July 5, 2001
Could Be Green and Great
Numerous spokespeople for the Orthodox Jewish community have passionately opposed any transportation solution that includes using the Chandler portion of the MTA right of way. I would like to express support of the MTA's proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route on the Burbank/Chandler corridor.
I have been a resident of the San Fernando Valley for over 25 years. During this time, I have seen traffic on surface streets grow while we have debated endlessly over the right mass-transit solution. The outcome of our years of debate has been no solution.
The Valley needs enlightened transportation solutions to relieve gridlock on local streets. We have consistently demonstrated that small, special-interest groups can come together in successful opposition to proposed transportation solutions. Unfortunately, we have been unable to look beyond our special interests to support the "Law of the Commons" and find solutions that produce benefits for the entire community. Today, as a result of our uncompromising nature, we have lost our chance for a subway or light rail; a dedicated busway is the only rapid transit option under consideration by the MTA.
The full BRT, including Chandler Boulevard, offers a unique opportunity for the Valley.
The dedicated busway will provide fast, predictable transit times that will get people out of their cars and ease traffic congestion while establishing a model for other dedicated busways in the San Fernando Valley.
$300 million is a bargain. A subway for the same route would cost $4.2 billion.
We have the opportunity to have a greenway -- complete with landscaping, pedestrian paths and bikeway -- extending from North Hollywood to Warner Center.
The dedicated busway within the broad right of way will provide the safest route with the least disruption to adjacent properties.
The MTA has listened to the Chandler community and has answered its concerns. The bus will be limited to 35 mph; additional pedestrian crosswalks will be provided, there will be no sound walls (no "Berlin Wall" dividing the community) and walk signals will be automatic on the Sabbath and Holy Days.
Lankershim/Oxnard is not a solution. It is not a dedicated busway; it is simply another bus on a very crowded street! We only need to look to the red Metro bus on Ventura Boulevard to see the ineffectiveness of this approach. The adverse impacts on safety, noise, pollution and traffic are far worse on Oxnard; but, unlike Chandler, there are few opportunities for mitigation.
Using fear tactics, a small group of residents has convinced many of their neighbors along Chandler that the busway will mean a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in property values, and will destroy their community and threaten their religion. These are incredible claims -- Chandler already has buses; the 100-foot-wide right of way is currently an eyesore, and the Orthodox Jewish community thrives on Fairfax, South Robertson and La Brea -- all far more congested than Chandler. Religion is, after all, about faith in ideals, not superficial surroundings.
The environmental impact report points out that "little community opposition has arisen against the Lankershim/Oxnard variation." There are good reasons for that. The residents along Oxnard are very diverse -- we are Latino, Armenian, Russian, Asian, African American and, yes, Orthodox Jew. Because of this diversity, it is difficult to bring the residents together on any issue. Many residents have not yet heard of the Lankershim/Oxnard alternative.
Much of the housing along Oxnard is less than 20 feet from the curb. The new bus would pass within 30 feet of people's living rooms and bedrooms. By contrast, homes along Chandler will be separated from the bus by at least 70 feet and, in many cases, by well over 100 feet.
Traffic accidents on Oxnard intersections outnumber those on the corresponding Chandler by as much as 10 to 1. The bus will be operating in an unsafe environment.
Each weekday, over 6,000 children attend school along Oxnard. Many of those who walk to school do so because their families do not have a car.
By allowing part of the route to operate in very congested traffic, the value of the project is seriously diluted. The project will only be as effective as its weakest link. The $245 million spent on the remainder of the route will be wasted.
I believe the East/West Bus Rapid Transit will prove to be a very valuable asset for the entire San Fernando Valley and for the communities served. But we must keep pressure on the MTA officials to deliver the system they have promised. The greenway, effective sound-mitigation, attractive stations, a bikeway, a pedestrian path, safety measures and well-thought-out traffic crossings are all required to make this project a success.