Law-Breaking Drivers Disrespecting New Wilshire Boulevard Bus-Only Lanes

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Illegally parked car blocks the Wilshire BRT peak-hour bus lane last Friday. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

On April 8, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other Metro, federal, county, and city leaders cut the ceremonial ribbon opening the second phase of the $31.5 million Wilshire BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Metro forecasted that the Wilshire Boulevard peak-hour bus-only lanes will significantly improve commute times for the more than 25,000 people who board Wilshire Boulevard buses at peak hours every weekday.

But those improvements will only materialize when the bus-only lanes only have buses in them.

Unfortunately, many peak-hour drivers are breaking the law by driving in the exclusive bus lanes.

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This Mercedes with license plate 6JJH202 is blocking the Metro 720 bus from getting to the Crenshaw Blvd stop. That car and the one behind it followed me through the intersection, ignoring the right-turn-only designation for cars in their lane.

Last Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., I observed hundreds of drivers breaking traffic laws, most of them driving straight ahead through right-turn-only designated intersections, but also two cars illegally parked in the designated “anti-gridlock” tow-away no-parking lane. I observed dozens of these cars clearly impeding the progress of the very frequent Wilshire buses. The majority of drivers did respect and stay out of the bus-only lane.

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Signage on Wilshire designates right turn only during peak commute hours.

At the start of each bus-only lane block, the pavement is marked “BUS LANE.” At nearly every intersection from Beverly Hills to MacArthur Park, there are signs that state “RIGHT LANE[:] BUSES [and] RIGHT TURNS ONLY 7AM-9AM 4PM-7PM MON-FRI.”

I stopped at a handful of intersections, and every time observed multiple cars breaking laws by proceeding straight ahead through right-turn-only intersections. Both rapid and local Wilshire buses were arrive very frequently at the peak commute hour, though, between buses, there was still often a one or two-minute space that law-breaking drivers file into. 

I uploaded four videos showing numerous peak-hour right turn violations–see above, and here, here, and here.

This situation is as much of a proverbial fish-in-a-barrel (to use the L.A. Times‘ description) enforcement opportunity as LAPD’s ill-advised downtown pedestrian ticketing. It seems that a few LAPD motorcycle officers patrolling these lanes at morning and evening rush hours could easily write dozens of right turn violation tickets. After some police enforcement, the word would likely get out, and drivers would stay out of the lane, benefiting the commute times for the tens of thousands of Wilshire bus riders.

SBLA will make inquiries to LAPD and find out how LAPD bus-only lane enforcement activity has been proceeding. The first phase of the bus lanes opened in June 2013, so, for some stretches, there should be a couple years’ worth of enforcement records.

There is some evidence that, despite “BIKES OK” signage, LAPD sheriffs sometimes wrongly tickets cyclists on the Sunset Boulevard bus-only lane. (Correction 10am: L.A. County Sheriff officers did this, not LAPD. Could the L.A. County Sheriff Department also patrol Wilshire bus lanes?)

In my observations of the Metro Silver Line BRT running on freeway ExpressLanes, a visible traffic enforcement presence has helped ensure that errant drivers do not get in the way of that BRT project’s success. For my (admittedly small) sample last Friday, I saw no traffic enforcement on Wilshire Boulevard.

Other cities, notably New York and San Francisco, use on-bus traffic cameras to enforce driver compliance with bus-only lane laws; these cities do still experience some issues with scofflaw drivers impeding transit.

Maybe Metro can look into a similar camera programs to ensure that Los Angeles’ Wilshire BRT delivers the ridership benefits projected.

  • Joe Linton, Southern California’s answer to Stanley Roberts!

  • calwatch

    I think cameras would be a great addition to the rapid buses. If a vehicle is going through an alleged right turn lane, they should get a HOV violation ticket. This is why curb lane BRT always performs worse than center lane BRT.

  • You want to install Center Lane BRT on Wilshire? Good Luck!

  • Jake Bloo

    It would be logical to have police enforcement move from ticketing jaywalkers to ticketing these bus-only-violators, but I doubt that will happen because it’s an easier political move to scare those walking rather than those who can afford a car and break the rules.

    I would love to see it happen (BRT is what is going to save LA traffic), and I hope that SBLA continues to investigate, but I am not holding my breath.

  • swervo

    Part of the new BRT lanes on Wilshire go over the hill by the Los Angeles Country Club between Comstock and Whittier, just west of Beverly Hills. I currently bike down Santa Monica past the country club which loses bike lanes between Century Park West and Avenue of the Stars and moves to pretty narrow lanes, so I just have to control the right lane through that stretch. So, I was pretty excited about the new bus lanes as an alternative to get past the country club.

    What I’ve found so far is that the vast majority of drivers are obeying the bus/bike only lanes. The problem is, it’s created a filter where the worst drivers out there are the ones that are now in that lane with me. It’s a reasonable hill going west through that stretch and it was a harrowing enough experience for me the one time I’ve tried it that I’ve never done it since. I have yet to see any enforcement, and I’ve watched people drive down the bus only lane right past police in the next lane over and the police do nothing.

    Without some sort of enforcement, all we have now are lanes that are supposed to be safe for buses and cyclist but instead are home to the worst of the worst of LA drivers. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

  • Joe Linton

    LOL – but I don’t get it!?!? Basketball player says google.

  • madelinebrozen

    Like the swervo mentioned, I find the cycling benefits are the best part of the new bus-only lanes, particularly on the Wilshire segment through the country club. I’ve really enjoyed biking with someone side by side and having a chance to chat while riding. However, as the commenter mentioned, the erratic behavior of drivers is frustrating. Does anyone know whether LA Sherrif’s that are already contracted by Metro are allowed to write tickets/enforce the bus only lanes? It would be a shame if they can only write tickets for fare evasion and not for drivers.

  • Matt

    No surprise that this is being violated in mass. Without a major police presence this will be worthless. They also need to install min. violation amount signs like on HOV lanes – say $250 and then people will not violate. Until then, forget it. People will just say they didn’t see the signs.

    I’d be interested to see what LAPD says about enforcement.

  • Joe Linton

    I am finding out about sheriffs vs. LAPD. I assumed it was PD, but I might have been wrong.

  • Aron

    Mixing parking with bus lanes. Only in America.

  • Jake Wegmann

    He’s a Bay Area TV news reporter who does a series called “People Behaving Badly.” He goes out and films drivers doing the awful things that drives often do, and sometimes even sticks a microphone in their face to ask them why they’re being awful. It’s great.

  • ChrisLoos

    This was the most predictable outcome ever.

    I’ll say the same thing I’ve been saying ever since I first heard about the Wilshire BRT project: We need to install cameras on the buses along with an automated system that tickets drivers that take the lanes when they’re not supposed to. It won’t catch everyone, but it will at least catch the drivers that encroached in the lane close to the buses and likely slowed them down.

    I’m pretty sure NYC has a similar ticketing system set up for their bus lanes.

  • Joe Linton

    NYC and SF – as mentioned toward the end of the article

  • M

    There’s a less than 1 mile segment of a buffered bike lane near my home without parking between the lane and the curb and last week it almost seemed like their were MORE drivers than normal hanging out in the bike lane. I was joking to people that it was “drive in the bike lane to work week”, not “bike to work week” because of the frequency I personally observed this violation on the tiny stretch of bike lane I used.

    The sad thing is I’ve ended up at the same destinations as some of these people cutting me off in the bike lane and confronted them – asking them if they realized they cut me off. They asked what car I was in, completely oblivious to the bike lane and the bike helmet in my possession. So they just pulled into the bike lane WITHOUT even looking to see if anyone was in it. Do they not realize their car doesn’t fit in the lanes they are driving in? At moments like that, I have no hope.

  • Derek Hofmann

    How do bus-only lanes benefit bicyclists if those lanes are only for buses?

  • Joe Linton

    As shown above, the signs read “bikes ok” so instead of having to share lanes with lots of cars, cyclists just share the right lane with buses only.

  • Derek Hofmann

    So it’s a bus-only lane, except it isn’t because bikes are also allowed in it, and even cars can park there at certain times. I think I see the problem.

  • Yes, the problem is clear. Drivers either can’t read and/or break the law. Pretty simple.

  • boboblacksheep

    Cameras will be difficult because cars are allowed to drive in these lanes if they are making a right turn.

  • Derek Hofmann

    And whoever called it a “Bus Only Lane” doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “only.” When drivers are lied to, how can we fault them for being confused?

  • xande0

    And what happens when a bus carrying 50+ people comes up behind you? You seriously think it’s ok to slow down all those people so that you can have a leisurely chat with your friend?

  • xande0

    It’s the only option for surface-level high quality transit, since streetcars are banned (even though Wilshire has enough ridership to support both a subway and streetcar). Center-running BRT should be the long-term goal for Wllshire.

  • THe long-term goal for Wilshire is Subway. Once that is finally open, despite the delays imposed by Waxman and Yaroslavsky, the 720 probably goes bye-bye and gets replaced by something like the 320 it replaced.

  • Sorry, thought you knew about him. He does news reports about people doing things like…
    driving in bus lanes:

  • Joe Linton

    um, so the video camera records them and if they violate the right-turn-only law, they get a ticket… how hard is that?

  • But isn’t Uber a taxi service in itself?

  • No need to put them on the buses, just install them facing forward in the intersection. People would still continue to be able to turn, but those going straight would get a ticket.

  • On buses, decently difficult. There’s no way to differentiate on whether a driver is going straight or right until after they’ve not turned and proceeded straight through the intersection. Then of course, the time of day restrictions of parking also have to be included. Much easier to just have a camera pointed at the start of each bus lane that would catch anyone going straight, but not those turning.

  • Yes, except they are not issued medallions like real taxis. Problems with that? Take it up with S.F. Board of Supervisors.

  • neroden

    This is why this sort of half-assed bus lane is worthless.

    London’s bus lanes are full time, they’re painted bright red, and cars aren’t allowed in them at *all*. They are enforceable.

  • neroden

    Another attempt to make sure we don’t have good transit. It’s just a mockery of the very idea of bus lanes.

  • neroden

    We need something called “drivers licensing”, which appears to be missing in this country. :-)

  • LAXDriver

    I was in one of those videos LOL

  • Andres

    Of course LASD can can write tickets fort bus lane violations. Their jurisdiction is Lis Angeles Co. It would not be surprised if we see a sing in the near future…

  • Alexandre_Rousseau

    It is ever-so difficult to watch the video of the cyclist pulled over by the deputy on the Sunset bus/bike lane. I am almost desperate to know the outcome of his eventual ticket dismissal. Mostly I want to know whether that deputy showed up in court and got his ass handed to him.

  • Niall Huffman

    I think you’re overestimating the extent to which a person traveling at a decent clip on a bicycle can delay a bus. When traveling in urban traffic on streets with bike lanes, it’s not hard for me to keep pace with Metro buses traveling on the same street — a bus might overtake and pass me briefly, only to pull over to make a stop a short time later, allowing me to catch up and get out ahead again. In the end, we both end up where we’re going at roughly the same time.

    The main benefit of a bus lane lies in providing a clear avenue for the bus to bypass a long queue of cars backed up on the approach to a busy intersection. A bicyclist traveling 15-20 mph generally won’t prevent a bus from being able to do this, in my experience. And if traffic is more or less free-flowing, it’s pretty easy for the bus driver to change lanes and go around.

    More to the point, where should bicyclists ride on Wilshire? In the center lane in front of the cars, when the bus lane can be largely empty for several minutes at a time? Splitting the center and curb lanes? In the gutter, where there’s not room for them to travel side by side with the bus without the bus going into the next lane (buses barely fit into the curb lane as it is on the narrowest stretches of Wilshire)? Seems to me like the bus lane is the best of limited options. Why make such an antagonistic comment toward someone who described doing something that’s 100% legal and explicitly permitted by posted signage?

  • ChrisLoos

    Missed that. Thanks!

  • Joe Linton

    The cyclist contested the ticket and won in court when the police officer did not show up.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    That is actually the worst outcome.

    Think about this…

    Personally, I would have rather seen the cyclist win on merit not on a technicality.

    The Police Officer still got paid. The cyclist had to take time off of work. Since the Police Officer did not show, he did not learn the proper law. I would have rather seen the judge scold the Police Officer for not knowing the law.

    Too bad we cannot sue the city for lost wages when the Police Department errs…

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Just as Niall Stated…

    I too pass 95% of all buses, never to see them again…

    The time it takes to load and unload passengers allows me to get blocks away.

  • weshigh

    Saw Sheriff on motorcycle pulling drivers over for violating the bus lane this morning. Right after they pulled a person over, a guy on his bicycle rode by and gave a big cheer with his hand in the air to the Sheriff.

  • Doesn’t matter to me, but it seems counter to the goals to exclude ride-sharing. However, I can certainly see that problems that it might cause.

  • Joe Linton

    Sounds like we might be able to declare at least a minor victory!!! Get photos/video if you can when you see this.

  • J

    I’ve always thought the Bus/bike lane signs were funny and a reflection of Ladot’s true feelings about cyclists. They are not BUS and Bicycle only signs they are BUS lanes… bicycles ok. They’d rather you didn’t use them and the police feel the same way.

    Last week a cop on a motorcycle yelled “Buses only” at me and pointed at the next lane, where I had just been riding (unsure about the cones on Sunset). I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to use the bus lane on Sunset at that time – because of the cones, I’m sure why I thought they changed anything – I took the next lane and rode at max. output above 20mph on LA’s fine 3rd world pavement, up the incline and then moved over into the cone demarkated bus lane to take a break from riding a 104 inch gear as hard as a could. Shortly thereafter I was told off by the guy whose big bike pedals itself. Are the cones a regular thing on Sunset or only used on game day?

  • james

    I assume the cop was very familiar with the law. He dislikes cyclists and wants people to “respect his authority” and was pissed that the cyclist didn’t pull over for him. His sense of entitlement to the right of way, his inflated ego, failure to get promoted, highschool bully background etc. was the issue here.

  • G1991

    This is precisely why I do not care at all for peak-hour curbside BAT lanes. They are great in theory, but suck when applied. If you’re going to do BAT lanes, make them all day; don’t confuse motorists by providing “hours” to lane usage. I would prefer they not be done at all, but that’s not feasible in many situations. However, if you’re going to use BAT lanes and not have level boarding, off-board fare collection, or high-quality transit signal priority, don’t call your service BRT; doing so dilutes the meaning of the term and makes BRT less attractive to communities where BRT has the potential to be implemented. Real BRT should, as much as possible, be in center-running dedicated lanes.

  • boboblacksheep

    Per your link to the SFSB about Muni Cameras.

    “Unfortunately, state law prohibits the cameras from being used to cite moving violations, so drivers cruising down a Muni lane can still only be penalized by the SFPD.”

    @ Crenshaw for example heading eastbound traffic gets backed up because people are turning right to go on the freeway, if you have to get in the lane before the intersection then you are breaking the law. The 720 is always jumping around lanes, either passing the 20 for a bike or a car. In Miracle Mile there are lights every .1 miles, you might have to merge early depending on the situation, especially with all the traffic. I’m not defending all the people who drive in them and break the law I’m just saying its a bad project. For everyone.

    I bike in these lanes everyday and I think that it was great to repave the street but it is such a sham of a BRT project and it just shows how terrible our current situation is here in LA.

  • Alexandre_Rousseau

    Indeed, I was hoping that the deputy would be required to learn a lesson about this incident. Why is it SO hard for a cop to just back down and say they made a mistake? Why are they constitutionally incapable of just putting up their hands, taking a step back, and saying,”You know — I’m really just wasting everybody’s time here.”

  • davistrain

    Our driver licensing system is designed to be “inclusive”, in order to get as many people buying cars and motor fuels as possible. In some other countries (where public transit is more adequate), licensing is “exclusive”, approaching that of an airplane pilot license, making sure that (they hope) only people who know what they are doing are on the roads.

  • neroden

    That’s a more polite way of saying what I was saying. Thank you. I really do think we need “exclusive” driver licensing, to make sure the people issued licenses know what they’re doing. I swear it’s a minorty of drivers causing the majority of injuries and damage.

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