Homeowner’s Complaints Lead to Transit Service Changes at UCLA

Photo of Hilgard Terminal, courtesy of Google Maps

(Update: I received a question on why we published the name and address of the angry homeowner, questioning whether or not he qualifies as fare game to be signaled out by name.  I chatted with a friend of mine who doesn’t have a stake or opinion in the issue of how UCLA decides when to keep its transit stops open.  He advised me that it wasn’t illegal, but that we should have contacted him for a quote if we were going to feature him so prominently.  It was my call to leave his name in so any blame/fallout should fall on me, not Juan.   I just removed his name, address and references to his employment from the story and comments.- DN)

Just a few months ago, UCLA received accolades for reducing vehicle trips to campus.  The campus has a robust transportation demand management program and exceeds the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s reporting requirements to track travel trends in its annual State of the Commute report.

As the University released its latest report that highlighted that only 53% percent of UCLA’s employees commute in a single-occupancy automobile, it was also finalizing a decision to eliminate Big Blue Bus service to Hilgard Terminal (behind Murphy Hall) after 8 pm on weekdays. This decision will affect the 23.5% of campus visitors and commuters who travel to and from campus by public transit .

The University will implement this change on Monday, June 18.  Because the University places barriers at the terminal’s entrance, after 8:00 pm, Big Blue Bus service must re-route to the Ackerman Terminal, which is one-half mile away on foot.  A common rule of thumb used by transit practitioners (and supported by research) is that transit passengers are willing to walk about one quarter of a mile to a bus stop.  Because this, the detour may have a significant impact on trip generation to the UCLA campus by causing existing commuters and visitors to adjust travel patterns.

Though this decision is being implemented next week, it is largely the result of persistent complaints of a single resident over the past decade.  A short history puts the latest change into perspective:

The University made the 2005 and 2012 decisions to curtail service at the Hilgard Terminal because of noise impacts.  However, in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the 2002 Long Range Development Plan, the University cites the availability of transit service as a factor to mitigate vehicular noise (on page 4.9-11).  This EIR also finds that implementation of the Long Range Development Plan will lead to “generation of additional vehicular trips, which would result in a substantial degradation in intersection levels of service (Impact 4.13-1b).

The University determined that there was no feasible mitigation measure to mitigate Impact 4.13-1b to a less than significant level and issued a Statement of Overriding Considerations, a sort-of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) get out of jail free card used when benefits outweigh impacts.  The Traffic Impact Analysis discusses the University’s Transportation Demand Management program and makes specific reference to the Hilgard Terminal operating until 10 PM on Weekdays.

The decision to curtail transit service at the Hilgard Terminal may also carry greenhouse gas implications.  Hilgard between Le Conte and the Hilgard Terminal and LeConte east of Westwood Blvd are high quality transit corridors as defined in California Public Resources Code § 21155(b).  The Southern California Association of Governments, which includes the UCLA campus, has adopted a Sustainable Communities Strategy, defined in California Government Code § 65080 (F)(2), which includes special consideration  for land uses in a high-quality transit corridor as part of a plan to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions.  Will the change in transit service lead to a net increase in regional greenhouse gas emissions?  This isn’t known. An Initial Study under CEQA would determine whether or not further study is required to answer this question.

It’s silly that the University would curtail transit service – something that it identified as a mitigation measure to reduce vehicular noise – because of the noise of the transit vehicles. The decision to do so without an Initial Study may also be a violation of the CEQA.  This impact was not analyzed in a previous EIR.

The California Legislature has allowed a statutory CEQA exemption for the reduction or elimination of transit service (Public Resources Code §§ 21080 and 21080.32).  However, this exemption  applies only to publicly-owned transit agencies and does not apply the University of California.

I do not like the precedent that the 2005 decision set – that it’s acceptable to adjust transit service that benefits thousands in response to the complaints of a single homeowner.  The 2012 action shows that this is a slippery slope and could lead to the elimination of the Hilgard Terminal altogether.  Doing so would significantly impact travel patterns to and from the UCLA campus.

If you similarly dislike this precedent and the slippery slope it might cause, you might let UCLA know over Twitter (@UCLACommute, @UCLA), by email (Block, Gene <gblock@conet.ucla.edu>; Powazek, Jack <powazek@FACNET.UCLA.EDU>; Fortier, Renee <RFortier@ts.ucla.edu>; Karwaski, David <dkarwaski@ts.ucla.edu>) , by phone at 310-794-7433, or in person at graduation this weekend.  Yes, they are implementing the change while the students are away.
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The author is a Transportation Researcher at UCLA and a board member of the Southern California Streets Initiative, the 501(c)3 that publishes LA Streetsblog.  The views expressed are his own, and do not reflect those of UCLA, or any research institution the author is affiliated with.

  • Ubrayj02

    Though the writing in this article isn’t that clear in the setup, the corrective action to this is clear enough: grab your pitchfork and head to  Paul Verdon’s house at 10544 Strathmore Drive!

  • Juan Matute

    I don’t think this is the answer. This situation is specific to Paul Verdon’s house and his propensity to complain.  The bigger issue is that the University repeatedly makes decisions that erode its public mission and the benefits this confers to all because of the persistent, targeted complaining of a privileged few.  

  • UCLAstudent2013

    The Ackerman Terminal is MUCH more central. This is a positive move in my opinion. The Hilgard Terminal is on the edge of campus and close to the academic buildings, but much farther from the medical center, central campus, research labs, and especially the North Village west of Gayley where the VAST majority of students live. Many students complain that the Big Blue Buses are so far from where they live and that the buses leave you far from central campus. The Hilgard Terminal is wedged between a sprawling neighborhood of mansions that don’t use the bus, and the eastern border of campus. Ackerman is in the direct heart of campus, just steps from the Bruin Bear and the Student Union and also a 5-10 minute walk from the dorms and off-campus housing in the North Village.

  • Juan Matute

    I agree that the Ackerman Terminal is more central.  However, serving the Hilgard Terminal puts a greater portion of the UCLA campus within 1/2 mile buffer of a high quality transit line.  Culver City 6, Big Blue Bus Super 12, and Metro 305 already serve the Ackerman Terminal.  The change leaves the northeast campus without high quality transit service after 8PM.  If UCLA Transportation agreed to operate the Bruin Bus Campus Express service with 10 minute headways until 10PM, then that would provide connecting service to the lines serving Ackerman Terminal.

  • At first read I thought Paul Verdon’s house was directly across the street, but his house is located down the block from the Hilgard Terminal: http://goo.gl/maps/8OOf

    Another fine example ugly NIMBYism from the Affluent Westside.

    Just yesterday, while slowly poking along the traffic-choked Wilshire Blvd on the sardine-packed 720 Bus, I was thinking about those bus lanes the affluent car drivers of Beverly Hills and Rosendahl’s District wont let us have. I think we need to form a “Street Liberation Front” that targets these people and organizations (BHUSD) that continually suppress efforts liberate us from car traffic.

  • calwatch

    There already is Line 2 and 761 service at Strathmore, down the street from the Hilgard terminal, connecting that part of the campus to Westwood Village. Like most UC campuses, there are very few evening and night classes, and Ackerman is a less isolated location, especially at night. While the methods leading to this decision are suspect, the choice to go to Ackerman is not.

  • I used the Hilgard terminal when I was a student, sometimes after 8pm. Being at the bottom of a long staircase, and with not much around, I remember thinking that if I was a woman I would not want to be waiting for a bus there (and considering that it was sometimes at least 20 minutes before a bus would take off, it could be a long and lonely wait). I also spoke to women who would not wait for the bus there. 

    I have not picked up a bus at a comparable time at the Ackerman turnaround, but the lighting seems to be much more prominent there, and it seems like it may be a better place for people to wait. 

    I first thought that all service to the Hilgard terminal was being ended, but a 8pm transition does not seem like a drastic change to me. 

  • Actually, UCLA Extension offers a lot of classes that let out at 10PM. A lot of these classes meet inside the Luskin school and Royce Hall. I am one of those students. I think Juan’s point, however, is that the University tossed a bone to placate one person, essentially. I agree with Evan’s point that Hilgard can be kind of sketchy at night, although there is a lot of lighting there.

  • You are right, SNIP house is not directly across the street. From what I’ve heard, apparently the way his house is sited on his lot subjects him and his family to “impacts” from Hilgard.

    In my ideal scenario, there would be transit access throughout the University, not just to Hilgard Terminal, which seemed to me to be a legacy of the University’s origins as a commuter school. There are 12K+ people living *and* working at UCLA on the Hill, and the transit service to that part of the university is negligible. I’ve pretty much scoffed at the notion that the bus stop at Bellagio and Sunset is a sufficient substitute — the stop at the north side of Sunset is not much more than a pole and a patch of soil measuring 2 feet by 2 feet.

  • Juan, you seem to forget that Super 12 doesn’t run that many buses into Ackerman — it is a peak hour service that doesn’t operate on weekends. I used to work near the Ackerman Terminal and was very very rarely able to time a short transfer from Big Blue Bus 2 onto the S12 or the Culver CityBus 6. Most of the time, I walked up from LeConte. Also, the 305 is going away. 

    The BruinBus used to come into Ackerman, but that was way before your and my time. That stop was discontinued for several reasons. The one I heard is that there was so much congestion inside the Ackerman Terminal that it was impossible to maintain the headways. (And then the fact S12, CCB6, M305, and M302 and M2 came into Ackerman probably marked the end of any possibility of restoring that stop.)

  • Erik Griswold

    From: 
    http://www.dailybruin.com/index.php/article/2004/10/possible-changes-in-big-blue-b?&cp=1 “'(Those who support the move) remind me of the folks who move next to airports and complain about the noise,’ Griswold said.” 

    And I’d love to see the post PM peak ridership numbers for these routes since 2005.  I’ll bet it is down and parking use for this same time is up.

    From:
    http://www.dailybruin.com/index.php/article/2003/11/bruingo-wheels-in-complaints?&cp=1 

    “Besides the noise, laments the environmental damage he believes is caused by the constant presence of BruinGo! buses.
    ‘There is black soot covering our ivy in the backyard – a majority is probably coming from the buses,’ he said.”
    Let us keep in mind that in 2005, the SMBBB fleet was still comprised of Diesel Fishbowls (GMC “New Looks”), Diesel MCI Classics, and Diesel New Flyer Low-Floors.  There were also some Diesel Thomas 30-footers and a pair of Diesel MCI Over-The-Road Coaches, but these did not operate on the routes to UCLA.  The 37 Liquified Natural Gas  NABI/Ikarus Low Floors had just arrived in 2002 but there were issues with their braking and so many drivers avoided taking them out of the yard.

    Now, save for the OTR coaches (used by tours) the fleet is nearly entirely Natural Gas powered.

    http://www.bigbluebus.com/aboutus/index.asp#fleet 

  • Erik Griswold

    Juan or UCLAStudent:

    Has the Bruin Bus increased its service to act as a fill in shuttle from the Royce Hall area down to Westwood Village?  Do Bruin Bus and SMBBB share the same stops yet?

  • Erik Griswold

    Let’s go easy on Paul, he recently lost his partner to lung cancer:

    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=michael-harrison-haight&pid=127963769 

  • Juan Matute

    @31430fe622ed4901edf6393b16744736:disqus , The Bruin Bus has not increased its Campus Express shuttle service to fill in the gap.  The Bruin Bus, SMBBB, Culver City, & Metro all share a stop by Medical Plaza, which would be a great transfer point for those coming from the northeast campus late at night.  The Bruin Bus makes two stops in Westwood Village, both on UCLA property at Weyburn Terrance and Lot 32.

  • calwatch

    Line 2 runs every 15-20 minutes from Hilgard to Le Conte and Westwood clear until 11 pm.

    I agree that Hilgard is closer to Powell Library, but distributed transit service is nothing new for UC campuses. UCLA has better and more frequent transit coming to it, in more directions, than any other UC campus, even Berkeley, since most of the major transit routes and BART are a quarter mile to the west of the campus limits in Downtown, and not on the Telegraph corridor, with the north side of campus getting bad transit service at night.

  • Anonymous

    I support Paul’s right to complain. I support the university’s right to be influenced by his inane complaints. I support your right to protest in front of his house. 

    I’m going to stay home and play video games. 

  • AggregatVier

    And he’s a banker!  Maybe a little pressure on the home office would be better?
     

  • Erik Griswold

    Like Spokker said, he has the right to complain.  It is the University that has chosen to listen to him, and it is the University that chooses to have distributed transit service (Hilgard, Ackerman, Structure 32 for the Westwood FlyAway bus, 
    Gayley Avenue at Strathmore Drive for the Amtrak California Thruway Bus).

    What is very unfortunate is the fact that the Bruin Bus does not connect these points with the rest of the campus as clarified by Juan. But then, Bruin Bus is, as I recall, run by an entity whose primary function is to increase parking space usage and revenue, not service those who wish to arrive on campus by means other than the sacred automobile.

  • Ubrayj02

     Woah, woah, woah. Guys, guys, guys – what’s with all this “Video games, I blame the university” crap?

    The guys name and home address is published in an article about his complaints affecting the lives of hundreds (thousands?) of people in a negative way.

    Irresponsible writing means we can be irresponsible readers.

    I already have my “Don’t panic, LA Streetsblog is here” signs printed and a stack of MTA cardboard origami buses to throw at him as he makes his way from the garage to his front door.

    In other words, it was a shitty move to blame it all on one guy and to print his home address.

    Consequences will never be the same.

  • Anonymous

    The buses are quieter than the motorcycles without mufflers, the mariachi music and the rap I hear every day coming from some vehicle on some road. Actually, the hydraulic sounds I hear coming from the buses where I live is a venerable symphony compared to those things. 

  • Anonymous

    Put pressure on the home office? The home office is going to rightly tell you that they don’t care about bus service at UCLA and then promptly ignore anything else you have to say.

    Put pressure on the university, you dope. They’re the entity that caved to one idiot’s complaints.

  • richard@UCLA

    I would argue that the tuition paying students that will be inconvenienced by this closure should trump the one resident. Maybe the problem is that the resident does not have adequate sound-proof insulation, double-paned windows, and air filtration? After all, other residents do not seem to be troubled by the terminal. There must be a Coasian solution that can be better for everyone? 

  • Anonymous

    Damien, the guy is quoted in the Daily Bruin pieces in 2002, 2003 and 2004 all written a year apart from each other.

    As Steven Rambam will tell you, privacy is dead, get over it:
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009

  • Erik Griswold

    I wish you all had been at the meeting in 2004 when I asked the assembled homeowners, who outnumbered the students by quite a bit, how many of them had bought their houses before the Hilgard Terminal was built in 1937.

    Oh they were not pleased to be asked about that piece of inconvenient truth.

    And when you consider that these houses were all built originally for UCLA faculty, few of whom, if any, can afford to buy them today due to UCLA having never retained  at-least-partial ownership. 

    Those that live there now get a huge boost to their property values from living across the street from a university (and a publicly subsidized one at that) as opposed to living next to a railroad yard, for example.

  • Trailerpk9

    Finally Mr. Verdon has been exposed. He caused Metro nothing but grief when he showed up on the scene. I have zero sympathy for that man. The issue is that UCLA needs the surrounding communities support whenever they want to expand/build anything. So, Mr Verdon wins at the expense of the students and transit users so UCLA can get their EIRs blessed and passed by Mr Verdon’s neighbors. It’s all political you know.