Council Committee Set to Debate Wilshire BRT Project

Environmentalists and transit advocates urge Council Man Rosendahl and the Transportation Committee not to block BRT for the Westside.
Environmentalists and transit advocates urge Council Man Rosendahl and the Transportation Committee not to block BRT for the Westside.

You knew it was bound to happen.

The Brentwood Community Council, the community group fighting the last remaining portion of the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes project planned for the Westside, is seizing on a seemingly innocuous motion on today’s Transportation Committee Meeting.  The motion asks for the LADOT to study the impacts of the Metro Board’s decision to remove a portion of the project in Westwood.  The BCC is claiming that it signals Council Member Rosendahl’s secret plan to sever any bus only lanes for any portion of the Westside.

While Rosendahl’s office supplied me with a chance to review the motion last week, we haven’t had a chance to discuss it in advance of today’s meeting.

If the Committee is going to debate an exclusion for Brentwood from the Bus-Only project; the Committee is stocked with the right people to make that happen.  Paul Koretz has fought for the Yaroslavsky Exemption won at the Metro Board last month.  The Chair of the Committee is the BCC’s representative, Rosendahl.  Tom LaBonge generally votes on “local issues” the way the local Council Member wants him to as a show of support to his comrades.  Those three members are a majority of the Committee, and under Council rules the full Council doesn’t even need to hear public testimony before passing a resolution already heard by a Committee.

Thus, if Rosendahl really does want a Westside Exclusion from the Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes project, that position would likely become the official position of the City.

The City of Los Angeles and Metro have teamed on a project to bring Bus Only Lanes to Wilshire Boulevard within city limits.  The cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica weren’t included in the project.  The 8.7 mile project was fully funded by federal dollars.  With the Yaroslavsky Exemption already in place, removing the Brentwood portion of the project would shrink the project to just over five miles.  Transit advocates worry that the FTA will look at the much shorter project as a “bait-and-switch” and pull funding for any bus-only program.

The Yaroslavsky Exemption was one by a group of well-to-do homeowners at last month’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.  What was supposed to be a quick ratification of Metro’s environmental documents instead turned into a lecture from transit-expert Yaroslavsky who ignored and scoffed at the objections of transportation engineers, urban planners, architects, transit advocates and environmentalists before offering the bizarre statement that he was doing this for transit advocate’s own good.  Both Metro and LADOT staff informed the Board that there was no reason to remove the project based on their studies.  Yaroslavsky didn’t care.

Apparently, the members of the Brentwood Community Council looked at this display of politics over planning and said, “give us some.”  Thanks to the Yaroslavsky Exclusion, Metro has to re-complete its environmental studies for the project opening the door to more bad policy.  And the BCC is using mis-information in an attempt to swing the City Council Transportation Committee to support a second exemption to the project which would basically eliminate the project west of La Cienega Boulevard.  A full copy of their letter to Westsiders can be found at the end of the article.

In a letter to community members, the BCC plays fast and loose with the facts to confuse the issue and make the case for their own exclusion.  They incorrectly state that the project will remove a travel lane from Wilshire Boulevard in Brentwood.  However, the project will add a new eastbound bus lane from Federal to Sepulveda, resulting in more capacity for cars in that section with buses moved out of the regular lanes.

They also state, “At the MTA Board meeting last month, the Chief Traffic Engineer for LADOT said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work…”  In truth, the testimony of Chief Traffic Engineer Kang Hu stated that the more the project is cut-up, the less the benefits of the project would be.  Here’s how Streetsblog described his testimony moments after he delivered it:

Hu, who’s spent years studying the project and has professional degrees and certifications in transportation and transit planning, made a forceful defense of the project. He testified that any impacts on car traffic were manageable and that the buses on Wilshire currently carry more people than cars.  He closed his testimony by arguing that the project would handle future growth and is about shifting people out of their cars and on to buses.

If the BCC is correct, and the Council is considering asking the Metro to exempt the Westside from transit improvements, then Council Member Rosendahl is caught in the middle.  On one hand, he’s been supporting the Bus-Only Lanes proposal for six years, at least on paper.  But the BCC is a group of his constituents and there’s few things as dangerous as angry constituents armed with mis-information.

Even if the BCC wins the day tomorrow, it’s not a done-deal that Westsiders will be completely left out of the Bus Only project because of a handful of loud, selfish neighbors.  The final approval or disapproval for the project is in the hands of the Metro Board who won’t make a final decision until this Spring.

BCC letter to Westsiders:

Bus Lanes on Wilshire Would Have a Severe Impact on Traffic

The proposed Wilshire BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) project would take out lanes of traffic to create dedicated bus lanes on the north and south sides of Wilshire Blvd. during peak traffic hours of
7 – 9 a.m. and 4 – 7 p.m.

Your emails to Zev Yaroslavsky and Bill Rosendahl have been effective, and now we need you to send an email to the members of the L.A. City Council Transportation Committee.  The Committee meets January 12, and will consider a proposal to limit the Wilshire bus lanes to east of Beverly Hills.  They need to know that you support that proposal.

At the MTA Board meeting last month, the Chief Traffic Engineer for LADOT said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work— which explains why we had such horrendous gridlock between Centinela and the 405 when trial bus lanes were implemented a few years ago. Nevertheless, the MTA Board was promoting a busway that would exclude Beverly Hills, much of Westwood, and Santa Monica. Reinstating bus-only lanes in the isolated area between Centinela and the 405, not contiguous to other bus lanes, is unacceptable .

Please let the members of the L. A. City Council know that the Wilshire bus lanes should be limited to the area east of La Cienega.  Your email can make a difference.
A draft email follows (PLEASE SEND TODAY, or use your own words):

To:
councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org,
councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org,
councilmember.alarcon@lacity.org,
paul.koretz@lacity.org,
councilmember.parks@lacity.org,
info@brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org

Subject: Wilshire bus lanes

Please limit the Wilshire bus lane project to east of La Cienega Blvd. At the MTA Board meeting in December, City traffic engineers said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work, and as long as Beverly Hills, most of Westwood, and Santa Monica are not implementing bus lanes, the 1.8 mile section west of the 405 is not contiguous to the rest of the project. There were limited bus lanes between Centinela and the 405 freeway before, and traffic was even more horrendous than the gridlock that all vehicles driving through West L.A. already experience on a daily basis.   Please don’t repeat the same mistake. Vote to limit the Wilshire bus lanes to the area between downtown and La Cienega.

[Insert name]

Please visit our website at www.brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org for real-time traffic information links on the website HOME page for streets such as Sunset, San Vicente, Wilshire, Bundy, and Barrington

  • I thought this would happen, unfortunately. The Wilshire bus-only lanes project will probably be east of LaCienega only.

    Once the Yaroslavsky exemption was granted, Brentwood would be sure to follow. The prior bus only lanes in Brentwood lasted about thirty seconds before the successful lobbying to remove them began.

    I hope Metro tries again for bus-only lanes in other areas that might be more receptive.

    Vermont Ave. and Hollywood Blvd. come to mind, and there are probably others.

    Personally, I would love to see a transit-only lane with modern streetcars on Santa Monica Blvd. and Sunset utilizing that unused Metro right-of-way on the back end of Beverly Hills, connecting downtown, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, on which buses of course can ride, as buses and rail share Seattle’s downtown transit tunnel.

  • Readers:

    Don’t just sit there, write the council now expressing your support for the BRT! Here’s my letter, if you want to use it as a model.

    To: councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org, councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org,
    councilmember.alarcon@lacity.org, paul.koretz@lacity.org, councilmember.parks@lacity.org, info@brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org

    Dear Councilmembers:

    I am writing as a Westside resident to urge you to oppose efforts by the Brentwood Community Council to further emasculate the Wilshire BRT. Angelenos deserve a genuine BRT along dedicated bus lanes on Wilshire. The Wilshire BRT is a critical piece of LA’s effort to improve mobility along the Wilshire corridor.

    The Metro Board’s excision of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and the Condo Canyon from the Wilshire BRT is an unfortunate chipping away at a good and critical mass transit program.

    Dedicated BRT lanes along the corridor will create a faster commute – both for those smart enough to ride, and for those with no alternate means of traveling between downtown and west of the 405. The Wilshire BRT, modeled after successful rapid bus lines in Bogotá, Mexico City and other congested cities, is a critical piece of LA’s plan for greater transportation mobility. Metro’s home run with the once opposed but now widely praised Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley also informs the transit agency’s plans for Wilshire.

    On weekdays, approximately 80,000 people already board the bus along Wilshire Blvd. Given the density of the region and existing conditions on our roads at rush hour, we need solutions like the Wilshire BRT that move more people efficiently and cost effectively. With their greater capacity to transport commuters, comfortable rapid buses are a solution whose time has come.

    While I look forward to the Westside Subway extension to the VA and ultimately to Santa Monica, near-term projects like the Wilshire BRT afford us the opportunity to improve our commuting time sooner than it will take a new and improved Metro to build the Westside subway.

    Critics of the plan speak of catastrophic impacts on traffic on the stretch of Wilshire west of the 405 and on adjacent east west thoroughfares. But what these doomsayers fail to acknowledge is that our commuting habits and the region’s density are already too incompatible with the capacity of our streets and freeways to accommodate mostly private cars during rush hour. It is time to reject the spurious argument that buses, which have the capacity to carry dozens more commuters than automobiles, should make way for the cars, even when it is our cars that are involved.

    The companion assertion that the bus lanes will kill local businesses is equally without merit as the buses will in fact make our business districts more shopper friendly by making it easier to get there.

    Who will benefit from the Wilshire BRT? We all will. Thank you for your consideration.
    The Wilshire BRT with bus only lanes is a chance to change the status quo along Wilshire Blvd.

    Sincerely,


    JOEL EPSTEIN
    joel.epstein@gmail.com

  • Matt

    I live one block off Wilshire in this area and certainly thought the temporary bus only lanes got a raw deal. Traffic in this area is caused by the VA and the 405 backup, and this stretch of Wilshire was always two lanes in each direction with the curb lane for parking. When the bus lane came about it made turns and ingress and egress out to Wilshire so much easier not to mention improved bus times when using transit.

    When the bus lane was eliminated they opened it up to autos during rush hours and of course it does nothing to eliminate traffic. The extra lane simply serves to warehouse cars behind the backup at the VA and 405.

    The BCC is sending out a lot of misleading info on this. It should be noted that they are not a city recognized neighborhood organization and consist of mostly weathier homeowners far north of Wilshire Blvd. They are simply not representative of the community in the more dense areas just north and south of Wilshire

  • Matt

    Furthermore, it should be noted that if the Purple Line stop is going to be at the VA, this bus lane in the immediate area is absolutely critical in order to access that station for tens of thousands of residents and workers going to points West.

  • Rosendahl was the only member at the “hearing” and he moved forward a request that LADOT and Metro study the impact of removing the entire Westside from the Wilshire BRT project. It was painful to listen to Rosendahl let the substance-free objections of the wealthy win out over a broad coalition of people urging the lanes be left as planned…a coalition including LADOT.

    Full coverage tomorrow.

  • patrick

    I love your notation that, “Tom LaBonge generally votes on “local issues” the way the local Council Member wants him to AS A SHOW OF SUPPORT TO HIS COMRADES.”

    Now that’s democracy in action–no need to consider the merits, just use any opportunity to trade backscratches.

  • Erik G.

    Let’s finally build the Beverly Hills (CA 2) freeway, but make it bus only!!

  • Spokker

    Do we know that the bus lanes would have helped buses move more people than the private autos?

  • Carter

    @spokker,

    More specifically, a lane of buses would have moved more people than a lane of cars.

  • Alek F

    @ Joel: excellent letter!

  • @Joel

    I agree, excellent letter.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG