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BUSWAY'S PARKING BONANZA CANOGA STATION OPENS WITH ROOM TO LEAVE 611 CARS.

Byline: RACHEL URANGA Staff Writer

CANOGA PARK -- What could become a turning point for the Orange Line officially opened Wednesday with the new Canoga station and a Park and Ride lot that supporters hope will lead to the line's north-south extension.

``We have truly entered a new era of public transportation in this city,'' Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. ``There is a new commitment to public transportation.''

The $26 million station and 611-space parking lot will attract West Valley commuters looking to avoid traffic on the Ventura Freeway, he said. And it could be a precursor to a $135 million north-south extension of the 14-mile, east-west Orange Line, which under one proposal would cut from the Canoga station -- the line's 14th -- up Canoga Avenue to the Chatsworth Metrolink station.

But while public officials have touted the success of the Orange Line, with ridership hitting 15-year goals in less than a year, critics complain that the Park and Ride lots are under-used.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials estimate that before the Canoga lot was added, commuters were using only 15 percent -- about 480 parking spaces -- of the nearly 3,200 spaces at five lots along the line.

The most popular lot, the Winnetka station across the street from Pierce College, boasted use of 50 percent to 70 percent capacity each day. But other lots, including the one at the Sepulveda station, often sit nearly empty.

``This is sort of the make-or-break-it parking (lot),'' said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a grass-roots transit-advocacy group. ``If the Valley gets some usage out of it, then it will show that this is a good idea.

``If for some reason it stays unused, like the Sepulveda station, then we will know that people aren't willing to drop their private cars to go on a bus that connects with the subway and can take more than an hour.''

And, he said, if it doesn't work, it would show that spending more than $100 million to extend the line north to Chatsworth would be a waste of money.

Metro officials say they are planning to launch a marketing campaign next year to lure commuters out of their cars and onto the bus.

``I think we have great opportunities with this Canoga line,'' said Richard Hunt, general manager of the San Fernando Valley sector of Metro. ``You will see the attractiveness of this location will bring in people that may have not used this in the past.''

But Orange Line critics continue to complain that the Valley deserved a light-rail line instead of a busway that is less attractive to new commuters.

``Pure and simple: We have trouble attracting people to the Park and Ride lots,'' said Kymberleigh Richards, who chairs the Metro San Fernando Valley sector Governance Council. ``Whether that can be corrected with better marketing, better visibility or what -- I don't know what the solution is.''

The Canoga station, which actually opened in mid-December, sits at Canoga and Vanowen Street on a 6.7-acre former Rocketdyne property used to dismantle rocket engines.

Metro purchased the lot for $5.7 million in December 2004 after plans fell through for a bus terminal atop a parking lot of the newly expanded Westfield Topanga mall.

Planners say the new Park and Ride lot, billed as the largest west of the San Diego Freeway, will be a key to growing ridership. As of last month, daily boardings hit 20,659.

``This should make the Orange Line more convenient for potential riders -- those that live in the western Valley as well as in the Conejo Valley,'' said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. ``The Valley's mobility depends on it.''

rachel.uranga(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3741

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, map

Photo:

(1 -- color) The new Canoga station for the Metro Orange Line busway, with a 611-space Park and Ride lot, officially opened Wednesday.

(2) Officially opened Wednesday, the new Canoga station, with a 611-space parking lot, could be key to getting commuters to leave their cars and ride the Orange Line busway, officials say.

(3) Opening the Canoga station are, from left, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Councilman Dennis Zine.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

Map:

Metro's new Canoga station and proposed extensions

SOURCE: Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Warren Huskey/Staff Artist
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 28, 2006
Words:717
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