Omnitrans’ sbX in San Bernardino is the first on-street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Southern California to feature dedicated on-street bus lanes and rail-like stations. Full-feature on-street BRT represents a key opportunity for transit expansion in Los Angeles County. Photo: Omnitrans
Los Angeles is finally on its way toward realizing the dream of a regional rapid transit system. Five rail lines are simultaneously under construction, and there is renewed momentum to fund another round of transit expansion on the 2016 ballot. Move L.A. recently unveiled a Strawman Proposal for “Measure R2” to accelerate the completion of the remaining Measure R projects and offer a new vision for transit, highway, and complete streets improvements across Los Angeles County.
Move LA’s Measure R2 “Strawman Proposal” features a number of possible rail expansions, but does not identify specific bus and BRT improvements. Source: Move LA
For Angelenos and transit nerds everywhere, there is a lot to get excited about. The centerpiece of Move LA’s vision is a $27 billion expansion of Los Angeles’ rail network (right, and also mapped below). Other features of note include $9 billion toward a “Grand Boulevards” program for complete streets improvements on the region’s automobile-oriented thoroughfares, and $3.6 billion toward active transportation projects. Although Move LA’s vision is just an early draft, a measure along these lines could transform the region—on par with the development of the expansive freeway network half a century ago.
Nevertheless, there’s something missing.
Move LA’s Measure R2 proposal does not effectively articulate one of the most critical ingredients to reshaping mobility in Los Angeles County: a spectrum of bus improvements, including bus rapid transit (BRT), to enhance transit service throughout the region.
Los Angeles already has many features of a great transit metropolis, but its greatest challenge is one of geometry: even after another $27 billion rail investment, only a handful of cities, neighborhoods, and corridors will have convenient rail access. For most Angelenos, including many in densely-populated, growing, or transit-dependent areas, buses will continue to serve as the only accessible mode of transit. Rather than rehashing bus vs. rail debates, Los Angeles must embrace upgrades to its bus system (the nation’s second-busiest) in tandem with rail expansion to reach a level of transit abundance that brings frequent, quality service to as many people as possible.
A spectrum of bus improvements are necessary. In many locations, bus stop upgrades to provide adequate shelters, security, and real-time arrival information may be sufficient when combined with frequent service. For other locations, BRT—dedicated lanes and more robust rail-like infrastructure—is necessary to provide quality service and room for growth. Yet, details on bus improvements in Move LA’s Measure R2 proposal are thin: the proportion of funds allocated to transit operations remains constant, and bus enhancements are mentioned only briefly under the Grand Boulevards program.
The lack of a comprehensive regional BRT vision in Move LA’s proposal is indicative of the region’s cautious approach to reallocating street space for buses and other users. While Metro has implemented two (mostly) off-street BRT lines—the Orange and Silver Lines—and an extensive Rapid network, the on-street implementation of BRT has been limited. A handful of “peak” hour bus lanes (7-9am and 4-7pm) have been implemented on Wilshire, Sunset, and Figueroa, and similar treatments have been recommended on nine additional corridors in Metro’s Countywide Bus Rapid Transit and Street Design study. However, Metro has currently no plans for more comprehensive bus improvements, such as all-day dedicated bus lanes and rail-like stations.
The city of Los Angeles is effectively leading the charge for bus improvements and more advanced BRT features as it develops concepts for a Transit-Enhanced Network, but the city lacks funds to implement these improvements without its own citywide ballot measure. The city is also is tied to a problematic on-street advertising contract which has limited its bus stop amenities.
A step-by-step approach to BRT implementation makes sense to deliver quick benefits to riders, but it risks setting the bar too low and degrading the benefits of BRT. What Metro presently brands as BRT offers only slight improvements over Rapid service: for example, bus lanes on Wilshire are only active for five hours per day and will be absent in Westwood and Beverly Hills, which opted out. Even after full implementation Metro’s countywide BRT plan, none of the designated corridors would meet the “Basic BRT” standard set by ITDP or come close to being on-par with Metro’s rail facilities.