Jury’s still out on busway

first_imgThe Metro Orange Line busway celebrates its first week in operation today, quickly heralded by commuters and the just plain curious as a giant leap forward for mass transit in the San Fernando Valley – and then slowed down by ground-level safety fears. As officials celebrated the 11,000 daily passengers using the new busway, a 78-year-old woman believed to be talking on a cell phone ran a red light and crashed her car into the bus, sending 15 people to the hospital. It was the first major accident for the busway – but the second incident that day – although no one was seriously hurt. Busway critics immediately blasted the collisions as the nightmare they had predicted with the potent mix of buses passing through intersections – and a state senator called for the line to be temporarily shut down. But as the line now begins its second week in operation, Los Angeles officials have rallied around it, banding together to immediately add safety measures – more come on line today – and insisting they’ll do all they can to make the Valley’s biggest public tax-dollar investment in years a success. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “This is one of the largest new public transit systems we’ve put on line in the city in many, many years, and from all accounts it is a success. That being said, you can never sit on your laurels and say we did a good job, whether it be ensuring safety issues, ensuring ridership,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, chairwoman of the city’s Transportation Committee. “It’s very important for us to celebrate the success of our first week, but we also have to be diligent.” Valley residents who had been eagerly waiting for the busway to roll remain mixed on the first week’s results. Scores of residents left their cars for the first time in their adult lives to board a bus, gushing over the traffic-free ride that gave them a chance to relax and see more of the world than taillights on the 101 Freeway. Attorney John Birke stepped on board the day after the crash, heading from Warner Center to a court appearance at Van Nuys courthouse, thrilled at trimming a 45-minute commute to 30 minutes. Ridership was more than 10,000 that day. “When I watched the unceasing line of brake lights down Victory (Boulevard), I knew this was the way to go,” he said. “I was stress-free when I got here.” And even veteran bus riders welcomed the line, which can cut a typical two-hour ride on multiple buses in half. “For me, I like it,” said Antonia Monroy, a housekeeper from North Hollywood, who saved time over her regular 156 bus. Still, critics complained the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has created a danger for city streets and a threat to their quiet neighborhoods. “We knew it was going to happen – it was predicted there was going to be … accidents or fatalities. This was the first week. It’s not going to end,” said 30-year resident Jill Haber, president of the Melody Acres Neighborhood Association. Haber wants grade-separated crossings for the line, as does William Evans, board member of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization on the other end of the Valley. “It just doesn’t make any sense, a high-speed bus line running across busy intersections, with no warning but a light. That’s pretty much the way I feel and the way other people feel.” For now, the MTA has ordered drivers to slow buses to 10 mph through the intersections, and the city has stationed white-gloved officers to control traffic as officials investigate long-term changes like crossing gates. By today the city will have made additional changes including: adjusting traffic signals to keep the lights red a little bit longer until all cars have passed; changing some green lights to green arrows; and moving “Bus crossing” and “No right on red” signs to eye level, Greuel said. But state Sen. Richard Alarcon continued his campaign to have the Orange Line temporarily shut down. “We ought to temporarily close it at least for a week and see if we can find immediate measures,” said Alarcon, D-Van Nuys. “I’m pleased that Mayor (Antonio) Villaraigosa has taken swift action; however, I don’t think it’s enough, and think more needs to be done. I would hate to think one more person would be injured.” Many critics point to the busway in Miami, the nation’s first, which is now considering crossing gates after numerous crashes. The range of safety measures being considered for the Valley will be discussed Wednesday at Greuel’s Transportation Committee meeting. The Los Angeles Police Department’s preliminary investigation into last week’s crash shows the woman driving likely ran the red light. But Valley Traffic Capt. Ron Marbrey said officials are unable to confirm the bus driver’s assertion that the woman also was talking on a cell phone. Sherman Oaks resident Joan Leonard, an occasional mass-transit rider who serves on the MTA’s Valley Governance Council, is looking forward to finding solutions. At the council’s monthly meeting last week, nearly two dozen riders turned out asking for more connecting buses, more routes and schedules posted at bus shelters and Orange Line stations, and an easier way to buy monthly bus passes since the Valley customer center has been shut down. “People are riding it and they’re liking it,” said Leonard, a financial analyst. “It’s the first time that something has been done for the Valley in my lifetime to really enhance our quality of living in a grand way. “People’s enthusiasm for the Orange Line justifies our leaders using every bit of their brains to come up with solutions.” Staff Writer Josh Kleinbaum contributed to this report. Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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