Imagine, if you will, being able to ride a rail line on Van Nuys Boulevard in the northeast San Fernando Valley to the West Valley along Sherman Way and across the Cahuenga Pass to downtown Los Angeles. No, I’m not talking about the distant future, but rather the recent past.
The year was 1911, the community of Van Nuys had just been established in February, and in December the first trolleys operated by the Pacific Electric Railway Co. rolled into the San Fernando Valley from downtown Los Angeles.
Within two years, the line carried more than 300,000 passengers; by 1926 over 1 million people rode Pacific Electric’s San Fernando Line. This early light rail system connected our region like never before and spurred the development of the San Fernando Valley from an agricultural outpost to a thriving economic center.
Not since 1952, however, have residents had the option to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of a light rail system to travel around, as well as in and out of, the Valley. Instead, whether in our personal cars or the public bus, our only option now is to sit in traffic.
Today, with the ongoing implementation of Measure M – a half-cent sales tax for transit projects approved by voters in 2016 – we have an unprecedented opportunity to once again connect the Valley with a high-capacity rail transportation system.
The first project up for consideration is the East Valley Transit Corridor, a 9.2-mile stretch running from the Metrolink Sylmar/San Fernando station along San Fernando Road and Van Nuys Boulevard to the Van Nuys Orange Line station. Several alternatives have been presented for the project mode, including bus rapid transit and light rail.
Looking to our past and considering our present, it’s clear what our future needs: it’s time to bring light rail back to the Valley. The 14-station light rail transit system is the best option for the San Fernando Valley.
What the Valley doesn’t need is another bus line, even if it is bus rapid transit on a dedicated busway. That’s what the Orange Line is, and its overwhelming success is why it’s being converted to light rail. Building the East Valley line as light rail will provide a smooth, convenient ride from Sylmar to Warner Center, Chatsworth or North Hollywood, and, eventually, the Westside and LAX.
A light rail system will spur economic development in the historically underserved communities of the East Valley like a bus system never could. During construction, the use of a local hire program would ensure that construction-related jobs benefit East Valley residents, and Metro programs like “Eat, Shop, Play” and the Business Interruption Fund would ensure that local businesses can continue to thrive during construction.