Council Committee Set to Debate Wilshire BRT Project

Environmentalists and transit advocates urge Council Man Rosendahl and the Transportation Committee not to block BRT for the Westside.
Environmentalists and transit advocates urge Council Man Rosendahl and the Transportation Committee not to block BRT for the Westside.

You knew it was bound to happen.

The Brentwood Community Council, the community group fighting the last remaining portion of the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes project planned for the Westside, is seizing on a seemingly innocuous motion on today’s Transportation Committee Meeting.  The motion asks for the LADOT to study the impacts of the Metro Board’s decision to remove a portion of the project in Westwood.  The BCC is claiming that it signals Council Member Rosendahl’s secret plan to sever any bus only lanes for any portion of the Westside.

While Rosendahl’s office supplied me with a chance to review the motion last week, we haven’t had a chance to discuss it in advance of today’s meeting.

If the Committee is going to debate an exclusion for Brentwood from the Bus-Only project; the Committee is stocked with the right people to make that happen.  Paul Koretz has fought for the Yaroslavsky Exemption won at the Metro Board last month.  The Chair of the Committee is the BCC’s representative, Rosendahl.  Tom LaBonge generally votes on “local issues” the way the local Council Member wants him to as a show of support to his comrades.  Those three members are a majority of the Committee, and under Council rules the full Council doesn’t even need to hear public testimony before passing a resolution already heard by a Committee.

Thus, if Rosendahl really does want a Westside Exclusion from the Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes project, that position would likely become the official position of the City.

The City of Los Angeles and Metro have teamed on a project to bring Bus Only Lanes to Wilshire Boulevard within city limits.  The cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica weren’t included in the project.  The 8.7 mile project was fully funded by federal dollars.  With the Yaroslavsky Exemption already in place, removing the Brentwood portion of the project would shrink the project to just over five miles.  Transit advocates worry that the FTA will look at the much shorter project as a “bait-and-switch” and pull funding for any bus-only program.

The Yaroslavsky Exemption was one by a group of well-to-do homeowners at last month’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.  What was supposed to be a quick ratification of Metro’s environmental documents instead turned into a lecture from transit-expert Yaroslavsky who ignored and scoffed at the objections of transportation engineers, urban planners, architects, transit advocates and environmentalists before offering the bizarre statement that he was doing this for transit advocate’s own good.  Both Metro and LADOT staff informed the Board that there was no reason to remove the project based on their studies.  Yaroslavsky didn’t care.

Apparently, the members of the Brentwood Community Council looked at this display of politics over planning and said, “give us some.”  Thanks to the Yaroslavsky Exclusion, Metro has to re-complete its environmental studies for the project opening the door to more bad policy.  And the BCC is using mis-information in an attempt to swing the City Council Transportation Committee to support a second exemption to the project which would basically eliminate the project west of La Cienega Boulevard.  A full copy of their letter to Westsiders can be found at the end of the article.

In a letter to community members, the BCC plays fast and loose with the facts to confuse the issue and make the case for their own exclusion.  They incorrectly state that the project will remove a travel lane from Wilshire Boulevard in Brentwood.  However, the project will add a new eastbound bus lane from Federal to Sepulveda, resulting in more capacity for cars in that section with buses moved out of the regular lanes.

They also state, “At the MTA Board meeting last month, the Chief Traffic Engineer for LADOT said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work…”  In truth, the testimony of Chief Traffic Engineer Kang Hu stated that the more the project is cut-up, the less the benefits of the project would be.  Here’s how Streetsblog described his testimony moments after he delivered it:

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.

If the BCC is correct, and the Council is considering asking the Metro to exempt the Westside from transit improvements, then Council Member Rosendahl is caught in the middle.  On one hand, he’s been supporting the Bus-Only Lanes proposal for six years, at least on paper.  But the BCC is a group of his constituents and there’s few things as dangerous as angry constituents armed with mis-information.

Even if the BCC wins the day tomorrow, it’s not a done-deal that Westsiders will be completely left out of the Bus Only project because of a handful of loud, selfish neighbors.  The final approval or disapproval for the project is in the hands of the Metro Board who won’t make a final decision until this Spring.

BCC letter to Westsiders:

Bus Lanes on Wilshire Would Have a Severe Impact on Traffic

The proposed Wilshire BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) project would take out lanes of traffic to create dedicated bus lanes on the north and south sides of Wilshire Blvd. during peak traffic hours of
7 – 9 a.m. and 4 – 7 p.m.

Your emails to Zev Yaroslavsky and Bill Rosendahl have been effective, and now we need you to send an email to the members of the L.A. City Council Transportation Committee.  The Committee meets January 12, and will consider a proposal to limit the Wilshire bus lanes to east of Beverly Hills.  They need to know that you support that proposal.

At the MTA Board meeting last month, the Chief Traffic Engineer for LADOT said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work— which explains why we had such horrendous gridlock between Centinela and the 405 when trial bus lanes were implemented a few years ago. Nevertheless, the MTA Board was promoting a busway that would exclude Beverly Hills, much of Westwood, and Santa Monica. Reinstating bus-only lanes in the isolated area between Centinela and the 405, not contiguous to other bus lanes, is unacceptable .

Please let the members of the L. A. City Council know that the Wilshire bus lanes should be limited to the area east of La Cienega.  Your email can make a difference.
A draft email follows (PLEASE SEND TODAY, or use your own words):

To:
councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org,
councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org,
councilmember.alarcon@lacity.org,
paul.koretz@lacity.org,
councilmember.parks@lacity.org,
info@brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org

Subject: Wilshire bus lanes

Please limit the Wilshire bus lane project to east of La Cienega Blvd. At the MTA Board meeting in December, City traffic engineers said that fragmented, stop and start, bus lanes don’t work, and as long as Beverly Hills, most of Westwood, and Santa Monica are not implementing bus lanes, the 1.8 mile section west of the 405 is not contiguous to the rest of the project. There were limited bus lanes between Centinela and the 405 freeway before, and traffic was even more horrendous than the gridlock that all vehicles driving through West L.A. already experience on a daily basis.   Please don’t repeat the same mistake. Vote to limit the Wilshire bus lanes to the area between downtown and La Cienega.

[Insert name]

Please visit our website at www.brentwoodcommunitycouncil.org for real-time traffic information links on the website HOME page for streets such as Sunset, San Vicente, Wilshire, Bundy, and Barrington

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