Wilshire BRT Update: Removing Brentwood and Condo Canyon Reduces Effectiveness by 40%
11:37 AM PDT on April 22, 2011
Earlier today, Metro released the findings of the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes Project. When the original "Final" EIR was presented last December, it called for 8.7 miles of bus only lanes running in both directions from Downtown Los Angeles to the border with Santa Monica, excluding a one mile portion in Beverly Hills. Thanks to the triumph of politics over engineering studies, particularly the machinations of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the document is now calling for a 7.7 mile route that also excludes the so-called Condo Canyon.
The original 8.7 mile route would have saved bus riders, and remember there are more bus riders on Wilshire than car drivers at rush hour, an estimated 10-15 minutes for a rider traveling the entire route. Taking the "Yaroslavsky Exemption" into account, the route loses a mile of Bus Only Lanes and drops to 9-14 minutes savings. However, that wasn't the only alternative studied. A motion by the L.A. City Council, pushed by Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz, asked Metro to study also removing the Brentwood segment of the proposal, removing the entire Westside from the bus only project and slimming the route down to 5.4 miles from the Downtown to La Cienega Boulevard.
The "Rosendahl Exemption" drops the time savings from the original 10-15 minutes all the way down to a 6-9 minute savings, a 40% reduction in effectiveness. While the City Council voted to study the exemption, there is already significant opposition to cutting out the Brentwood leg of the project from the Council. Council Members Alarcon, Cardenas, LaBonge, Huizar, Reyes and Wesson all opposed the idea during debate on the Council floor. However, once politics come in to play the result may change between now and a vote from the Council to select their locally preferred alternative. Because the project is a joint project of Metro and the City, the final route needs to be approved by both the Metro Board of Directors and the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor's Office.
Both Yaroslavsky and Rosendahl have claimed they would support a full BRT project, that included both Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
Predictably, transit advocates are jumping on these results to attempt to push back against efforts to truncate the route.
"On weekdays, approximately 80,000 people already board the bus along Wilshire Blvd. Given the density of the region and existing conditions on our roads at rush hour, we need solutions like the Wilshire BRT that move more people efficiently and cost effectively. With their greater capacity to transport commuters, comfortable rapid buses are a solution whose time has come," explains Joel Epsten, L.A. Streetsblog Board Member, Huffington Post writer and resident of Brentwood, "Critics of the dedicated lane BRT speak apocalyptically of catastrophic impacts on traffic on the stretch of Wilshire west of the 405 and on adjacent east west thoroughfares. But what those opposed to the BRT in Brentwood and elsewhere fail to acknowledge is that our commuting habits and the region’s density are already incompatible with the capacity of our streets and freeways to accommodate mostly private cars during rush hour. It is time to reject the spurious argument that buses, which have the capacity to carry dozens more commuters than automobiles, should make way for the cars, even when it is our cars that are involved."
Further eroding the arguments that Bus Only Lanes are bad for traffic, local Sierra Club member Darrell Clarke notes that car traffic going east on Wilshire between Barrington and the 405 will benefit from the Bus Only Lane because they are actually adding a new lane for buses and this removing buses from the traffic flow. Clarke also notes that bus lanes West of the Veteran's Administration Hospital will be a key feeder route for the eventual extension of the Purple Line.
Meanwhile, Hilary Norton, of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, makes the case that now is the best time to invest in projects such as the full BRT project. "Why wouldn’t we jump at the opportunity to use scarce public dollars to pave our streets and create an orderly traffic flow with buses and bikes in their own, newly paved lane, and cars in the remaining lanes? In an era of $5 gas, why wouldn’t we want to encourage more people to take the bus, by making that bus ride be more comfortable and more fuel and time efficient?"
But despite the coalition growing in support of the full Bus Only Lanes proposals, community leaders in Brentwood and Condo Canyon have mobilized against the project. Just because transit advocates and transportation studies done by experts argue one point doesn't mean that Metro and the City Council will except either the 8.7 mile or 7.7 mile project over the 5.4 mile one backed by Rosendahl. "There’s nobody besides the Bus Riders Union that’s talking to these politicians,” Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed explains,“Politicians on the Westside and the Mayor's Office aren’t hearing from their constituents that they want this project.”
In part because of the holiday, neither Supervisor Yaroslavsky or Councilman Rosendahl were able to respond for this article. When we hear from them, we'll let you know. The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on the final route for the project at their May Board of Directors meeting. The City Council hasn't scheduled their vote yet, but I suspect it will be sometime before May 21.
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