Some New Details On New Bus Lanes and Bike Lanes Coming To Downtown L.A.

5th and 6th Street bus-only lane couplet to be installed in July - with left-side protected bike lanes

5th Street will soon be repaved with new bus-only lanes. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
5th Street will soon be repaved with new bus-only lanes. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

A few more details are emerging on the city of L.A. Transportation Department (LADOT) collaboration with Metro to install new bus lanes on several downtown L.A. Streets.

Last month, Metro announced plans for bus-only lanes on Aliso Street, 5th Street, 6th Street, Grand Avenue, and Olive Street. Several of these bus lanes are being added relatively quickly in conjunction with the city Bureau of Street Services ADAPT program, which accelerates repaving work on major streets.

Update on 5th and 6th Street - via Metro presentation
Update on 5th and 6th Street – via Metro presentation

A new Metro Central/Westside Service Council presentation on Metro’s NextGen Bus Study includes information on the new bus-only lanes couplet planned for 5th and 6th Streets – from Figueroa Street to Central Avenue. According to Metro, the DTLA 5th/6th couplet currently serves more than 80 buses per hour.

Metro’s five appointed service councils advise the agency on operations, planning, and policy. The Central/Westside Service Council has taken a lead on Metro’s Flower Street bus-only lane. Service Council member Alfonso Directo shepherded a motion to extend the timeframe for Metro’s Flower Street pilot and, if it proved effective as it has, make the facility permanent.

Directo states that the upcoming bus lanes are encouraging for a number of reasons. Bus/bike lanes are “critical to creating better on-street experiences and critical to Metro if Metro wants to make good on NextGen’s promises for frequent service.” They show that the LADOT/Metro partnership “leads to direct on-street changes… [that] prioritize buses… [and] result in predictable, safer, and generally better on-street experiences for bus riders, cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.”

From the earlier Metro report, it appeared that the Aliso Street bus lane would come first. The schedule has changed. Per LADOT spokesperson Colin Sweeney, work will get underway next week on 6th Street, with repaving taking place June 15-19. This will be followed by 5th Street where repaving will go from June 18-24. New striping – with bus and bike lanes – will be installed in July.

Sweeney was unable to share any designs for the street improvements as LADOT is “still engaging with community stakeholders on final lane configurations.”

The presentation states that the project will add protected bike lanes on 5th and 6th – from Spring Street to Central Avenue. Sweeney confirmed that the protected bike lanes will be on the left side of these one-way streets. Left-side bike lanes on one-way downtown streets is a smart best practice that benefits both transit riders and cyclists.

Streets for All has been advocating for the city to install planned bus and bike facilities as streets are repaved under ADAPT. Streets for All founder Michael Schneider stated that he “welcomes the bus lanes in downtown L.A., and throughout the city under ADAPT,” but questioned the city’s decision to not extend bike lanes the full extent of the repaving from Figueroa Street to Central Avenue.

The 5th Street project is slated to include only 0.7 mile of bike lane on 1.2 miles of bus lane. 6th Street includes only 0.8 mile of bike lane on 1.3 miles of bus lane.

Sweeney stated that “though planning continues for [bikeway] network expansion throughout downtown… the Spring-Central limits were selected and designed specifically to connect Skid Row and communities east of the Historic Core to the Spring and Main Street bike lanes, and in turn connect them to points north, south, and west by way of the newly installed 7th St. to Figueroa.”

This statement is ridiculous. Would LADOT ever claim to accommodate drivers by detouring them two blocks away? No, drivers are prioritized on every street in the entire city. But Seleta Reynolds’ LADOT somehow expects cyclists to use 7th Street to get to destinations on 5th Street.

The Spring-Central limit even falls a block short of the Broadway-Central limits campaigned for by Skid Row cyclists, and approved by the L.A. City Council in 2018.

Sweeney didn’t name it, but the issue appears to be on-street parking. To extend bike lanes for the missing stretch, the city would need to remove two blocks of street parking – from Spring to Broadway to Hill Street – parking adjacent to the Metro Pershing Square subway station. It’s not clear – because LADOT has yet to share plans for the project getting under construction next week – but it looks like cyclists will cross from from one side of the street to the other at Spring. West of Spring, cyclists will probably travel in the right lane. This bike-bus conflict slows down buses, and creates an uncomfortable space for many cyclists.

Schneider lamented that ending bike lanes at Spring would “fall short of what is needed for a useful bikeway network, connecting cyclists to existing infrastructure at Figueroa.” Further, “The city should not be prioritizing street parking in downtown L.A. where there are plenty of parking lots, public transit, and active transportation options.”

Metro staff will present on the new bus lanes at today’s 6 p.m. service council meeting. Find the agenda and follow the meeting online via the Metro website.

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