The Next Orange Line – Pacific Electric / West Santa Ana Branch
May 23, 2012 5 Comments
The Southern California Association of Governments recently announced its Alternatives Analysis for the Pacific Electric ROW / West Santa Ana Corridor. The Orange Line Development Authority (because it runs to Orange County, though they’re soon changing their name because Metro already has an Orange Line), is also involved. The diagonal corridor left over from the Pacific Electric days stretches from the 105 Freeway in Paramount all the way down to Santa Ana, about 20 miles, in a straight line. The corridor runs through both LA and Orange Counties, and is owned by the respective county transportation agencies in each. Because it spans more than one jurisdiction, the study is being conducted by SCAG, in association with both Metro and OCTA.
They are studying both mode and route for the project, with the goal to extend it from both ends of the right of way to Union Station in LA and the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center (SARTC) in Orange County.
Among the alternatives, there are bus rapid transit, streetcar, light rail, and low speed maglev train. This seems like a fairly simple decision to me. The route has the potential for ridership far above what a bus line would have — and the street running portions on both ends would seriously hamper it’s effectiveness. A streetcar is much better for local circulation, without either the capacity or speed for the 20 mile or longer route. A maglev train could be a good alternative, but it’s at least double the cost of the next most expensive mode, and would ultimately create an entirely new system just for this line. As the ultimate goal is to connect the line to Union Station, this would mean adding a completely new mode to the mix at the already overburdened station.
The best solution is to build light rail like we see on the Gold, Green, Blue, and Expo lines in LA County. I’d propose having Metro operate the system after it’s built, with some form of subsidy from OCTA to account for the portion that runs in Orange County. It could seamlessly connect with the other Metro lines at Union Station or Little Tokyo and Metro already has the expertise and experience running a substantial light rail system. It should fit in operationally with the Metro fare structure (which should, admittedly undergo some changes as more lines, connections, and extensions start opening).
Light rail should be the obvious choice. What may be less obvious is the route.
The diagonal ROW goes from the Raitt St. in Santa Ana — where it becomes Santa Ana Blvd. — to the 105/710 Interchange, where it becomes the 105 Freeway. Because Santa Ana is already planning a streetcar for the end portion of the right of way, the plan it to have this line leave the right of way a little early, at Westminster/Harbor in Santa Ana and travel on (or under?) streets.
The two routes go either west on Westminster (17th St.) or south on Harbor to 1st and then west from there. The Westminster route turns south on Main street to connect with the planned streetcar at Santa Ana Blvd. The 1st Street route heads all the way to the SARTC. This route is certainly the better alternative, as it reaches a major transfer point. It will cost more and cross more intersections, but missing the SARTC will be like the Green Line missing LAX and the Norwalk Metrolink Station.
The northern part of the route, from the 105 (Green Line Connection) to Union Station has more routes and is a much harder decision. The total of four routes each follow another existing rail ROW from the 105 Freeway to Gage Avenue on the border of Huntington Park and Bell. The so-called “East Bank” alternative crosses to the eastern side of the LA River with a stop at Soto/Washington and then follows the riverbank and existing tracks to hook into Union Station from the north. The “West Bank” alternatives 1 and 2 also follow the LA River and existing tracks to hook into the north side of Union Station, though they do so from the west side of the river.
The “West Bank 3″ alternative is the best in terms of ridership and service area, and it leaves the door open for future connections and extensions. From the Gage Ave. stop, it has a stop in Huntington Park and Vernon and then goes into Downtown Los Angeles, with a stop at 7th/Alameda. The American Apparel headquarters and many other manufacturers and distribution centers are located nearby this intersection, a major Downtown job center. It’s also walking distance to some of the Arts District eateries, including Church & State, Tony’s Saloon, and Villains Tavern. From here, the line would head north on Alameda, connecting to the Gold Line tracks somewhere in Little Tokyo and sharing those tracks into Union Station.
The key for making this alternative work is connecting to the Gold Line tracks in Little Tokyo. It seems as though the Alternatives Analysis for this project has not taken into account the Regional Connector project that Metro is already planning in this area — even though this will certainly add some difficulties. Operationally, the “Orange Line” would not add a third line to any of the tracks, but it would require a new junction to come right near the planned Junction of the Gold Line and Regional Connector in Little Tokyo. It seems this connection would best be made just north of where the current Little Tokyo Gold Line Station sits (this station will move across the street and go underground as part of the Regional Connector project). It would help to have a Little Tokyo Station for this line on Alameda, immediately next to the Regional Connector Station, to provide nearby transfers and access to Little Tokyo, though I’m not sure if this will prove practical or not.
Once the connection to the Gold Line tracks is made, this route will travel into Union Station, where it will theoretically end.
The beauty of the West Bank 3 alternative is that it enters Union Station on the only existing pass-through tracks, those for the Gold Line, which makes future extensions possible. Rather simply, trains don’t have to stop at Union Station. They can continue north from Union Station on the Gold Line into Pasadena and beyond. The tracks can handle the extra frequency because the Gold Line at this point will already be limited by the frequency of trains able to travel through the Regional Connector. This is a great way to provide increased local service between Pasadena and LA, while also extending this line and the one-seat-ride opportunities.
If I had it my way, however, the line would split from the Gold in Chinatown to become a Glendale-bound line (that also conveniently connects to Dodger Stadium). It would head through Glendale and Burbank to North Hollywood, connecting to the current Metro Orange Line, which would then be upgraded to light rail for a continuous journey. In the end, maybe they weren’t mistaken when they called this line the “Orange Line.”
For a Google Map showing this whole route of an extended Orange Line (you’ll see it in orange), go here. Just know, this map is my speculative dream for the system and is under constant revision and change as various projects are studied.