Streetsblog Responds to City Watch Columnists Attack on Bus-Only Lanes

11_13_08_wilshire_bus.jpgPhoto: LA Wad/Flickr

(editor’s note:  A couple of weeks ago Joe Linton wrote an update on Los Angeles’ support for the Wilshire Bus-Only Lane.  A City Watch Columnist, Harold Katz, responded with an article attacking the project.)

I’d like to begin by stating I have nothing but admiration for activist
Harold Katz’s nearly 40 years of involvement with traffic and
transportation issues in Los Angeles. But respectfully I think he is
wrong headed in his recent commentary for CityWatch titled "Bus-Only Lane will Turn Wilshire into Traffic Mess."

I am not going to engage in a battle of statistics–my focus is on the
larger picture.  I would have to believe to some extent the concerns
raised about auto accidents being caused by the bus lane can be
addressed by their design and associated mitigation measures. I don’t
see a fatal flaw in the basic concept of the lanes. And I don’t know
why there is a concern the project will result in a unending stream of
LAPD motorcycle traffic officers giving out traffic tickets to poor
innocent auto drivers victimized by the big bad bus lanes.  

The unstated premise is that facilitating automobiles is the ultimate
goal of improving mobility. When Harold decries that in his view a "bus
rider will save 5 minutes and the thousands of auto drivers will lose
26 minutes" he avoids the question how many bus riders will benefit and
whether the improvement for bus users exceeds the cost to auto drivers.

The El Monte busway proves a single lane used by high capacity
vehicles can carry as many people as 4-5 lanes of mixed flow traffic;
Wilshire has the potential to have similar results. The lanes also have
incredible symbolic value —  instead of the lipservice long paid to
the goal of our region being committed to having mass transit NOT
automobiles as its priority it will be expressed as a tangible part of
the landscape in the form of these lanes. And if Wilshire is a success
it will be a model for other bus lanes. The 1995 Metro Long Range
Transportation Plan included what was supposed to be 101 miles of bus
lanes along major arterials. After all these years isn’t it time to
implement that long deferred part of our new vision of our future
transportation network?

By the way, along most of Wilshire the curb lanes are only available
for parking during non-peak hours. The bus lanes only reallocates them
for buses in the peak hours, so "the parking question" Harold hints at
I think is moot.

  • Count the total number of people on the buses vs. the number of people in the cars. Do not count the number of vehicles.

  • Charlie

    Take your pick:
    1. Dedicated bus lanes -> faster buses -> more bus riders -> less auto traffic -> less road space needed for autos (and less pollution noise, need for parking, etc)
    2. Buses stuck in mixed traffic -> fewer bus riders -> more auto traffic -> more congestion

    The choice should be obvious.

  • “Count the total number of people on the buses vs. the number of people in the cars. Do not count the number of vehicles.”

    ————-

    W.K.,

    You are correct.

    The glory days of the car culture are over and the days where we should be counting moving “vehicles” must give way to counting moving “people”.

    I think it was Fred Camino who stated this wonderful hierarchy of transportation planning:

    1) Pedestrians
    2) Bicycles
    3) Public transit (HRT, LRT, Streetcars, BRT, local bus service)
    4) Shared private transit (Carpools, Vanpools, private buses)
    5) Non-shared private transit (single-occupancy automobiles)

    Single-occupancy automobiles should be our lowest transportation priority.

  • “I think it was Fred Camino who stated this wonderful hierarchy of transportation planning:

    1) Pedestrians
    2) Bicycles
    3) Public transit (HRT, LRT, Streetcars, BRT, local bus service)
    4) Shared private transit (Carpools, Vanpools, private buses)
    5) Non-shared private transit (single-occupancy automobiles)

    Single-occupancy automobiles should be our lowest transportation priority.”

    Say.No.More.

  • Walt Brewer

    Wish you could print pictures because I have one taken in Paris. One (illegal?), motor bike in a dedicated bus lane, and traffic at a standstill in the rest of the lanes. Several people waiting at the bus stop. Despite the heavy bus travel in the trully dedicated El Monte bus lanes, more total PEOPLE would be carried by the entire freeway if lanes were open to all, because the congestion in the GP lanes would be relieved enough to cancel out the bus people. And El Monte is true dedicated, no queue jumping signals to hold up auto traffic etc etc.
    And if El monte were converted to two or more reversible lanes, even much better. But peple want PERSONAL transport PRT can do that and be used by significant numbers, not the less than 2% Mass transit has managed to attract after 30 years and many $billions wasted.21st transportation, to replace warmed over 19th century street cars!

  • LAofAnaheim

    Personal Rapid Transit = Cars? I’m confused how PRT is still different from a car.

    So, Walt Brewer, you expect everybody to buy a car and we’d have no traffic jams? All lanes on the 5, 405, 91, 105, etc.. are “open” to all types of vehicle, yet there is still traffic. Does that make sense? Opening up a bus only lane for cars would just create more congestion. For myself, if I have the option of taking a bus that would get me somewhere faster, I would take it. Now, imagine if that option wasn’t there (i.e. the 5 freeway in south LA county), why should I take a bus? Now, I’ll add to the congestion and take my own automobile instead. You want me to help remove cars from traffic…give people competitive alternatives.

    Also, do you want the 80 or 90 year-olds driving? Wouldn’t it be safer for everybody if they could move around on mass transit instead of having to be forced to drive in order to get around a city? This is why LA has “bad drivers”. Some people wouldn’t be driving if we had more alternative transportation options.

  • I bet Mr. Brewer will be dismayed at my comments on exotic technology in my other commentary posted today:

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2009/10/14/the-view-from-a-folding-chair/

    I may well soon put together a commentary on the subject. It deserves more than comments on a thread.

  • KinOfCain

    The perception Walt conveys, that the bus-only lanes are underutilized or wasted space because there are gaps between the busses, is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

    While counting the number of people in the busses versus the number of people in cars (Last I checked, daily trips on Wilshire were roughly evenly split between cars and busses at about 70k each) will give you hard numbers that make bus-only lanes look attractive, there needs to be some sort of PR/Marketing/Outreach/Whatever to educate people.

    Drivers stuck in their cars while the bus lane sits empty, if only for a moment, will resent that lane regardless of how many passengers it actually carries.

  • The lanes being free flowing is what allows it to carry so many people. Mr. Brewer’s claim “more total PEOPLE would be carried by the entire freeway if lanes were open to all” is inaccurate and given driver behavior would quickly result in just another lane of backed up traffic, not being well utilized (throughput goes down when traffic speed slows). Outreach for the issue is certainly a good idea but I have long said perceptions are the great challenge–they are alleged truths that claim to be common knowledge fed by assumptions often with no basis in fact. In the end drivers will resent the lanes, whatever effort is made to educate people about how that is a necessary compnent of the facility.

  • KinOfCain

    Perhaps I could have been more clear in that I fully support the lanes, and think they’re a no-brainer. The very aspect that will make them successful (free flowing with normal headways between busses) are what will make them annoying to drivers. I think it’s really important to push the fact that almost as many people make the trips by bus as do by car. That’s huge, and improved bus service will only help increase that number.

    You’re right that people will always resent the lanes, but perhaps some outreach could help them resent the lanes less, or help fewer people resent them. Since we’re talking about something the public has to get behind, that seems important.

  • I think what we’ve all failed to address is how can we get signal priority for our cars. Wouldn’t that move people faster, if everyone had signal priority?

  • Erik G.

    If the Streetcar is “19th Century”, then isn’t the automobile just a self-powered Roman Chariot?

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