Wilshire Bus-Only Lane Needs Full Environmental Review After All

When we last checked-in on the status of the proposed bus-only lanes for Wilshire Boulevard, Metro staff was conducting outreach needed before the project could receive it’s environmental clearance.  At the time, staff hoped it would be completing the needed studies in the next couple of months.  However, they’re now estimating that, at best, the studies won’t be completed until June of 2010.

Next Wednesday, the City Council Transportation Committee will hear a request from LADOT to fund the city’s half of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the bus-only lanes project.  The hearing could prove interesting because the bus only lane, runs through the heart of the districts of both the new Committee Chairman, Bill Rosendahl, and new Vice Chairman Paul Koretz.  While Rosendahl has stated support for the project in the past; Koretz has been more vague and has certainly been lobbied by residents in affluent parts of his district opposed to the project.

According to the report for prepared for next week’s  hearing, there are two reasons that the bus-only plan will require EIR and not the shorter studies originally recommended and already completed.

…a number of intersections along the Wilshire Boulevard and parallel streets would experience traffic impacts that could not be mitigated to a level of insignificance.  In addition, public outreach in November of 2008 indicated both strong support throughout the corridor and strong opposition in several communities.  Based on these findings, staff at Metro and DOT determined that an EIR should be prepared for CEQA clearance.

In other words, the Wilshire bus-only lanes, a project that might have seemed a virtual lock a year ago might be in some trouble because of car traffic concerns.  At the very least it now faces more obstacles to overcome than it did in 2008.  In addition to needing a green light from an environmental standpoint, the project will need to survive another alternatives analysis and another round of public outreach in some areas where a bus only lane instead of street parking is a scary proposition to local residents.

The public hearings will be scheduled soon for late this month or early in October.  Since I most likely won’t be able to attend, anyone interested in reporting from the meeting should contact me at damien@streetsblog.org.

  • David Galvan

    Meh. the “bus-only” lanes would still have cars crossing them to change lanes and turn and park anyway. I am skeptical that they would make a significant difference in helping the buses move faster down Wilshire.

  • KinOfCain

    Despite the right-turn issue I think this is a needed improvement to bus service on wilshire. It’s not going to be “full” BRT (as if theres even a definition for that), but it would help. It’s also not mutually exclusive with the purple line extension, quick bus transfers will boost overall system ridership.

  • lsm

    People in most cities view the bus as a way to get around town. In LA, we (or at least those of us to whom City Council members are most responsive) consider the bus as an ungainly impediment to automobile traffic. We should not myopically demand that bus service be improved only if traffic impacts can be mitigated to a level of insignificance. We should focus instead on what mix of transportation modalities can move the most people the most efficiently with the least environmental impact. And no, I do not look to stick it to affluent car drivers; I own a home on a Wilshire-adjacent street in an affluent part of Mr. Koretz’ district and I possess a car, maintain insurance and have a valid driver’s license.

  • I think this is going to be a great project! Wilshire is one of the highest capacity bus corridors in the city, probably in the world! Speeding those buses up during peak hours is a very low cost way of enhancing green transportation options.

    @lsm: Great to have local car-owning homeowners in support of this project “should not myopically demand that bus service be improved only if traffic impacts can be mitigated to a level of insignificance”… means bus service should be improved even if it impacts car traffic, right? Fast-moving buses are are definitely a transportation modality that moves huge numbers of people very efficiently with a minimum of environmental impact. A bus rider’s carbon footprint is 1/5 of a person driving a car (per the video link below.)

    People interested in learning more about bus-only lanes might be interested in watching this phenomenal streetfilm about bus only lanes connecting New York and New Jersey – one of their bus lanes carries more people than any roadway in the entire U.S.!
    http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/hudson-river-crossings-improving-bus-capacity/

  • No one with any serious understanding see this as anything other than an interim move until the Purple Line extension can be built. It may produce margina; improvement but Wilshire buses carry so many people that will still be significant. Plus symbolically it is a streetscape that says clearly the policy thsat buses have priority over autos isn’t just empty rhetoric.

    Now we just have to overcome the heated opposition of the affluent NIMBYs that are against it on dubious grounds. Should be interesting.

  • lsm

    My previous post objected to focusing solely on how transit system changes affected automobile traffic. I do not yet know enough specifics about this proposal (How will illegal parking be curtailed? How will pedestrian traffic be coordinated to prevent cars waiting to turn right from blocking the lane? How easily will express buses pass locals?) to know if it will greatly speed up Wilshire buses. If it speeds them up enough to offset slower automobile traffic, I am all for the change. If it does not meaningfully speed them up and only further snarls autombile traffic, I am against it.

  • Erik G.

    Christ, could we just REPAVE Wilshire already? The road surface is horrendous!! Some parts are so bumpy, I can’t hold that which I am reading on the bus still enough to see it!

  • The state legislature could exempt the project from needing an EIR. The document doesn’t mention EIS, so I presume this project won’t seek federal funding.

    What’s so funny about this is that in 2013 (with update of SCAG RTP), certain new mixed-used developments along Wilshire near 720 stops will likely qualify for CEQA exemptions.

  • We should focus instead on what mix of transportation modalities can move the most people the most efficiently with the least environmental impact.

    That’s just crazy talk. MTA should build what it wants, when it wants, without any regarding to impacts to anything, anyone or any community, because around here transit is KING! …or so the thinking typically goes.

  • lsm, you may find some of your answers on the project page on the Metro website:

    http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/wilshire/news_info.htm

  • JRider

    Why is Beverly Hills not part of the project? This is an obvious way to get people moving faster.

  • Juan, the irony of this is that the project already secured $9.8 million in federal funding from the FTA and is charted to get the rest of the $23.3 million recommended, in the next fiscal year. There has been a full EIR/EIS done on it as part of a more extensive BRT project back in 2000 but the political power of some of the residents opposing it in district 5 is high and commitment to advantaging transit over cars is weak in this city. Traffic will only worsen as we continue prioritizing single passenger cars–moving traffic is not a solution, moving people to transit and other sustainable modes like bikes is key and in this town you won’t get it without clear policy shifts–but that takes courage. It’s taking 10 years to get a bus-only lane on one corridor because we’re so addicted to auto that even one lane being taken away is considered outrageous while over 60% of LA’s 475 square mile area is dedicated to the auto god. Winning livable streets will be hard to win as long as any negative impact on auto traffic continues to be considered untouchable in city policies

  • @Erik: the street definitely needs repaving! That’s included in the project. It seems like the city has put off repairing Wilshire because this project seemed like it was just around the corner.

    @lsm: Good questions! Here’s my understanding of it will work:

    How will illegal parking be curtailed?
    – Same way other peak hour parking restrictions are enforced throughout the city. Police will ticket. Cars in the lane at the wrong time can be towed. (Note that the peak hour lane is only restricted during rush hours.)

    How will pedestrian traffic be coordinated to prevent cars waiting to turn right from blocking the lane?
    – No new coordination of pedestrians planned. There will likely be some conflicts between pedestrians that will delay some right-turn traffic. If need be, the bus can just pass the car waiting to turn right. The bus can just go around cars that are in the right lane.

    How easily will express buses pass locals?
    – Same as all passing, the faster vehicle passes to the left of the slower vehicle. Buses can still go in any lane.

    @Jrider: Why is Beverly Hills not part of the project?
    – I don’t know… but I suspect it wasn’t a priority for them. In the future it seems like it could be a good idea to extend the lane through Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

  • DJB

    It’s not surprising that a project that will have such a profound impact on vehicle traffic and parking will need to have an EIR done. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires “mitigations” to be proposed for “significant” “negative” impacts on traffic and parking (think about the values embedded in those quoted words). The practical reality is that projects that don’t propose and implement mitigations that people like usually get sued, so the question becomes how expensive will this project be because it has to increase parking or vehicle capacity somewhere else, or because of litigation, or both.

    CEQA has to be reformed. To reform it, we need voters who are familiar with the law and care more about real environmental issues than they do about vehicle traffic and parking.

  • Erik G.

    @Joe Linton

    From the project FAQ’s:

    Will all of Wilshire Boulevard be repaired and repaved?

    No, the largest segment of Wilshire Boulevard to be repaired and repaved is between Fairfax and Western Avenues. There are also other smaller segments along the project corridor that will be repaired and repaved as part of other infrastructure improvements.

    So it looks like there WILL NOT be any repaving as part of this project, apart from the Fairfax to Western portion? And that can’t be started until the end of next year? What utter CRAP.

    BRT’s being “just like rail” proves again to be a fallacy because of many reasons; in this case it shows how, unlike rail, it has no control or even a say in how its “right-of-way” is maintained. Can you imagine LA Metro not beaing able to repair a broken or out-of-alignment rail for over 5 years?

    And since SM and BH choose not to participate presently with the signal-preemption, those of us who actually ride the 720 and 920 (Does anyone at LA Metro HQ do so??) will continue to deal with the bus-bunching, the long gaps between buses and the serious-overcrowding until the Purple Line opens only to Westwood in 2030.

  • @Erik – thanks for the info. Fairfax to Western is quite a big chunk, and that area between Highland and Wilton is really torn up.

  • Erik G.

    One reall critical part is the western boundary of Beverly Hills, by the former Robinson-May, where these is a tremendously bad dip. Also, is there no shame in the city of L.A. with the grass growing up in the middle of the road when Wilshire runs between the L.A. Country Club just to the West of Beverly Hills? It looks like something I’d expect in rural Poland. (No offense to the Poles!)

    And I can recall for certain that the surface on Wilshire in the city of Los Angeles has not been improved since 2004!!!

    P.S. LA Metro, you are state agency with powers throughout L.A. County USE THEM!!

  • Wad

    Erik G. wrote:

    P.S. LA Metro, you are state agency with powers throughout L.A. County USE THEM!!

    The state DID NOT give Metro plenary powers.

  • BOB2

    This project appears to be primarily a ruse to use scarce transit monies to repave portions of Wilshire. And, the proposed project would appear to add no significant improvements to bus performance on Wilshire. And, it has been the pet of Jaime “the Hummer”in the Mayor’s office. Thus, it can only be a good thing that this is going to get a real environmental impact assessment. A little sunshine on this dubious “transit” project wouldn’t be a bad thing. The real solution for the Wilshire corridor is the subway, and this project apoears to be just more money being thrown at at a “non-solution” to generate political contracts.

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