Today’s BRU Presser: All Hands on Deck for Westside Bus Only Lanes
3:47 PM PDT on May 17, 2011
Flanked by allies, transit advocates showed a united front in the battle to bring the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes to West Los Angeles in front of the Veteran's Administration hospital on Wilshire Boulevard earlier today.
"We've been fighting for a Wilshire Bus Only Lane for the last six years," explains Sunyoung Yang, the lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union. "We want the full project that we've been promised. This promise was already made to the federal government when the MTA applied to the federal government."
Last year, the Bus Riders Union spoke at a press conference organized by rail expansion backers calling for more federal transit funding. That was surprising, given the BRU's opposition to the Measure R transit tax in 2008. Today, Southern California Transit Advocates Board Member Joseph Dunn closed the press conference. That is almost shocking, considering the long-standing grudge held between the two transit groups. The "kumbaya" moment between the two groups underscores a message made loud and clear: transit experts are united on how far the Wilshire BOL lanes should go: as far as they possibly can.
"Have a backbone about it!" urged Dunn, "Don't let the Brentwood people and Beverly Hills people throw you around!"
Both the Metro Board of Directors and the Los Angeles City Council are expected to vote on a route for the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes project, which would convert the far right lane on both sides of Wilshire to "bus only" at rush hour. The press conference called on Council and Board Members to support the originally proposed 8.7 mile route rejected by the Metro Board of Directors last winter which would connect Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, excluding Beverly Hills.
Metro staff is now proposing a 7.7 mile route which would also exclude the area just west of the 90210, leaving two bus only portions, one from Downtown L.A. to La Cienega Boulevard for 5.4 miles and another 2.3 miles in Brentwood. Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl is seeking to stop the project at the 5.4 mile mark and hold off on the Brentwood section until other Westside communities including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, are on board.
Seeking to preserve their funding, and reputation, Metro staff now claim they can use the entirety of the funding regardless of the project route selected. Money from a truncated project could provide more transponder upgrades and curb lane street repairs between the Downtown and La Cienega, leaving Westsiders in the odd position of arguing for less funds for street repair that come with the BOL project.
For Rosendahl, the issue isn't just about mobility from the Downtown going west, but about the gridlock from Santa Monica to the 405 entrance that isn't far from the V.A.
"Right now it takes forever to get from Centinela to the 405. Traffic averages 4.875 miles per hour. It is a huge parking lot of a disaster, and removing a traffic lane isn't going to make things better," Rosendahl stated in a phone interview.
Rosendahl is one of three Councilmen being targeted by the Bus Riders Union in the campaign to save the BOL with Tom LaBonge and Ed Reyes. All three Councilman represent one area of the proposed route, and speakers were brought in to make pleas to each Councilman. For Reyes, it was members of a local Neighborhood Council. For LaBonge, it was the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) in the heart of his district. Media Korean-speaking and Spanish-speaking media outlets were on-hand to capture the comments and deliver the message right to the heart of these communities.
For Rosendahl, the appeal was more personal.
Rosendahl is rightly proud of his record as a veteran of our armed service, which makes the pleas of decorated army veteran Clifton Moore all the more compelling. Moore, like many veterans, needs to access to the V.A. hospital for health reasons, as many vets are reliant on the Veterans Administration for their health care. The promise of bus-only lanes would allow far greater convenience for veterans to access the services they needed. Moore concluded his comments, "This isn't just a bus issue, it's a veterans issue."
But Rosendahl argues that access to the V.A. and other locations in Brentwood would be worse for all users if the BOL goes in as currently recommended, "In my part of the city’s geography, it has no value without Santa Monica’s participation...(Santa Monica City Council Member) Pam O'Connor has sat on the Metro Board her whole life. If Santa Monica wanted in on this project, they would be in. We need them to play ball.”
All three Councilmen might be vulnerable to appeals from the bicycling community, as Rosendahl, LaBonge and Reyes all boast a measure of "bike-friendly credentials." Alexis Lantz of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition stated "Wilshire Boulevard is the linear job corridor of Los Angeles. The Wilshire Bus Only Lane doesn't just have a benefit for bus riders, but all road users...You don't need me to tell you how horrible the conditions are in the right hand lanes."
Building on Lantz's comments, Seung Hye Suh of the KIWA painted a vision of what the BOL discussion should be about, instead of the debate about winners and losers which have dominated the discussion. "A project like this holds out so much promise to unite our city and our communities and move us in the direction we must take in the 21st century...We can reduce the greenhouse gases that are killing our planet and make bus travel a more attractive option for commuters who have a choice. We can encourage a healthier and less sedentary mode of life as we clean the air we all breathe."
The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on a final route for the project on May 26. Their route must be the same as the one passed by the L.A. City Council which is rumored to be taking up the issue two days earlier.