Today’s BRU Presser: All Hands on Deck for Westside Bus Only Lanes

Not just the BRU...

Flanked by allies, transit advocates showed a united front in the battle to bring the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes to West Los Angeles in front of the Veteran’s Administration hospital on Wilshire Boulevard earlier today.

“We’ve been fighting for a Wilshire Bus Only Lane for the last six years,” explains Sunyoung Yang, the lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union.  “We want the full project that we’ve been promised.  This promise was already made to the federal government when the MTA applied to the federal government.”

To see a YouTube video of Dunn's comments, ## here.##

Last year, the Bus Riders Union spoke at a press conference organized by rail expansion backers calling for more federal transit funding.  That was surprising, given the BRU’s opposition to the Measure R transit tax in 2008.  Today, Southern California Transit Advocates Board Member Joseph Dunn closed the press conference.  That is almost shocking, considering the long-standing grudge held between the two transit groups.  The “kumbaya” moment between the two groups underscores a message made loud and clear: transit experts are united on how far the Wilshire BOL lanes should go: as far as they possibly can.

“Have a backbone about it!” urged Dunn, “Don’t let the Brentwood people and Beverly Hills people throw you around!”

Both the Metro Board of Directors and the Los Angeles City Council are expected to vote on a route for the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes project, which would convert the far right lane on both sides of Wilshire to “bus only” at rush hour.  The press conference called on Council and Board Members to support the originally proposed 8.7 mile route rejected by the Metro Board of Directors last winter which would connect Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, excluding Beverly Hills.

Metro staff is now proposing a 7.7 mile route which would also exclude the area just west of the 90210, leaving two bus only portions, one from Downtown L.A. to La Cienega Boulevard for 5.4 miles and another 2.3 miles in Brentwood.  Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl is seeking to stop the project at the 5.4 mile mark and hold off on the Brentwood section until other Westside communities including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, are on board.

Seeking to preserve their funding, and reputation, Metro staff now claim they can use the entirety of the funding regardless of the project route selected.  Money from a truncated project could provide more transponder upgrades and curb lane street repairs between the Downtown and La Cienega, leaving Westsiders in the odd position of arguing for less funds for street repair that come with the BOL project.

For Rosendahl, the issue isn’t just about mobility from the Downtown going west, but about the gridlock from Santa Monica to the 405 entrance that isn’t far from the V.A.

“Right now it takes forever to get from Centinela to the 405.  Traffic averages 4.875 miles per hour.  It is a huge parking lot of a disaster, and removing a traffic lane isn’t going to make things better,” Rosendahl stated in a phone interview.

Rosendahl is one of three Councilmen being targeted by the Bus Riders Union in the campaign to save the BOL with Tom LaBonge and Ed Reyes.  All three Councilman represent one area of the proposed route, and speakers were brought in to make pleas to each Councilman.  For Reyes, it was members of a local Neighborhood Council.  For LaBonge, it was the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) in the heart of his district.  Media Korean-speaking and Spanish-speaking media outlets were on-hand to capture the comments and deliver the message right to the heart of these communities.

For Rosendahl, the appeal was more personal.

Rosendahl is rightly proud of his record as a veteran of our armed service, which makes the pleas of decorated army veteran Clifton Moore all the more compelling.  Moore, like many veterans, needs to access to the V.A. hospital for health reasons, as many vets are reliant on the Veterans Administration for their health care.  The promise of bus-only lanes would allow far greater convenience for veterans to access the services they needed.  Moore concluded his comments, “This isn’t just a bus issue, it’s a veterans issue.”

What a difference...Last year, Rosendahl was applauded by the BRU for his advocacy leading to the creation of the 733 Rapid Bus Line on Venice Boulevard in an era where Metro is shrinking its rapid fleet. Now he's being targeted for a position opposing part of the Wilshire BOL in West L.A.
But Rosendahl argues that access to the V.A. and other locations in Brentwood would be worse for all users if the BOL goes in as currently recommended, “In my part of the city’s geography, it has no value without Santa Monica’s participation…(Santa Monica City Council Member) Pam O’Connor has sat on the Metro Board her whole life.  If Santa Monica wanted in on this project, they would be in.  We need them to play ball.”

All three Councilmen might be vulnerable to appeals from the bicycling community, as Rosendahl, LaBonge and Reyes all boast a measure of “bike-friendly credentials.”  Alexis Lantz of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition stated “Wilshire Boulevard is the linear job corridor of Los Angeles.  The Wilshire Bus Only Lane doesn’t just have a benefit for bus riders, but all road users…You don’t need me to tell you how horrible the conditions are in the right hand lanes.”

Building on Lantz’s comments, Seung Hye Suh of the KIWA painted a vision of what the BOL discussion should be about, instead of the debate about winners and losers which have dominated the discussion. “A project like this holds out so much promise to unite our city and our communities and move us in the direction we must take in the 21st century…We can reduce the greenhouse gases that are killing our planet and make bus travel a more attractive option for commuters who have a choice.  We can encourage a healthier and less sedentary mode of life as we clean the air we all breathe.”

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on a final route for the project on May 26.  Their route must be the same as the one passed by the L.A. City Council which is rumored to be taking up the issue two days earlier.

  • Anonymous

    Come on Rosendahl. Do the right thing. Every single additional inch of bus lanes moves more people faster than an inch of mixed travel lanes.

  • Anonymous

    If the BRU were not anti-rail, then I would love for them to be arms-in-arms with other socal transit advisory groups. We could be one huge organization helping to make change. However, the BRU makes transit advocates look like crazies at times. 

  • Lunarlands

    It seems like an all hands on deck for the MTA Board meeting the 26th–Zev Yaroslavsky might attempt to give in to the Brentwood request to exempt the 5.4 miles if no pressure is made to keep him on the 7.7 mile alternative. Transit advocates should call his office building up to next week’s board mtg on the 26th and also come out to the MTA Board mtg to make sure he holds on to the 7.7 and not cut out the bus lane any further  (seriously–the NIMBYs in Brentwood are crying out bloody murder for 49 seconds of delay getting to the 405–if it’s getting to the buffet line maybe I’d be upset about 49 seconds of delay but really 49 seconds of delay getting to the 405 is that upsetting?!).  The Federal Transit Administration made it really clear that they did not give the okay on cutting down 40% of the project and stated that they will not give any signs of approval until the local bodies duke out there politics and then will critically assess whether this project still merits the same federal investment or not– with transit under scrutiny as a waste by Republican House, this project will have to prove itself to give the maximum benefits for every federal buck.  A project that cuts out 40% of its most effective component would make the project less attractive for mode shifting but can make the FTA look bad if they okay $23 million for a 5 mile project that at best delivers half of what was promised. Feds would’ve never given $23 million for a 5 mile project if that was what MTA submitted to them in the first place.  It will be unwise for MTA and Zev to gamble on a 5.4 mile project and risk losing $10 million of federal money or worst all of it.   

  • Lunarlands

    If the Rail advocates drew the line pushing back at the Metro when it chops bus service and raise fares on the most vulnerable transit dependant communities to finance these multi-billion dollar rail contracts, BRU wouldn’t be so suspect of rail projects and die-hard rail advocates.  Not all, but I find most die-hard rail advocates don’t scrutinize and hold Metro accountable for even their shadiest practices.  With advocacy comes responsibility to not sell out the most vulnerable communities–I’d think if you’re really for transit you’d be perturbed by a transportation agency’s policies that marginalize 90% of its current users to crappy service or higher fares when people only make $12,000/yr.  If a rail advocate approached the BRU and said let’s go after the highway money to build these projects including expanding bus service, etc, it’d be hard for BRU to say hell no—but rail fundamentalists don’t have the best track record and have in the past okayed Metro’s policy to cannibalize on existing bus service and operation funding to finance rail construction at the same time be silent on Metro pouring billions of dollars into highway projects. Don’t you think it’s more crazy–to be silent on the biggest issue that eats away funding from transit overall?  BRU has been out there in solidarity with the no to the 710 expansion coalition, they’re leading a national coalition that has a platform on flipping the 80 for highway and 20 for transit formula inside the federal surface transportation act.  I’d say they did more than their fair share to play a principled and aggressive transit advocacy role regionally and nationally.  They also draw a clear morally correct line that no matter how great a project might seem if it comes at the price of leaving the most vulnerable communities stranded then it’s not a great project.  I don’t see anything crazy about that. 

  • LAofAnaheim

    I guess you didn’t see how the Transit Coalition made its case AGAINST bus service cuts in the San Fernando Valley? They went to Metro meetings and were against the cuts, in a rationale way (you know, talking like adults). Unlike BRU members who just shout “racism” at every chance they have. When you keep shouting “racism” at people, you kind of lose your validity. That’s where the BRU are…you call anybody who says anything bad about buses as racists.
    Think about the cuts in a rationale perspective. Most of these cuts make tons of sense. The bus cuts are primarily on low ridership corridors. Heck, if those people wanted to live in a transit dependent area, there are plenty of other places than La Canada, Athens, Granada Hills, etc… Generally, you do not see much cuts on the high service corridors like Wilshire, Santa Monica, etc.. or if they are proposed (like the 704 reduction), we fought back to have it restored. Same with the 757, us transit advocates were pissed off about that one too! But, we all helped to get that restored on weekdays.
    Let’s work together for LA transit; calling people racists all the time makes you lose your credibility.  

  • Nicknack

    If you are ok with screwing over poor people who depend on bus service
    (who comprise all people of all colors, but most importantly are
    PRIMARILY people of color) — you have got to be seriously blind or crazy not to see that is racist.  

    It’s not about opposing rail – it’s about opposing projects that eat
    away at the primary mode of transportation for a lot of poor black and
    brown people, and having the courage to call it what it is – “racism.” 

    It’s not about the mode of transportation, it’s about who is riding.  If it were the reverse case, where rail miraculously cost less than bus lanes to construct and operate, and poor people were primarily relying on rail to get around, BRU would be fighting for that mode to continue. 

    You say that SOCATA fought against bus service cuts, but then you say that the cuts make tons of sense.  Then you accuse transit dependent people of being complicit because “they have plenty of choices of where to live.”

  • Nicknack

    That right hand lane is all torn up and only used for car traffic a fraction of the time.  Plus, it’s not even going to be taken away – it’s only going to be a BOL at rush hour.  I can’t believe the shortsighted NIMBYism that is trying to kill this project.

  • Lunarlands

    @LAofAnaheim– There has been cuts to the large high ridership corridor lines by MTA staff through trip thinning and shortlining. Large lines like Wilshire, Vermont, Crenshaw, Western have seen lowered level of service the last 3 years hence why folks are packed like sardines despite ridership drops due to fare increases.  Racism is racism and it exists–no point of denying it and I personally don’t understand why anyone would be so uncomfortable with recognizing it– it’s not a personal attack on someone but saying what the policy is doing. Calling racism for what it is, is not rationale? We can agree to disagree but not be so antagonistic about it for a start–now that’s rationale.

  • The dude abides

    Dear BRU fanboys:

    I understand you must follow the mart of racism in order to belong to the misguided organization, but racism is a serious subject and should be treated so. Every time your organization opens’s it’s mouth it shouts racism at the top of their lungs. Like the boy that cried wolf, at some point people tune out and stop listening to your rhetoric.

    Los Angeles is a melting pot of people that take transit. Cutting bus service that was over supplied because of the consent decree makes sense. People of all races voted for rail and bus and highway funding when measure R passes. Anyone that says funding rail over buses is racist is clearly just blatantly confounding the issue. BRU is a sad single minded organization that is trying to hold back transportation in the city of Los Angeles in the ruse of racism and that is sad for the people it supposedly represents and the tax payers that fund metro.

  • Nicknack

    BRU is the organization that is and has been fueling the fight for the full Wilshire BOL for the last 6 years, talking to people on the buses, hitting the ground running making the phone calls, organizing other groups to sign on and rally for the cause, and mobilizing an actual base of diverse member volunteers to turn out for actions and keep transportation issues in the news.  Haters are gonna hate and call all the sustained hard work a “ruse of racism”

  • Anonymous

     @Nicknack…Yes, some bus cuts do make sense. Over periods of time adjustments have to be made. That’s called evolution of a bus system. You cannot tell me that Los Angeles is the ONLY city in the world that actually (gasp!) reduces bus services??? As time evolves, people move and adjust their living situation. What worked as a route in 1910…may not apply to 2011.

  • Anonymous

     Oh yeah, and @Nicknack , I ride the Big Blue Bus 10 on a daily bais and will ride the 720 Rapid many times. I’ve been on nearly every bus route in Los Angeles (I will avoid driving if at all possible) and mean on every agency’s bus system in Los Angeles. So I know a thing or two about buses…but I still don’t like the BRU. As mentioned earlier, the BRU just shouts “racism” at people who don’t follow their agenda. Once you keep shouting “racism” at people, you kind of just lose your credibility (i.e. see Palin, Sarah).

    Also, as a frequent Metro rail rider as well, I notice more people of lower income/color on Metro rail than on buses. Are those people not deserving of faster and better transit? Would you deny the residents of Compton, Watts, East LA, Highland Park, South LA, Vernon, Westlake/MacArthur Park, etc… the “lower income” areas the right to fast and high quality mass transit? Most of our rail lines have stations in the lower income areas, you think that all rail is being built in areas like Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica….it’s not! It’s going to be built in Crenshaw, Whittier, Torrance, etc… And a lot of those people access jobs in downtown LA, Culver City, Santa Monica, West LA. I ride with a lot of people of “color” at night and believe you, me, they would much rather be on the Purple Line from Bundy to downtown LA than the Rapid 720.

  • Nicknack

    Yes, people deserve faster and better transit of high quality – so fix the bus system that they are already using, and that is already serving their needs!  Rail, with its exorbitant cost per mile for construction not to mention extremely long build delay time just doesn’t work and is a waste of resources in our situation when quality flexible buses could be delivering people to their destinations, NOW, not in 10, 20 years.  Sure, in an ideal world I would love to have rail going everywhere – except that I know that for every piece of rail that exists and that MTA is now proposing, multiple bus lines that people were already using and depended on, and that I could have been using, had to be sacrificed. I cannot justify that cost.  If it’s a choice between everyone getting buses that go everywhere, versus ONE rail line that goes one one street for some people and NO rail line for others… I don’t care whether *I* get to use a fancy rail line when it means other people in other areas don’t get ANYTHING at all as a result. 

    People also have places to go in between those sparse stops.  The death of bus service would cut people off from those places they need to go.

    Sure, the rail that we have – use it!  As far as I’m concerned there isn’t even enough people using it for what it took from us.  The rail we have cost the city way too much money and sacrifice to pay for it, and does not move nearly enough people to justify that cost of digging a hole in the ground when it could been used to blanket the region in CNG or electric buses.

    The solution shouldn’t be to cut multiple bus services to afford one rail, nor to cut bus service to force people onto the rail to generate ridership. 

    I don’t understand what your purpose is in consistently bashing on the BRU all day, for one phrase you don’t like, when I am going to assume you are still pro Wilshire BOL and BRU is one of the major driving organizations behind the fight to save the full length of the project.  Seems a big waste of time

  • Richard Mongler

     Idiot (the dude abides):

    You have no understanding of the BRU. That much is clear from your post. You are wrong on many levels and I hope that in the short amount of space I have I am able to set you straight.

    You claim that bus service is oversupplied. Have you _ever_ ridden the bus in LA? If you think the level of bus service is adequate in this city you need your head examined. ‘Nough said.

    You claim that measure R is a referendum on the bus system, but you’re missing the point that transit-dependent patrons require a bus system regardless of anyone’s vote. Just because you voted for something doesn’t mean that all the people who use the bus suddenly have no need for it anymore. We don’t use the bus because we’re in love with it. We use it because we have to.

    You then make a stink about claims regarding racism but that’s what it comes down to. It’s about marginalization of the working class through mismanagement of transit funds. Instead of the bus services that people actually need we’re funneling billions to rail contractors who squander it and don’t deliver a very good return on investment. 1 new bus creates ten jobs. What does rail get you?

    Richard Mongler