Metro Board Doesn’t Trust Staff, Removes Selby/Comstock Segment from Wilshire Bus-Only Proposal

Following nearly an hour and fifteen minutes of public testimony, most of which overwhelmingly favored passage of the staff recommendation to complete the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes on all parts of Wilshire Boulevad controlled by the City of Los Angeles, the Metro Board of Directors unanimously backed transit expert Zev Yaroslavsky over their staff and LADOT staff and decided to remove the Comstock/Selby area of Wilshire in Westwood from the project.

Our Hero in 1985.  Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr
Our Hero in 1985. Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr

The strongest testimony in favor of completing the Wilshire Bus-Only lanes as completely as possible came from LADOT’s Kang Hu during the staff report.  Hu, who’s spent years studying the project and has professional degrees and certifications in transportation and transit planning, made a forceful defense of the project. He testified that any impacts on car traffic were manageable and that the buses on Wilshire currently carry more people than cars.  He closed his testimony by arguing that the project would handle future growth and is about shifting people out of their cars and on to buses.  Hu deserves credit for making such a forceful defense, as at least one L.A. City Councilman, Paul Koretz, is on record against the project.

Following the presentations by Hu and Metro staff, a parade of speakers representing environmental groups, urban planners, bike riders, the Bus Riders Union, and residents of West L.A. all stepped up to address the benefits of the BRT project.  Roughly 10-15% of those testifying were Westside residents opposed to the project.  The 10-15% estimate is an appropriate one, since the group was trying to get over a mile, or 11% of the project, removed.  There was no mention of excluding any part of Brentwood from the bus-only routing.

As soon as public comment was completed, Yaroslavsky went on the attack against those testifying in support of the project.  In what was both an extremely condescending and revealing statement. Yaroslavsky commented that the Metro and LADOT staff did an amazing job but he thinks that they’re wrong about the impact of removing this mile of street based on his years of obstructing transit projects his solemn responsibility to make sure things work.

Yaroslavsky then went on to claim the mantle of champion of bus-only lanes, commenting that the people who would be sitting in their cars have organizations too.  And, these organizations would halt all future bus rapid transit projects after he demonstrated how easy it is to do so if we upset them.  Honestly, the logic that the only way to protect bus-only lanes from NIMBY’s is to collapse whenever NIMBY’s organize and demand that they do so is beyond my ability to understand.  But that’s why I’m a pontificator and not a member of the dysfunctional “responsible” Metro Board of Directors.

Having completed his convoluted harangue against those that disagreed with him, Yaroslavsky voted to amend the staff recommendation to exclude the Selby/Comstock area of Wilshire from the Bus Only project.

Once Yaroslavsky was done, Board Member John Fasana asked what the Federal Transit Administration thinks about removing this area from the project.  At this point, the FTA has given verbal, not written, permission to remove the lanes.  That was enough for Fasana, who immediately backed Yaroslavsky’s motion.

Next up was outgoing, but current, LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson who didn’t quite throw her staff under the bus; but still ignored their advice after years of study and backed the Yaroslavsky motion.

When a vote was finally called for, the Yaroslavsky motion passed with no objection.  Thus did Bus Rapid Transit hero Zev Yaroslavsky save future Bus Rapid Transit and Bus Only Projects from future interference and the well meaning intentions of everyone that doesn’t live in the Selby/Comstock Area.  The final layout of the project will be about 14% smaller than it was before, but at least all future projects are safe.

Thanks to the responsible vision of Zev Yaroslavsky.

  • Erik G.

    It’ll be fun to watch the west-bound 720 buses stack up in a queue by the L.A. Country Club.

    I realize I don’t have a Masters in British Imperial History, but I predict that is what will happen.

  • anty

    Such disappointing news after a lunch of talking up how attitudes towards transit are changing in LA to a friend who does advocacy work in Chicago.

  • Shame on all the other Metro Board members for giving this to Yaroslavsky.

    He would never have been empowered to remove this segment without the consent of the other 4 Supervisors: Don Knabe, Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Michael Antonovich. The rest of the Board is culpable, too: Mayor Villaraigosa, Rita Robinson, Diane DuBois of Lakewood, John Fasana of Duarte, Jose Huizar of Council District 14 in LA, Richard Katz of LA, Ara Najarian of Glendale, and Pam O’Connor of Santa Monica.

    All of these people put the interests of the wealthy few before the mobility of the transit-riding many.

    I will certainly think twice about voting for the politicians that were supposed to represent me among this group. If they couldn’t stand up for my interests in this simple instance, how can I expect them to represent me very well in government more generally? Gloria Molina and Antonio Villaraigosa, you just lost my vote.

  • John Len

    @Herbie Huff: They lost my vote too.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Reading from the Source: http://thesource.metro.net/2010/12/09/board-of-directors-give-intial-approval-to-wilshire-bus-lane-project-without-condo-canyon-segment/

    It sounds like ANOTHER approval is required in April as a new traffic analysis has to be done without Condo Canyon? Who knows if Brentwood mobilizes and pulls out on their end by that time? Or they do another “traffic study”? Geez….the amount of red tape to approve projects is exhausting!

  • Vito

    Is it possible to mount a recall on Gloria Molina? She has done a huge diservice to her working class constituents on the east side to are stuck on buses for hours to get to jobs on the west side. If anyone wants to work on it, I’m going to give it a try.

  • Dick.

  • @Vito I think it’d be hard to mount a recall campaign, but it’s worth noting that Gloria Molina ran unopposed in 2010. We can next unseat her in 2014.

    More generally, it’s worth taking this moment to consider the substantial drawbacks of having only Five County Supervisors, each representing an enormous constituency and having control over $3.4 Million dollar budgets.

    Food for thought: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_County_Board_of_Supervisors

    Apparently many people have made inroads toward rearranging this government body so that it better serves the people of LA County. Maybe it’s time to revisit shaking up the County Board of Supervisors.

    At the least we need to find some political challengers who will push the Supervisors to take politically progressive and populist positions. Right now it seems like they all just sit pretty in their incumbency, give out gifts to wealthy and powerful interest groups with their “discretionary” funds, and enjoy having very few people care.

  • This makes me a sad panda

  • LACBC has written an open letter to the Metro Board members. You can read it here.
    http://lacbc.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/open-letter-to-the-metro-board-regarding-wilshire-brt/

  • wow – seriously disappointing.

  • Who are local politicians accountable to? People who live and reliably vote in their districts. If you live around there you need to be registered to vote over there and you need to be organizing people WHO LIVE AND VOTE IN THAT DISTRICT.

    Why attack Yaroslavsky for doing what his constituents want? You’ve got to make it safe for him to do the right thing.

  • Roadblock

    The only silverlining to this is that the bus lanes for the most part were approved. That means that this could possibly come up again in the future and eventually it will complete itself once more progressive minds are on the board…. at some point in the future.

  • If there isn’t an LA transit voting bloc already, let’s make one.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @Agreed with Chewie. Zev is termed out by 2014. We need a representative of the westside who has shown more appeal for mass transit than Zev. Vote!

  • John Rembold

    This is why I’m leaving LA, stupid politicians.

  • Carlton Glüb

    Zev is probably right that the buses won’t be slowed down *right now*.

    But what the hell is going to happen in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?

    Best case scenario is that the subway makes it to Westwood in 10 years, assuming the money appeared out of the either this moment.

    Traffic isn’t going to get any better so it’s only going to make getting those lanes put back in harder.

  • Rye Baerg

    Grrrump. Sad and short sighted.

  • joe

    I really think the condo canyon crowd should be more concerned with getting Wilshire repaved then blocking this buslane.

    that road is horrible I’ve driven dirt roads that are smoother.

  • Yuri

    @Chewie: I live in Yaroslovsky’s district and I’m against the exemption. I can safely assume that the majority of the 2 million constituents in his district are against the exemption, as shown by the public comments. So who is he representing?

  • Rye Baerg

    I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of hours… What does this say about the priorities of the condo canyon crowd if they are not willing to allow a project go through that would benefit thousands for only a 30 secondish delay at certain traffic lights? Seriously though, this is a bus lane not a nuclear power plant.

    Maybe we should make some signs and go shame them in front of their condos… This project is about making traffic better for everyone, them included. The more people that are on buses the less people that will fight them for the streets. 50 people = 1 bus = 400-500 square feet. 50 people = 50 cars = 4000-5000 square feet. Grrump.

  • @Herbie Huff–Gloria Molina also is termed out in 2014.

    @Chewie–in that Board room Yaroslavsky is a member of the Metro Board and is supposed to be exercising his vote based on the regional needs etc. not pander to the residents of the district he represents outside the Board room. But as I have noted before Board member often vote to serve their career and parochial interests as symbolized by referring to themselves mostly during the meetings by their elected titles NOT Board member. Just like the gate vote the rest of the Board followed the lead of one or two Board members without questioning the real issues versus just getting along.

    @Rye Baerg–I like the idea of a protest. Maybe get some TV news cameras to catach us at 5 p.m. shaming the condo canyon residents. Maybe after the 1st of the year as organizing anything during holiday period is difficult.

    Zev again proved why I call him the wind sock of L.A. politics…

  • Chris L

    Does every decision in this town have to be politics-based and not fact-based?

  • Protest idea:

    Chinese lion/dragon dancers decorated as a bus. The rest dressed as metro board puppets, in cars stuffed with cash, chasing the bus around with axes, etc.

    Just sounds like more fun than signs.

  • So the car drivers who live along a one mile stretch of Wilshire Blvd are objecting to a calculated average of no more than a 30 second delay along the entire one mile segment if bus only lanes are put in. Since most of them are unlikely to live at the very end of this road segment, then their average delay will be something south of 30 seconds for every trip they take in this segment from their home at peak travel hours in a day. Let’s see, there are 1440 minutes in a day and 2880 half minutes in a day. So no more than 1/2880th of their day will be spent delayed on that stretch of road on any trip from their home. Why I would be upset too, that delay would throw my whole day off.

    A bus only lane would put most of the buses out of the way of the motorists and in the lane that was in by far the worst condition. What car driver wants to be stuck in a lane populated with buses that make frequent stops while traveling through dodge pot holes and ruts? It turns out by LADOT’s own calculation that there are much less cars driving in the curb lane during peak hours than the other lanes.

    The objections seemed to be centered on they are taking away two lanes so it’s bound to be much slower going and they don’t take mass transit so there is no perceived benefit. If you are traveling by car in traffic going the same average speed that you did before the bus only lanes and a bus speeds past you, there is likely to be the perception that you are going much slower than before. After all buses should not speed past my 150+ horsepower car, a motorcycle or car are the fastest things on the road.

    If keeping the lanes mixed use during peak travel times is a great benefit to car drivers, then that will encourage more people to use a car rather than a much slower bus. The lanes will likely clog up over a short period of time as much or more as they fear it would if bus only lanes are introduced.

    The Federal government is paying most of the costs to repair a badly deteriorated lane and some residents would choose to have the crumbling street which slows traffic in itself and damages vehicles.

  • Zev and Waxman should be strung up by their manly parts……Both have been a disservice to Los Angeles residents. Anytime you get in your car and complain about traffic, thank Zev and wax for not having a choice in public transit.

    And as for the misguided point about Zev representing his district, I call BS. As a Metro Board member he is representing ME. I don’t live in Condo Cyn. so FU.

  • Five supervisors to oversee the laws and executive management of a count with 11 million+ people in it.

    That sounds like a workable situation.

    Political pressure at the ballot box is the only way to freak these people out. There really is no playing nice in the face of such obstinate stupidity.

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