Battle Lines Drawn in Battle Over Fate of Wilshire BRT in Condo Canyon

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Late yesterday afternoon, the news broke that the federal dollars needed to construct the Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes project would not be put in danger if the one mile just west of Beverly Hills were excluded.

This means that the “Condo Canyon” residents who don’t want bus-only lanes outside their condos and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, their representative to the Metro Board, may be free to remove their “back yard” from the project.  Such a move would widen the hole in the bus only route that already exists because Beverly Hills has already opted out of the plan.  A vote on the final route for the project is expected at the December 9th Metro Board Meeting.

However, now there’s push-back to the push-back.

After it appeared that the bus-only project might be endangered, a group of Bruins, bus riders, cyclists and environmentalists banded together to support the project and counter the pressure being placed on the board by the Condo-Canyon NIMBY’s.

In a letter to the Bike Coalition mailing list, the LACBC’s Aurisha Smolarski makes the case that cyclists should go to the Board next Thursday to support the full project:

The project, which is a proposal by Metro, the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County, is intending to improve transit reliability, increase ridership, and significantly shorten the commute times of bus riders along 8.7 miles of one of LA’s most heavily used streets during rush hour.

The lane will be a shared bus-bike lane, thus providing cyclists with a designated area to ride in and improved access to Wilshire Blvd.

Having failed in their effort to persuade the Federal Transit Administration to not let the Metro Board off the hook; they’re now working on a letter writing campaign aimed at the Metro Board to press the importance of the Wilshire bus-only project.  You can read their letter to the FTA, here.

Bruins for Traffic Relief aren't above taking their views to the street.  Kedar Iyer on left, Alex Schaffer right Photo: Michelle Go
Bruins for Traffic Relief, Kedar Iyer and Alex Schaffer, aren't above taking their views to the street. Photo: Michelle Go

Even if the F.T.A. has removed themselves from the debate, the arguments outlined by the Bus Riders Union, Bruins for Traffic Relief, Green L.A. and LACBC are still relevant.  For example, the Condo Canyon residents claim to only be asking for a one mile exemption to the project between Comstock and Selby on Wilshire Boulevard.  However, a deeper understanding of how that project works reveals that the hole they’re asking for is much more substantial

First, it is our understanding that the logistics of the project would require a larger gap – from Comstock Ave to Veteran Blvd. Parts of this larger segment are congested. Second, the segment is certain to become more congested as the region grows. In two years, or five years, buses will be stuck in traffic through this section while they travel freely in bus-only lanes throughout the remaining length of the corridor.

Juan Matute, of Bruins for Traffic Relief, has put together a sample letter to the Metro Board with email addresses and maps so writers can see what Board Members directly represent them at the L.A. Subway Blog.  Even if you don’t care about the Wilshire project, you should bookmark this post for a handy reference on how to contact the Metro Board since Metro has never bothered to put that information on their own site.

If you do care, Matute provides all you need to directly lobby the Metro Board and tell them what you think of wealthy enclaves blocking transit projects that benefit everyone.

Will their efforts be enough to battle years of opposition from Condo Canyon?  We’ll find out next Thursday, and will report the results right here.

  • Eric B

    Just sent in:

    Honorable Metro Board Member,

    I support the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project in its entirety. This project will provide congestion relief for transit riders from all over the region. Excluding the portion of Wilshire between Comstock and Selby will cause more congestion for myself and other bus riders who create minimal traffic and environmental impacts as we travel around the county. It will also set a dangerous precedent for future projects which have regional mobility and sustainability benefits. I urge you to vote yes on Alternative A.

    The project will have multiple public benefits including decreased travel times, improved air quality, increased mobility for transit and bicycle riders, and decreased transit operating costs. Excluding one segment of the line would reduce these benefits markedly with little gain in vehicular mobility in return.

    The single greatest issue holding down bus ridership in the corridor (and citywide) is travel time. If a bus must sit in traffic with private vehicles, then it is physically impossible to provide a time-competitive service. Bus lanes around the world have made bus transit time-competitive with or faster than travel by private car, causing bus ridership to multiply in these corridors. A bus sitting in traffic is idle capacity, which increases the number of buses (and operators) required to effectively serve a corridor and thereby increases transit operating costs.

    The Wilshire corridor is the most heavily used bus corridor in the nation. The buses already running on Wilshire 24/7 have a higher person-carrying capacity than the private vehicles that use the right lane. This project would further increase the total person-carrying capacity of the Wilshire corridor while decreasing Metro operating costs. Simply put, if this corridor does not merit a complete, uninterrupted bus lane, then no road does. Removing the one-mile (or longer) segment from the project sets a terrible precedent that wealthy or politically-connected neighborhoods with the resources to pay for their own (favorable) traffic analysis can opt out of citywide infrastructure improvements. This analysis does not reflect current conditions on the route, as evidenced by videos and other documentation of the traffic in the disputed segment, and does not account for future growth in traffic volumes. If the segment is not included at this time, it would be all but impossible to install a bus lane there in the more congested future.

    The Wilshire bus lane pilot project should be a model for what transit improvements are possible on a limited budget. Just as the original Metro Rapid program began here, we should be using this project to demonstrate treatments possible in other congested corridors. Removing over one mile of bus lane from the pilot program will undermine its effectiveness and reduce its applicability to other challenging corridors.

    For the reasons listed above and many others, removing the Comstock to Selby segment from the Wilshire Bus-Only Lane would be bad public policy–bad for travel time, bad for reliability, bad for air quality, bad for bicycle access, and bad for transit operation costs. Just a few months ago with the Board’s selection of the routes for the Purple Line extension and Regional Connector projects, the Board gave us a glimpse of a transit-oriented future. Reducing the effectiveness of the Wilshire BRT project is a return to the status quo of prioritizing private vehicles over everyone else. Alternative A is the only alternative that builds on the successes of Measure R and 30/10 to improve much-needed transit on the Westside.

    Sincerely,
    Eric B

  • LAofAnaheim

    My letter that I sent to Wilshirebrt@metro.net:

    Hi,

    I am writing to express my support for the bus lanes project offered
    by Metro with the inclusion of “Condo Canyon” (Comstock to Selby) in
    Westwood. The Wilshire bus lanes project gives an opportunity for
    Angelenos to see public transit as a greater viable mode of
    transportation than the single passenger automobile. As the City
    continues to grow, we should look for ways to promote public transit
    as the most effecient mode of navigating Los Angeles. Metro is an
    agency that should be looking to move people and not cars. By removing
    the “Condo Canyon” stretch, we end up with a segment that has the bus
    stuck in the same traffic as single passenger automobiles. If you have
    ridden the 20 or 720, you would realize that the buses are generally
    full to capacity, and thus a more efficient mode of transport over the
    automobile. Please do not allow specific homeowner groups to prevent
    Los Angeles from moving forward to a frame of thinking that puts the
    public over the private. We are also setting a bad precedent that
    homeowner groups can restrict our public transit movement, thus
    opening greater challenges for other projects we are developing and
    moving toward a 21st century transportation network.

    Kind Regards,

    Neel S.

  • Hey, love seeing these letters!

    Just a quick note about who you should target in your letter writing: the members of the Metro Board, which will vote on this issue. Everyone who lives in Los Angeles County is represented a Supervisor:

    molina@bos.lacounty.gov, markridley@bos.lacounty.gov, zev@bos.lacounty.gov, don@lacbos.org, fifthdistrict@lacbos.org

    (you can go here to see which one represents you: http://www.lavote.net/onlinedistrictmapapp/)

    If you live in the city of LA, you’re also represented on the board by Mayor V, Rita Robinson, and possibly Councilmember Huizar:

    mayor@lacity.org, councilmember.huizar@lacity.org, rita.robinson@lacity.org

    And finally, if you want to receive notification of how your reps voted, cc: WilshireBRT@gmail.com. We’ll track all the emails and we’ll be calling some of the supervisor’s offices and referencing how many people support keeping the Wilshire BRT whole. After the vote we’ll get back in touch with all the people who sent emails so they know if their Supervisor responded to their demands.

  • Mihai Peteu

    I wholeheartedly support the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project. Public transit and efficient, sustainable modes of transit should always be prioritized over Single Occupancy Vehicles. I have sat in traffic on the 720 on the Condo Canyon stretch many times, and I ridden my bike through that same area. The Wilshire BRT will be a great improvement for bus riders and cyclists. The bike/bus lane will give cyclists some breathing room in this dangerous stretch of Wilshire.

    Please do not allow the egoism and short-sightedness of a few hundred residents negatively impact the 80,000 people that depend on public transit.

  • Not to be defeatest, but after Beverly Hills and Condo Canyon, Brentwood may start screaming, “what about us?” Brentwood successfully lobbied to shut down the original Wilshire bus only lanes in West L.A. which lasted about 30 minutes.

    The danger is that this whole project could end up just between La Cienega and downtown.

  • Do you really want to ride a bike in the dedicated bus lane? I’d say it would be tempting sudden death every day. I watch the buses whiz down Comstock at Wilshire every morning when I go for a quick walk during peak hours. It’s pretty tough crossing Wilshire because of the speed of traffic AND buses. A thorough traffic study shows a speed gain of approx. 6 seconds in the segment from Comstock to Selby if there’s BRT. In the meantime, as the street narrows going east, backups will start when car lanes merge to two. That means congestion which means pollution. Nobody is being a NIMBY here. We just want it left alone because it functions just fine.

  • I really want to ride a bike in a dedicated bus lane – on Wilshire – soon.

  • Joe- I would suggest you look at your chances for survival before attempting this feat. These buses (three separate lines) go fast and they still have to watch out for people turning in and out of neighboring streets and building driveways as they cross the bus lanes. I would suggest you stick with Santa Monica Boulevard which has a dedicated bike lane.

  • Big Shorty –

    I’d appreciate it if you shared with us a little bit more about where you are coming from. You say you live in Condo Canyon, so I’d really like to hear more about what you think. But your first comment was really confusing, and I honestly couldn’t understand what point you were trying to make. You said “conditions were fine” but at the same time you said that speeds in your neighborhood are too high.

    I hope you can appreciate my point of view, which is that we should prioritize the movement of people, not cars, on our public streets. The bus-only lane does this.

    With regards to buses sharing the lane with bikes: it can work. This arrangement exists on many streets in downtown LA, where I work, and its no problem. Wilshire has higher speeds, which makes it more of a challenge. I’m not under any illusions that the bus-only lane will drawn novice cyclists onto the road in droves. But for those who do ride there, the bus-only lane will be a dramatic improvement over the conditions we face now. Right now the area is littered with potholes; during rush hour, impatient drivers use the curb lane to pass. With the bus-only lane, cyclists would have smooth pavement, and would only have to contend with professional bus drivers. Advocates are making inroads every day into designing good training programs so that LA’s bus drivers know how to drive courteously around cyclists. They still don’t always behave perfectly, but my experiences with bus drivers have dramatically improved over the last two years.

    Regarding the geometry of the segment in question: you said something confusing about “the street narrowing to two lanes going east.” Let’s be clear about what the geometry really looks like between Comstock and Selby (the section that the NIMBYs want to remove). This is one of the few sections of Wilshire that has three lanes traveling each way. Considering that just east of here the road has two lanes, westbound traffic experiences a dramatic opening of the road right at the intersection with Santa Monica. This causes the high speeds you’re talking about. I think it also makes the section all the more suitable for a bus-only lane, because (at least for westbound traffic) this is a portion of road with excess capacity.

    I would love to write more about the Gauntlet (wilshire through the country club) and driver behaviors (passing the curb lane)… and how much better the situation will be with the bus-only lane. But first I want to hear more about your point of view.

  • You are attributing statements to me that I did not make. Did I say I live in Condo Canyon? I do not. I live south of Wilshire. By saying that buses speed by, I am telling you that there is no need for faster buses in this segment. Metro studies from 2001 excluded this segment because it was the fastest moving stretch of Wilshire with no delays for buses. It hasn’t changed. Once you proceed east at Comstock toward Beverly Hills, the lanes narrow to two. I have never considered myself a NIMBY. Beverly Hills and Santa Monica refuse to have a dedicated bus lane, not Westwood. The BRU’s greatest fear was losing funding for the whole BRT project. Now that the Feds have said it would not be affected if this segment was eliminated, they want to do some name calling because someone listened to reason. I find it interesting that they even think it’s bad to save a few million dollars with the removal of the segment. Bus riders will not be hurt by the removal of this segment. Try saying that 10 times. You might start to believe it.

  • Hey dude.

    No offense meant on my end.

    Not sure why you’re acting condescending.

    I was asking you to flesh out your viewpoint in more detail, and I tried to clarify that I couldn’t really tell where you are coming from. Little wonder that I erred in assuming you lived in Condo Canyon. I was wrong. You live south of Wilshire… somewhere.

    You can call me up at 805 404 3751 if you want to talk about this politely. I’m not calling you a NIMBY; again, I value your local perspective and I asked for more of it.

    You say “there is no need for faster buses in this segment,” but that isn’t right; the intersection at Beverly Glen is congested, and there is no guarantee the segment won’t become congested in the future. A bus-only lane would protect travel times no matter what: accidents, future congestion, future development – no matter what. I think this benefit is important. You still haven’t really stated why this neighborhood, out of all the neighborhoods along the project corridor, should be removed.

    Bus riders, now and in the future, will be hurt by the removal of this segment.

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