Westsiders like to complain that for years their part of the city has been left out when it comes to transit expansion. Now that Metro is proposing three high-profile transit projects, a rampant strain of NIMBYism is endangering all three in one form or another.
The most recent example is the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)project. At yesterday’s meeting of the Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Mayoral Appointee Richard Katz grilled staff on whether the one mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Selby Avenue to Comstock Avenue needs to be a part of the project or could be exempted from the project altogether. Currently, the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project, proposes to install rush hour bus lanes in the curb lane of 8.7 miles of Wilshire Boulevard, mostly in the city of Los Angeles.
Urging the Board Members on are a group of residents who live along that corridor who have paid for their own traffic study that shows, surprise surprise, that the BRT project would do more harm than good for traffic patterns. What a shocking development, that a study paid for by a community trying to obstruct a project for well over a decade shows that the project does more harm than good.
Ultimately, the committee moved the BRT study and Locally Preferred Alternative recommendation to be considered by the full Metro Board at their December 9 meeting. However, they added the caveat that staff come back with more information about the impact of removing the so-called Condo Canyon corridor between Selby and Comstock at the Board Meeting.
During the public comment period for the project this summer, the City Councilman for the area, Paul Koretz, wrote a letter asking that this same stretch be exempted from the BRT project because of the “unique character” of this stretch of Wilshire. However, if removing the project was a non-starter with staff, then he was asking that the curb-cuts and street parking in the area be preserved and that the road undergo a diet to make room for the bus-only lanes. No, he didn’t use the words “Road Diet.” You can read his full comments, here.
While Koretz clearly didn’t get an elimination of the project in the Condo Canyon, the bump outs and street parking will be preserved if the project moves forward. USC News website Neon Tommy quotes Yaroslavsky questioning the entire project on the basis that car drivers might be mad that buses are wizzing past them while they stew in congestion of their own making, especially in the Condo Canyon section where the rush hour lane configuration will now be narrowed from three lanes to two lanes.
“Omniscience is a very heavy burden to bear, but sometimes you just have to open your eyes to see what’s good for everyone,” Yaroslavsky said Wednesday at a meeting of Metro’s planning committee. “What I fear and what the Bus Riders’ Union should fear is that we introduce a project that is dead on arrival, and we become the laughingstock of the region and this board has to retrench. We don’t want to win the battle and lose the war.”
You see what happened there? Residents lobbied Koretz’s office to preserve their parking and bulb outs. The Councilman, being pretty good at his job, lobbied for and won the day. Rather than savor that victory, they ran to Yaroslavsky and complained that the narrowed stretch of road would be un-passable and create a bad relationship between bus riders and car drivers so the area should be exempted.
The Bus Riders Union, who have been at the front of the charge for getting the bus-only lanes on Wilshire, responded to the ammendments in a statement earlier today:
We’re opposing the exemption because we don’t want a segmented project and this sure won’t help get Beverly Hills on board who said they’ll see how the city deals with this first. The FTA has been really patient but with all the delays this exemption request will bring it can compromise the federal funding. This exemption will open the political floodgate for other westside residents to demand exemption. No one wants to give up some of their driving priviledges unless everyone in the corridor is doing it as well.
The question of whether or not the Bus Rapid Transit project is worth doing in the Comstock to Selby corridor, or anywhere in the city, comes down to whether you believe the staff report and supporting environmental documents. The Source summarized them in their write-up of the staff recommendations, but here are some highlights:
Staff estimates that 12 to 17 minutes will be shaved off the trip along the bus lanes and that up to 10 percent of motorists could shift to bus use in coming years. The bus lane, too, should help people using the future Westside Subway Extension reach destinations between rail stations more quickly. Wilshire is the busiest bus corridor in L.A. County.
The project is estimated to cost an estimated $31 million with about $23 million coming from a “Very Small Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The project could be complete by mid-2012.
The number of people using curb lanes in private vehicles at this time is at about 1,000 people an hour com compared 1,500 or so on Metro buses (although that includes the soon-to-be-eliminated 920 line). The bus lanes could increase that number to 1,800 an hour, according to Metro staff.
So there’s two issues that the Metro Board Members will have to decide when they debate the Wilshire BRT project, including the Condo Canyon corridor, at their December 9th meeting. The first is whether they believe their staff and the people who put together the environmental documents. If they do, the savings in time and the addition of new riders is a huge boon for the Wilshire Corridor. They estimate that the bus lane will actually move more people than a traditional right-lane along the corridor and in that area. If they believe their staff and consultants, then approving the project should be simple.
If they find their staff to be either incompetent or untrustworthy, then there is a second issue to consider. Is the overall value, considering the good and bad, worth $8 million. If the project is altered in a way that wasn’t studied, the $23 million of the $31 million that the federal government was willing to pay could vanish.
A third question, and a more theoretical one for the Board and the entire Westside, is how much power are they willing to give residents to stop or dilute programs that will reduce traffic on their streets.