Previous to a 4-mile northern extension, the Orange Line ran for 14.5 miles, almost exclusively in old railroad right-of-way, which was originally purchased in 1991 by LA Metro with the intention to develop light rail or subway that would connect to the Red Line in North Hollywood. The 14 original stations are located across a wide range of residential and commercial land use densities.
Project Type:New Line Project Mode:Bus Rapid Transit Average Weekday Riders:30,000 Length (mi):18.00
Economic Distress:1.06 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):7841 Population Growth Rate (%):0.88
Employment Growth Rate (%):1.80 Market Size:12,703,423 Airport Travel Distance:21 Topography:21
Region:Rocky Mountain / Far West State:CA County:Los Angeles County
City:Los Angeles Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:Zip Code 91303, 91306, 91316, 913335, 91356, 91367, 91371, 91401, 91406, 91411, 91601, 91607 (San Fernando Valley)
Impact Area:Within 3/4 mile of station(s) Transportation System:Transit GIS Lat/Long:34.185765 / -118.476309
Initial Study Date:2002 Post Constr. Study Date:2012
Constr. Start Date:2002 Constr. End Date:2005
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2001 Planned Cost (YOE $):320,000,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):305,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):385,000,000
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||35.59||0.00||35.59|
|Output (in $M's)||86.19||0.00||86.19|
In October 2005, LA Metro opened the Orange Line BRT, which runs entirely on dedicated right-of-way in former rail bed. The Orange Line was the first BRT line in the U.S. to run entirely in separated right-of-way and has the highest ridership of any U.S. BRT system. Commercial development attributable to the Orange Line has been limited by national and local economic conditions as well as local land use circumstances. It remains one of the most successful rapid transit lines in the U.S. in terms of its transportation and planning impacts, including connecting the San Fernando Valley to LA Metro’s rapid transit network for the first time and providing over 40 percent time savings relative to the previous local bus route in a comparable corridor. The Orange Line seems likely to facilitate development going forward and also provide future travel improvements. New jobs along the station corridor are mostly concentrated around the eastern terminus at North Hollywood and the western terminus at Warner Center and considering the wide variety of other factors involved, about 825 jobs can be associated with the transit improvements directly.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
The Orange Line runs, east to west, through the southern San Fernando Valley. The Orange Line was the first true rapid transit line in the Valley. It originally ran 14.5 miles from the Red Line Subway station in North Hollywood to Warner Center, the third largest employment center in LA County. In 2012, a 3.5 mile extension to Chatsworth was completed, which added a connection to the regional rail network at the northwestern terminus of the Orange Line.
There are currently nearly 4,000 park-and-ride spots available along the Orange Line, but many lots are significantly underutilized. Metro has been working on joint development efforts to replace some of this parking capacity with housing or mixed use buildings.
Bike connections with the Orange Line are highly utilized. During the construction process of the Orange Line, a shared use path or separate bike and pedestrian paths were added along the corridor for its entire length. Every Orange Line station has bike cages and other bike amenities.
The Orange Line connects to several key north-south streets with high ridership local bus routes, notably: Van Nuys Blvd, Reseda Blvd, and Sepulveda Blvd. Overall, LA Metro has been surprised with how great a portion of ridership uses the Orange Line as only part of their trip, transferring from other transit routes, or arriving by walking or biking, rather than driving to park-and-ride stations.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
The Valley is northwest of downtown LA, home to more than 2.5 million people, and still largely considered a residential suburb in comparison to the LA core. Original plans to construct the Orange Line as a light rail or subway facility were blocked by the local communities, which lead to construction of a BRT line as the only way to provide rapid transit service to the Valley and utilize the railroad right-of-way that had been acquired several years earlier.
The two original termini of the Orange Line – North Hollywood and Warner Center – account for the majority of employment along the corridor, with the stations in between largely passing through residential areas. Along the corridor, there are several colleges, medical facilities, and a regional center of government.
Over the last decade following its construction, the Orange Line has remained one of the best examples of BRT in the United States. Of the many systems constructed over the last decade and marketed as BRT many lack crucial elements that were included in the Orange Line. The Orange Line operates in fully dedicated right of way, has off board fair collection, well-branded stations as well as rolling stock, level boarding, some signal prioritization, and operates at high frequency. The project included significant efforts to integrate the line with other travel options and integrate it in to the community with extensive landscaping and design components. The route includes 38 signalized intersections – mostly at-grade traffic crossings.
The major driver of the Orange Line project was to improve public transit accessibility in the Valley. Before the Orange Line construction, LA Metro had invested considerably more resources into rapid transit lines elsewhere in the county, especially in the downtown core. Transit was also seen as a way to address congestion on highway 101 and throughout the Valley.
Discussions regarding extending service to the Valley began as early as 1980 and LA Metro acquired the abandoned rail bed in 1991. Construction finally began for the BRT line in the fall of 2002 and was completed in 2005, on- or under-budget, at a final cost of $305 million.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The Orange Line replaced a local bus route that took 72 minutes to travel from North Hollywood to Warner Center with a 50 minute scheduled trip that offers significantly higher reliability and more frequent trips. This improved transit trip takes roughly as long as driving between these locations but it is more reliable.
Weekday ridership stands at nearly 30,000 boardings and weekend ridership continues to grow quickly, now standing at about 2/3rd the level of weekday ridership. During AM and PM peaks, Orange Line vehicles are frequently at or above capacity.
A ridership survey 3 months after the line’s opening estimated that nearly 20 percent of riders had previously traveled by car and were now using the Orange Line for their trip. About 80 percent of those new riders had previously used Highway 101, which saw a decrease in congestion and delay in the months after the Orange Line’s opening, which more than likely was related.
LA Metro is in the process of developing proposals for further improving both travel time and capacity, which will almost certainly require eliminating some at-grade crossings or negotiating much more aggressive signal prioritization with the City of LA. Additional capacity could also be added if the state of California grants LA Metro permission to use longer, higher-capacity buses.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
Most of the development associated with the Orange Line to date has been residential with several hundred units added near the North Hollywood station and several thousand new units in the Warner Center and Canoga station areas. The LA residential market is currently much more attractive for developers than the commercial market. The average renter in LA spends 48 percent of their income on rent, and only 187 units are being built for every 1,000 new residents of LA. This tight housing market has encouraged any development projects that move forward to be heavily skewed towards residential units.
The recent update to the Warner Center Specific Plan that defines land use goals, design criteria, and zoning overlays for the Warner Center area, sets requirements that, in a significant portion of the district, all multi-family developments must include other land uses, including commercial components as well as retail. Developments containing primarily commercial or office space have been restrained by a double digit vacancy rate for office space in the LA metro region. Even several years before the recession in 2007-2008, vacancy rates in LA exceeded 15 percent. Several planned projects to add office space were scuttled when the recession hit. Some new office space has been built in North Hollywood, which has gained about 300,000 square feet of office space since the Orange Line opened. North Hollywood also benefits from a connection to downtown via the Red Line and additional policy levers to encourage development.
Retail has seen somewhat greater growth. In 2007, the Topanga Plaza shopping mall in Warner center completed renovations and new construction in 2006 and 2008 that added nearly 900,000 square feet of retail. In 2015, The Village at Topanga opened, adding an additional 550,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and linking The Promenade Mall with the Topanga Plaza (rebranded Westfield Topanga) to create the 3rd largest shopping complex in the United States. North Hollywood has also added over 100,000 square feet of retail space as part of several mixed use developments near the Red Line and Orange Line station area.
The next major project in Warner Center is likely to be a 47-acre, $3 billion development with over 4,000 residential units and 1.1 million square feet of office space, as well as significant retail and community space. This project will be directly across from an Orange Line station and will satisfy the goals of the Warner Center Specific Plan in creating a more walkable, transit-oriented community. The planned increase in densities would likely have been limited without strong transit access to the region, from the Orange Line and other Metro services.
Metro is currently reviving joint development plans for some of the underutilized park-and-ride facilities along the Orange Line, after the first attempt at joint development efforts fell through during the recession. That first round of joint development discussions culminated in plan to build 1 million square feet of office space, 150,000 of retail, and 500 apartment units, and other community amenities. The new plan for North Hollywood as well as redevelopment of the 1,200 stop park-and-ride at the Orange Line’s Sepulveda Blvd stop are expected to have more significant residential components, of which 35 percent will be affordable housing.
The defunct Community Redevelopment Agency estimated that construction from 2006 to 2008 around the North Hollywood transit stations has created 1,150 jobs. Since then, new construction has been limited by the recession and continued slack development market during the recovery. LA Metro’s joint development plans could create hundreds of new jobs depending on the mix of residential, retail/service, and office space in the final plan. It is estimated that The Village retail complex provides 1,500 jobs and that the Westfield Topanga has a similar impact. The addition of 1.1 billion square feet of office space across from The Village, could add another 2,000 jobs in the future, as well as several hundred retail jobs.
While not the main factor in most of these developments, transit access via the Orange Line has certainly been a contributing factor, which makes the areas more attractive as locations for retail and businesses. The San Fernando Valley and Warner Center still rely heavily on personal automobile travel to provide mobility to residents and businesses, but most businesses and companies inquiring about locating in Warner Center are interested in the transit accessibility even if it isn’t their first question regarding the area. The significant improvements in transportation may also have a meaningful economic impacts elsewhere in the Valley that are not captured in this investigation.
Development in North Hollywood in the years immediately following the Orange Line’s opening was supported by the active role of the Community Redevelopment Authority in forming public-private partnerships within a defined redevelopment zone. The Department of City Planning continues to administer a zoning overlay and policy programs to support development in North Hollywood.
The LA city-wide plan and many of the current community-level plans do not provide any special allowances for development around the Orange Line. Recent updates to the North Hollywood and Warner Center Specific Plans, however, do provide changes to zoning and planning guidance to encourage future development. In many ways, the highly local control of neighborhood zoning regulations and development is one of the factors that has so far limited the development impact of the Orange Line. Development of the North Hollywood site owned by Metro, which contains the Orange Line station, will benefit from zoning exemptions that allow buildings that open into Red Line stations to be 50 percent taller than other area buildings. The rest of the Orange Line does not benefit from this type of land use policy.
Much of the development in Warner Center is attributable to economic and land use factors rather than pure transportation factors. The area previously contained many industrial sites that are ready for redevelopment given a proven demand for retail and commercial space in that portion of the Valley.
It would be reasonable to attribute 20 percent of the retail and service jobs at Warner Center and 20 percent of North Hollywood’s job gain to the Orange Line. This represents over 825 jobs. The impact of the transportation improvement and better housing options may provide an even greater number to the LA region.
LA Metro Planning
LA Metro Operations
Warner Center Association
Case Study Developed by Economic Development Research Group, Inc.