Some San Fernando Valley residents who climbed aboard the Metro Orange Line last week and left their cars at home or in Park and Ride lots revealed an urban-savvy side that doesn’t fit the image of commuters in America’s most famous suburban enclave. Residents from perfectly middle-class, two-car-garage households started stepping onto buses, opening up their newspapers and heading out to jobs, theaters and friends’ neighborhoods as if it were no big deal for them to take public transit in Los Angeles. A Tarzana accountant and his wife attended a concert at the Disney Hall. A West Hills attorney rode to the courthouse. A Granada Hills woman took the bus to her job in the jewelry district. A grandma parked her minivan at home and took a group of friends to a show downtown. “I personally don’t love driving,” said Stacie Renee Halpern, a criminal defense attorney with offices in Tarzana, who rode the busway to the Van Nuys Courthouse during the Orange Line’s opening week. “When I’m in New York or any other large city that has a good transit system, I like taking the Metro. I wish L.A. had that, and I wish the Valley was part of it. The Orange Line’s a start. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “How many conversations did you see people having on the Orange Line instead of screaming at people in their cars?” Who knew that, amid the Valley’s sprawl of minimalls, ranch homes and freeway interchanges, lived so many middle-class commuters openly accepting urbanization? “That underscores, I think, some of the cultural changes taking place in the San Fernando Valley,” said Tom Hogen-Esch, who has studied the Valley as an assistant professor of political science at California State University, Northridge. “The Valley was developed in the 1930s, ’40s, through the ’70s, as a suburban escape from all things urban, and what you’ve had in really just the last 15 years or so is this process of urbanization going on, … this sometimes-painful transformation from quintessential suburbia.” He adds that for Angelenos in general, “public transit is kind of a new thing. … It’s part of that learning curve, … the middle-class overcoming the stigma of public transit that has long (existed) in L.A.” It’s no secret that buses in Los Angeles are used primarily by those who come from the ranks of the poor and working-class minorities; many of them can’t afford their own wheels. And the Orange Line carries plenty of house cleaners, restaurant workers and young people who don’t have cars or come from families in which two or more drivers share one vehicle. They are simply taking the busway instead of street buses. But also traveling east during morning rush hour is the downtown crowd – the middle-class professionals who transfer to the subway for the second leg of their journey. Some had already used the subway, but now they take the Orange Line instead of driving to the station. Other middle-class riders are total “newbies,” giving transit a try. But urban scholar Joel Kotkin says it shouldn’t come as a shock that Valley residents are acting like city dwellers since the Valley in essence is a city. Signs of urban life among the Valley’s nearly 1.8 million residents are easily found as pedestrians shop on Ventura Boulevard or pick over produce at the farmers markets, noted Kotkin, an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation. But the fact that a few middle-class residents brave the bus to go to work or, a couple nights a year, to the theater is no sure sign of newfound urban-life acceptance – or a wholesale repudiation of the car culture. The subway, Kotkin reminds, carries only a fraction of its projected ridership more than a decade after it opened. “They go through an early honeymoon period where everyone takes it,” Kotkin said about shiny-new commuter lines. “Try it in three months. When the Red Line started, there were all sorts of people in ties and jackets.” He thinks Orange Line supporters should see the busway for what it is – a cheap alternative to rail for transit-dependent people – and not fantasize that the Valley is a new center of world-class urbanity. “We’re not talking about sashaying on the Champs-Elysses,” he said. “If people want to get all enthused about it, that’s great. … Cafes and dancing seals at every stop? That’s not what you’re going to get.” Still, the evening ride to NoHo two Friday nights ago carried 63-year-old Walter Tuthill, a certified public accountant from Tarzana, and his wife, who climbed aboard at the Reseda Station and rode the Orange Line to the subway for a concert at the Disney Concert Hall. “The 101 is atrocious,” said Tuthill. In fact, he and his wife ended their 24-year subscription to the Ahmanson Theatre last year because they could no longer bear the commute down the Ventura Freeway. “We gave up what I thought were ideal seats because we were sick of the traffic,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth the headache to get down there.” Now they’re reconsidering season tickets. But whether middle-class riders stay on board remains to be seen. Truthfully, Tuthill and Halpern aren’t total transit newcomers. He used to ride Metrolink occasionally when he worked downtown, and she sometimes takes the subway to the downtown courts. But the addition of the Orange Line begins to build a network for them that both say would be enhanced if there were more bus-only lanes across the Valley. Kotkin doubts middle-class riders will trade their cars for buses in great numbers in the long run. But he still thinks the Orange Line should be extended to crisscross the Valley and go out to Thousand Oaks – since busways are so much cheaper than rail lines. The Orange Line’s original plans included similar north-south busways near Canoga Avenue and Van Nuys Boulevard. “We are a dispersed urban region and what we need are transit alternatives for that part of the population that needs it,” he said. “For the occasional person who, on the lark, takes it, that’s great. You don’t build the system for them. You build it for the person who depends on it.” Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! 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