Sounding Like Streetsblog, the Times Calls for Leadership in Wilshire BOL Debate

The Times wants a bus only lane project that looks like this.

In an editorial in today’s paper, the Los Angeles Times comes out swinging while calling on Council Man Bill Rosendahl and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to show some leadership in the ongoing debate over the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes Controversy.

The editorial is a powerful piece, and elevates the opposition to the Westside exemption from a crew of environmentalists and transportation reformers to a mainstream movement.  You can read the entire editorial here, and be sure to leave comments if you do.  You can read more of Streetsblog’s analysis of the piece after the jump.

But let’s give the Times the credit due on its reporting of this issue in the last week.  It hasn’t minced words, but has stuck to the facts in the two pieces by Dan Weikel.  That foundation makes today’s piece all the more important.

Ever wonder why L.A.’s public transit system seems haphazard, with rail lines that don’t go where they’re most needed and inadequate bus service? A political battle over bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard serves as an instructive example of the ways the best-designed plans of transit engineers are often thwarted.

Councilman Tom LaBonge basically made this same point at Wednesday’s meeting.  It’s time to stop fracturing our public infrastructure because a group of affluent people complain.

Wilshire is L.A.’s densest business and residential corridor, and it’s among the city’s biggest traffic nightmares at rush hour, which is why devoting a lane in each direction to bus use only is a good idea. More people already travel by bus than by car along the route during peak hours, and a fast bus lane would lure even more out of their cars, reducing pollution and radically reducing commuting times for bus riders.

This is the key point in the whole debate.  For all the talk of the traffic nightmare that would be created, the Bus Only Lane will move more people more quickly than a mixed use lane ever could.

The lanes, which have been in the planning stages for nearly a decade, were originally supposed to run from MacArthur Park to the Santa Monica border, except for a segment in the city of Beverly Hills, which opted not to participate. But when wealthy Westsiders complained about a loss of street parking and increased automotive congestion, politicians started looking to carve out chunks of the 9-mile route. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, carrying water for high-rise dwellers in the Condo Canyon neighborhood between Selby and Comstock avenues, led a push in December to cut that mile-long stretch. Then City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, no doubt after getting an earful from constituents in Brentwood, proposed deleting the entire segment west of Beverly Hills, which would leave just 5.4 miles of bus lanes.

It’s good to see the Times name names, and to focus on Yaroslavsky as kicking this whole process off with his ludicrously argued “doing this for bus only lanes own good.”

At the behest of the L.A. City Council, transit planners are now studying the impact of Rosendahl’s carve-out; the full council is slated to decide whether to approve the longer or the shorter route in April. It’s unclear whether the mid-Wilshire-only option would jeopardize the $23 million in federal funds designated for the project, more than two-thirds the total cost. It is clear that it would render an attractive commuting alternative far less attractive, slowing Westside buses to a crawl for large parts of the journey.

Someone suggested to me on twitter that Rosendahl was only pushing this motion to make the Brentwood NIMBY’s happy and that he knows the Council won’t pass the final proposal.  Interesting thought.  Given the statements that Brad McAlister at Metro and Kang Hu at LADOT made saying they believe the 1.8 miles of BOL’s slated for Brentwood will make a difference, it’s hard to see this new study strengthening his hand with the Council.

Also, given the comments of Alarcon, Cardenas, Huizar and LaBonge, it’s also hard to see him having the votes to get the Council to go along with his set-aside.

Of course, if Yaroslavsky gets the Metro Board to exempt Brentwood as well, then the Council may be stuck with only “take it or leave it” options for the BOL project.

Bus-only lanes are by no means an ideal solution for Wilshire’s traffic woes, which would be best alleviated by a subway line. But the so-called Subway to the Sea is many years away and may never materialize, and the lanes are the next best thing. It takes courage — something seldom seen among Westside politicians — to build an effective transit network; we hope the council exercises it this spring by approving the full route.

The Subway as a solution to traffic woes?  Don’t let L.A. Weekly hear you say that!

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