CA: Long-planned NoHo-to-Pasadena rapid bus line gains momentum, but road blocks await

Feb. 22, 2024
After years of controversy and delays, the wheels are back in motion for a dedicated bus rapid transit system between North Hollywood and Pasadena that would be the first-ever premium transit line linking the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Feb. 20—After years of controversy and delays, the wheels are back in motion for a dedicated bus rapid transit system between North Hollywood and Pasadena that would be the first-ever premium transit line linking the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The concept — similar to the popular G Line (Orange Line) in the heart of the San Fernando Valley — will run buses on dedicated lanes and general purpose lanes, with 22 side-out, canopy-covered bus stations with electronic signs giving the time of the next bus arrival, all designed to make the BRT faster and more reliable than regular bus service.

"We think of it as a light-rail on rubber tires," said Scott Hartwell, LA Metro countywide planner overseeing the project's design and environmental studies. The line would go from the North Hollywood B/G Lines (Red/Orange) station to the Memorial Park A Line Station in Old Pasadena, then continue in general purpose lanes in Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard to Hill Street/Pasadena City College.

First proposed in 2017, the 19-mile project was stalled by the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, financing shortages and by vocal opposition. Folks in Eagle Rock didn't want general purpose lanes on Colorado Boulevard taken over by buses only, saying reducing traffic to one lane for vehicles would cause gridlock on the community's main thoroughfare and hurt small businesses.

From Broadway to Eagle Rock Boulevard, Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock will have one eastbound and one westbound lane dedicated for the BRT, with two general purpose lanes each way for cars, plus a bike lane, said Patrick Chandler, LA Metro spokesman. But in the 1.5 miles east of there to the 134 Freeway entrance, the general purpose lanes on Colorado Boulevard will funnel down to one lane, with an east and a west BRT lane in the center of the street and a protected bikeway.

The route, between Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Glendale, Burbank and North Hollywood, would ride a small portion of the 134 Freeway, onto Colorado in Eagle Rock, Glenoaks Boulevard, Olive Avenue, Riverside Drive and Lankershim Boulevard. Buses would be electric-powered with on-board batteries and equipped to control traffic signals when necessary for faster rides, Hartwell said.

About 700,000 vehicles ride daily in the proposed study area, making it one of the most heavily traveled corridors in Los Angeles County without a premium transit service, Metro reported. Metro predicts the service will get about 30,000 riders each day when it opens, growing to 35,000 by 2042.

Potential contractors held meetings this month in preparation for their construction bid submittals. Those are due at Metro on March 21, with Metro choosing a contractor in April, said Mark Van Gessel, Metro executive officer.

Skanska and Sully-Miller, two construction companies coming together as a joint applicant, held a virtual meeting Feb. 12, explaining how sub-contractors can join the team. It appears the contracting duo wants to have its ducks in a row before submitting its bid.

"Clearly they are very interested if they are holding meetings," Van Gessel said. "They hold these meetings to get the interest out."

Metro certified the project's Final Environmental Impact Report in April 2022, but not much has happened since then. It was proposed to be completed by the end of this year. Instead, it is slated for revenue operation at the end of 2027, Van Gessel said. Construction could start in late 2025, he said.

The agency has put aside $317 million for the project: $267 million from Measure M sales tax revenues and $50 million from a state grant, Hartwell said.

But before it gets built, the project must jump more hurdles.

Key votes at Burbank City Hall this month and next, and before the LA Metro board in March or April, promise to attract plenty of opposition. These votes could determine the fate of the project.

A group called Vision Burbank is opposed to bus-only lanes on Olive Avenue, a busy, commercial thoroughfare, saying the reduction of general purpose lanes used by cars will negatively impact businesses, nearby residential neighborhoods, cause congestion, more idling and air pollution.

Vision Burbank plans on attending the Feb. 27 City Council meeting to ask city leaders and elected council members to alter Metro's plan to re-stripe for BRT lanes on the busy avenue. A second meeting, which could include a vote for approval, is tentatively scheduled for March 26.

Both will draw protesters and speakers from the group, which has an email list of about 4,000, said David Donahue, president.

"The biggest impact will be tremendous gridlock of having one lane (for cars) in each direction," he said on Monday, Feb. 19 in an interview. "This would back up traffic and force drivers to cut through local neighborhoods."

Karen Ross, co-owner of Tallyrand Restaurant, an iconic establishment famous for their turkey meals, pot roast and breakfast items, said customers trying to reach the eatery at 1700 W. Olive Ave. will be deterred. She fears the road diet with exclusive BRT lanes will reduce business.

"I'm not a fan of them taking a traffic lane away on eastbound and westbound Olive Avenue," she said on Monday. "Let is just be a mixed flow; there's no reason why we need to designate a lane for a bus."

In 2022, the city said no BRT lanes on Olive Avenue until Metro could show the project would support enough riders to make it worthwhile. Metro countered, saying the agency believes the separate BRT lanes there will create a faster service and draw more passengers than if buses mix with other traffic.

After new council members won the recent election, there's more support for Metro's BRT proposal, said City Council member Konstantine Anthony. "Metro knows where we stand on this. We have a pro-transit City Council," he said on Monday.

He will vote for the BRT lanes on Olive Avenue as per Metro's design, but wants a stop at the Olive Avenue Bridge Metrolink Station. He said presently, Metro plans a stop about one-third a mile away, forcing BRT riders to walk to catch the Metrolink train.

Cherryl Weaver, a Realtor who opposed the narrowing of car lanes on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, moved from Eagle Rock to Burbank three years ago and has joined Vision Burbank in opposition to the Olive Avenue BRT alignment.

She says just like the businesses in the easterly section of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, small restaurants and shops on Olive Avenue in Burbank will face more congestion and will lose customers.

"The same issues that will happen in Eagle Rock will happen in Burbank," she said on Tuesday, Feb. 20. "When you take a lane away, the cars will disperse. They will not want to sit in traffic," she said, suggesting they'll visit other establishments, such as Coral Cafe on Burbank Boulevard or Porto's Bakery and Cafe on Magnolia Boulevard.

She also said Metro's project is aimed at bringing commuters to Warner Bros. and Disney studios as well as St. Joseph's Hospital. It isn't designed to bring riders to eateries and businesses in Burbank.

The biggest flaw of the project, she said, is that it doesn't connect to Hollywood Burbank Airport. "If they wanted to improve transportation in L.A., they would've taken it to Burbank airport," she said.

Hartwell said the NoHo-to-Pasadena BRT line's design initially had a stop at the Burbank airport but that was taken out of the project in 2019. At that time, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek had also asked for the airport connection.

Anthony said the project would provide a faster transit option for commuters in Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank, who now mostly drive the gridlocked 134 Freeway. Metro reported the BRT line would be 30 to 40 percent faster than regular bus services in the corridor.

"We have millions of cars on the 134 each day that is a nightmare in the mornings and evenings. This would eliminate so many vehicle miles traveled every single day. Traffic would be reduced," said Anthony.


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