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The slow-go transit system

Road Sage

April 21, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Last week, I took a ride on the Green Line, the light-rail line along the 105 Freeway that connects Norwalk and Redondo Beach.

Well, sort of connects them.

First, the line starts a mile short of the Norwalk Metrolink station, then steers clear of LAX and ends on the edge of Redondo Beach at a station surrounded by the 405 Freeway, a Volkswagen dealership, a utility substation and a Northrop Grumman plant.

"One night I was coming home on the train, and there were a couple of Australian kids [on board] who thought this would actually take them to the beach. . . ., so I gave them a ride," said Michael Beeman, an appellate court attorney for the state who was riding the train home from work.

Beeman likes his 75-minute commute to downtown Los Angeles on three rail lines -- it's less frustrating than driving. But his anecdote is a nice parable for local mass transit, which should adopt the slogan "we almost get you there."

Maybe this will change. State legislators this spring are considering a bill, AB 2321, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), at the request of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

If approved, the bill would allow local officials to go to the ballot in November to ask voters to consider a half-penny sales tax hike. That would raise at least $720 million annually in a county with a long, long list of needs.

The sales tax money would go to at least 18 road and mass transit projects. Among those are a Westside subway extension, three light-rail lines (Pasadena to Duarte, Culver City to Santa Monica and a downtown connector line), an improved junction for the 5 and 14 freeways, and for repaving streets and building sound walls, among others.

As for the subway to the sea, the bill states that it would get at least $900 million in sales tax money, although it would probably get more. The project is expected to cost $5 billion to $7 billion.

The challenge here is easy to see. You need to persuade voters to vote for a sales tax hike by promising a lot. But will there be enough money to complete and operate those projects in a first-class way -- so they might be good enough to get people out of their cars?

And what about fixing the mass transit we've already got? The MTA is in the process of cutting service on a few dozen bus lines. Existing rail lines need more parking. Metrolink trains could be faster and more frequent.

And then there's the Orange Line busway that runs across the San Fernando Valley. First, the good. The buses are clean, blissfully air-conditioned and quiet, except for the two TVs blaring ads.

But the Orange Line takes 45 minutes to go 13 miles from Warner Center to North Hollywood. Even though the bus has its own right of way -- it was built atop an old rail line -- it must stop at many intersections to avoid cross traffic. I was aboard for 10 minutes last week when the bus had to slow for an SUV that ran a red light on Woodman Avenue.

Maybe it's time for crossing gates to speed things up. And it wasn't hard to find other needed fixes. At the Van Nuys stop, at 11:55 a.m., an electronic sign said the next bus would arrive in one minute. At 11:56, the sign changed to say the next bus would show up in seven minutes. At noon, it was down to six minutes. Naturally, the bus arrived one minute later.

Waiting for a bus was Emily Salyer, 23, a UCLA student on her way home to Woodland Hills. She commutes four hours a day by bus to and from campus.

"I have a car, but I never use it," she said. "I can't afford the gas. I get a bus pass for $50 per quarter from UCLA."

Four hours? I offered her my iPod, but Salyer has her own. "There are always fights on the bus," she said, adding that just that morning an argument erupted after one rider's elbow hit the head of another.

I asked her what type of system she would build were she calling the transit shots. Her answer: mass transit down the center of the 405 to link the Valley to the Westside.

No such project is listed in the sales tax bill. As for Salyer's commute, here's an idea: UCLA offers degrees in public policy.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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