Metro Bus Lane Projects Need Support

Metro is planning bus speed improvements. Photo via David Guo/Flickr
Metro is planning bus speed improvements. Photo via David Guo/Flickr

Metro is planning and operating bus-only lanes. Though these improve the lives of huge numbers of bus riders, they sometimes encounter criticism from drivers. For these projects to succeed, Bus Rapid Transit and bus-only lane supporters need to make their voices heard.

According to studies and expert opinions, Metro’s bus system is currently facing a vicious downward cycle where more people are driving, causing more congestion, slowing down buses, and causing riders to shift to driving. Metro data shows that L.A. area bus speeds “have declined by 13.4 percent since 1994 to a sluggish 12 mph.” Those slower buses cost more to operate, so even when Metro keeps their transit operations budgets more or less the same year to year, bus riders experience a gradual deterioration of service.

The good news is that Metro is working to improve bus speeds. Per its strategic plan, the agency is committed to improving bus speeds by thirty percent by 2028.

Some of this may result from the agency’s much-heralded NextGen bus service reorganization. Some of it is happening on the ground right now, in the form of Metro’s pilot Flower Street peak-hour bus lane, which shows that prioritizing buses is cheap, quick, and effective.

Metro has several already funded Bus Rapid Transit projects in planning stages; all are expected to include significant lengths of bus-only lanes. The trick is that though dedicated bus lanes are inexpensive fiscally, they come at some political cost. Prioritizing a bus full of thirty-plus people often means taking space away from cars typically single-occupant. Sometimes this means taking away travel lanes, sometimes it means less parking. And when L.A. drivers lose ground, they complain.

Below are brief updates on four current Metro BRT/bus-lane projects, with instructions on how interested readers can weigh in.

Metro North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit

Metro is planning a $180 million east-west San Fernando Valley BRT project, expected to be mainly on Nordhoff Street and Roscoe Boulevard. The project has the support of Valley electeds and various groups including the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments, Cal State Northridge, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), Move L.A., Climate Resolve, the Sierra Club, and others.

Anti-government gadfly Jay Beeber criticized the project with a fact-challenged campaign. At last week’s Metro board Planning and Programming Committee meeting, Beeber’s efforts turned out a dozen anti-busway NIMBYs who claimed to be “not against transit” but trotted out tired ill-informed criticisms: no one rides buses, gridlock, danger to kids, emergency response times, and plummeting property values. The BRT opposition then proceeded to disrupt the meeting by shouting down Metro staff responding to boardmember questions.

Despite public comment being split between busway proponents and opponents, a few loud complaints from white homeowners seems to be enough to give Metro boardmembers pause in their already tepid support for bus riders. The planning committee punted the North Valley BRT decision to the full board meeting this week. Since then, board chair Sheila Kuehl postponed the decision further, which will delay planning studies and ultimately delay benefits to bus riders.

Streetsblog readers who wish to weigh in on the North San Fernando Valley BRT project should contact Metro boardmembers representing the San Fernando Valley:

  • County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl – sheila (at) bos.lacounty.gov
  • L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti – mayor.helpdesk (at) lacity.org
  • L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian – councilmember.Krekorian (at) lacity.org
  • Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian – anajarian (at) glendaleca.gov
  • Metro project staff – northsfvbrt (at) metro.net

Possible talking points:

  • support improved bus service for San Fernando Valley – for equity and environment
  • don’t delay studies to quantify impacts and shape final project
  • studies should determine where bus-only lanes are feasible and appropriate

Metro North Hollywood to Pasadena Bus Rapid Transit

Metro is planning a BRT line from North Hollywood to Pasadena. The line would extend on streets in the cities of Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and Los Angeles. Leaders in those cities will determine the extent to which the line will receive dedicated bus lanes or compete with car traffic.

The project is encountering resistance on several fronts. Before Metro even started environmental studies, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek pushed to eliminate the proposed BRT connection to Pasadena City College. In a committee meeting last week, Boardmember Ara Najarian mentioned having heard opposition to some project components in his city of Glendale. At a neighborhood council meeting in Eagle Rock, project opponents shouted down Metro staff making a presentation about the project.

Eagle Rock residents are campaigning for effective BRT. Image via Walk Eagle Rock Twitter
Eagle Rock residents are campaigning for effective BRT. Image via Walk Eagle Rock Twitter

On the positive side, project supporters are also working to make their voices heard. One group is organizing under the banner of “BRT for Equity” in the L.A. City community of Eagle Rock. Get involved in those efforts by emailing equitableBRT (at) gmail.com and following @hippierunner and @walkeaglerock on Twitter.

Metro is hosting a series of community meetings (for details click on “meetings” at Metro project webpage) on the project coming up next month:

  • Tuesday, July 9 in North Hollywood
  • Wednesday, July 10 in Pasadena
  • Saturday, July 13 in Eagle Rock
  • Monday, July 15 in Burbank
  • Wednesday, July 17 in Glendale

Streetsblog readers who wish to weigh in on the NoHo to Pasadena BRT project should contact Metro boardmembers representing the San Fernando Valley, as well as electeds from the three cities where improvements are planned:

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl – sheila (at) bos.lacounty.gov
County Supervisor Hilda Solis – firstdistrict (at) bos.lacounty.gov
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger – Kathryn (at) bos.lacounty.gov
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti – mayor.helpdesk (at) lacity.org
L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian – councilmember.Krekorian (at) lacity.org
Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian – anajarian (at) glendaleca.gov
Burbank City Council
Glendale City Council
Pasadena Mayor and City Council
Metro project staff – nohopasbrt (at) metro.net

Possible talking points:

  • support improved bus service for the San Fernando Valley, Burbank, Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena – for equity and environment
  • support bus-only lanes as much as possible on surface street NoHo to Pasadena BRT

Metro Vermont Avenue Bus Rapid Transit

Metro has been studying twelve miles of BRT for Vermont Avenue, one of the nation’s busiest bus corridors. Initial Metro studies discounted center-running BRT, but, as of April 2019, the agency is looking to upgrade earlier studies to “center-running – or similarly high performing” BRT. Whether Vermont gets just peak-hour bus lanes or full-featured BRT, there will likely be struggles over the parking removal that will be necessary.

To date, this project has not encountered the same levels of overt opposition that other Metro BRT projects have.

Streetsblog readers who wish to weigh in on robust Vermont Avenue BRT should contact L.A. City and County electeds representing the corridor:

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti – mayor.helpdesk (at) lacity.org
L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas – contact page

Possible talking points:

  • support improved bus service for central and South Los Angeles – for equity and environment
  • support robust center-running BRT for Vermont
  • support re-purposing some parking and/or travel lane for this high transit ridership corridor

Metro Flower Bus Lanes in Downtown L.A.

Lastly, Metro’s successful new Flower Street bus lanes are a pilot that could end when “New Blue” Blue Line refurbishment is complete. Metro and LADOT could extend the pilot, or make it permanent.

Streetsblog readers who wish to weigh in on Flower Street bus lanes should contact Metro boardmembers:

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti – mayor.helpdesk (at) lacity.org
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia – Mayor (at) longbeach.gov

Possible talking points:

  • support improved bus service for downtown Los Angeles – for equity and environment
  • Flower Street bus lanes are effective and popular – and should be made permanent

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