Bus-Only Lane for Wilshire Boulevard Still Years Away

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Last night Metro and LADOT updated bus riders and travelers along the Wilshire corridor of their efforts to bring Bus Rapid Transit to Los Angeles’ West Side.

If everything goes well, the project could enter its design stage in about a year.  In the meantime the agencies will be placing the project under an environmental review, select a final project description and approval from the Federal Transit Administration.  After a successful pilot program that ended last year and given the FTA’s high opinion of Bus Rapid Transit projects; advocates hope that the nearly ten years of discussion and study will lead to bus only lanes from Valencia Street in the Downtown to Centinela Boulevard just outside of Santa Monica excluding the section in Beverly Hills.  Also, federal, state and local funds are already allocated for the project.

So what would Metro’s BRT project actually do to Wilshire Boulevard?  The plan is to re-stripe Wilshire Boulevard to make the curb lanes in each direction bus only lanes.  In some areas the lanes would require no paving and in others there would need to be a slight widening of the street.  Seventeen intersections will be redesigned to improve timing and expand signal priority for buses.  Non-Metro buses would be able to use the bus-only lanes as well as Metro buses.

By removing buses from the snail’s pace of rush hour traffic, Metro will be able to sweepingly reverse the trend of longer commutes for transit riders along the Wilshire Corridor.  Rex Gephardt, who oversees the Rapid Bus program for Metro, noted that bus speeds are declining by .5% to .75% every year in the corridor.  In 2007, LADOT experimented with a pilot program for 1 mile of the corridor and, unsurprisingly, the buses moved faster and ridership increased.  While the pilot program was canceled, the segment will be part of the final BRT project if approved.

Unsurprisingly, upper-class enclaves Santa Monica and Beverly Hills seem uninterested in putting bus-only lanes on the parts of Wilshire Boulevard that run through their cities.  While both have expressed interest in moving forward with a bus-only lanes after seeing how they fare in the City of Los Angeles and County parts of Wilshire Blvd.  Both municipalities followed a similar pattern when the city and Metro worked together to bring signal prioritization for buses to Wilshire Blvd.  Prioritization has been operating on Wilshire in Beverly Hills for nearly a year
and will be in operation on other Beverly Hills streets  within the next 6 months.   Given the rave reviews BRT has gotten around the country and locally, it’s too bad we won’t see a full BRT route along Wilshire until after the city and Metro re-prove its worth.

The handful of speakers who spoke last night were excited about the project and, if anything, wanted to see it expanded.

Both speakers testifying on behalf of the Bus Rider’s Union spoke about the joys of bus riding and want to see the bus-only lanes be added to the road quickly.  Joe Linton, speaking on behalf of Green LA, commented that bus-only lanes need to be supported by an attractive, walkable pedestrian environment and the lanes need to be well marked as open to bicycles to avoid the confusion that occurred when bus-only lanes opened in the Downtown.  Others testified that the bus system in the surrounding areas will need to be bulked up to support the BRT system just as it supports the subway and light rail systems.

In addition to the three meetings next week, people can give their opinions anytime by emailing wilshirebrt@metro.net.  The draft environmental review will be available for public comment in March of 2009.

Photo: LA Wad/Flickr

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