked citrus jokes.

But the upbeat mood was clouded by safety concerns.

A few protesters held up a banner that said: "Orange Line deathtrap." Transit advocate John Walsh, a frequent MTA critic, called the transitway "the lemon line" and decried dangers to motorists.

A day before the celebration, the Orange Line -- which intersects city streets in 36 places -- had its first auto accident when a motorist, who did not have a valid license, ran a red light and hit a bus, which was on a test drive. No one was injured and the bus was only slightly damaged.

Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, a former police traffic sergeant, said he hopes the MTA can install cameras at busway intersections to catch motorists who run red lights.

He also believes some of the intersections are "vulnerable to collisions" because of their odd configuration and may need crossing arms or other barriers.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said she would like to improve connecting bus service and hoped to enlist companies to share the cost.

The MTA is offering free rides this weekend on the Orange Line. The transitway is scheduled to be open today from 5:48 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Sunday from 5 a.m. to midnight. Starting Monday, the line will run from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.

Also today, the MTA and community groups are holding celebrations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Orange Line's North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Balboa, De Soto and Warner Center stations.

More information is available online at www.metro.net.

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