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Three Thoughts on the Under Construction La Brea Bus Lanes

What's great about La Brea and other bus-only lanes is that they are cheap and quick - but could they be even cheaper and quicker?

Scraped lane striping on La Brea Avenue heralds the arrival of bus-only lanes. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog, except as noted.

New bus lanes are coming to a three miles of La Brea Avenue. The new lanes will mean faster buses, and better connections for bus riders. Below are three takeaways from the La Brea bus lane project.

Wooo Hoooo! La Brea bus lanes are on the way

The main takeaway from this post should be that I am really grateful that the La Brea bus lanes are finally under construction and expected to be completed next month.

The lanes were approved in the city's Mobility Plan back in 2015. The city then ignored its plan for many years, even leaving the approved bus lanes out of a "complete streets" project there. (The city's stated justification for the omission: the 75+foot wide street was "width-challenged." Yes, really.)

Then the project was picked up by the Bus Speed Improvements work group, a collaboration between Metro and L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT). In September 2021, Metro announced that work on the La Brea lanes was underway, with about 5.9 miles (from Sunset Boulevard to Coliseum Street) anticipated to open in Spring 2022.

Metro and LADOT did community outreach for the project in late 2021 and early 2022.

In late November 2022, Metro put the word out that construction would start the following week, though only for the northern three miles, from Olympic Boulevard to Sunset (more on this truncation below). In late December, Metro reported that unforeseen circumstances had pushed construction back to early 2023. Then, last week, Metro announced construction would start July 5. And it did.

Bus lane installation construction underway on La Brea Avenue - expected to open in August. Photo via Metro Twitter

The bus lanes will be in operation during peak hours on weekdays: 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.

The lanes will speed up the Metro 212 bus, which carries roughly ten thousand daily riders on weekdays. They also serve short stretches of two LADOT DASH bus lines: Midtown and Fairfax.

Kudos to the parties responsible for getting the project this far: current L.A. City Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martinez and Katy Young Yaroslavsky, former Councilmembers Mitch O'Farrell and Paul Koretz, agency staff at Metro and LADOT, the city of West Hollywood (which has three blocks of the project), and former Councilmember and Metro boardmember Mike Bonin, who was instrumental in getting the bus speed working group underway.

Councilmember Heather Hutt is blocking half the project

L.A. City Councilmember Heather Hutt represents the indefinitely delayed future half of La Brea (below Olympic Boulevard), which would connect the bus lanes to the Metro E Line and would serve the Crenshaw DASH.

Earlier this year, Hutt gave a statement about the project saying that she is "push[ing] for fair, adequate and equitable bus and transportation service" but "I haven't received a consensus that the community supports this project."

Sadly, it's now pretty clear that Hutt is overriding the Mobility Plan to preserve more lanes for car traffic and for parking, instead of facilitating bus speed improvements.

If you're a La Brea Metro or DASH rider who supports the full La Brea project, you might want to contact Hutt (her email is cd10@lacity.org) and let her know.

Are these lanes over-built?

The first step, underway now on La Brea, is to scrape off existing lane markings, in order to move them to make slightly more space on the outside lane.

I biked out to check out the construction and struck by how much work is going into changing the street so little.

Similar to the Alvarado bus lane, the La Brea project goes to a lot of effort to scrape and repaint lane markings, within a foot of where they already were.

Recent bus lane project on Alvarado involved scraping/erasing lane markings and repainting them less than a foot further from the curb. Striping between multiple car lanes is dashed; striping between car lane and bus lanes is a longer continuous line, interrupted only at intersections. (Photo taken during midday when peak hour bus lane not in operation.)

In some places on La Brea today, the old striping center line was visible alongside white plus-shaped spray-paint marking the new center line.

La Brea bus lanes under construction today. Old lane markings have been scraped off, center-line of new lanes shown with white plus markings
Close-up photo of white plus mark in the foreground of the previous photo above. Just to the right of the plus is a narrow white stripe showing the old striping center-line. Using a Metro TAP card (just under four inches long) for scale, makes clear that the project is moving the lane markings only about 4-5 inches. For the lane markings farther from the curb (see previous photo), the project moves the striping even less.

For parts of La Brea, the difference between the old stripe and the new stripe is about 4-5 inches.

There are probably some engineering reasons for moving the lane markings over a handful of inches (perhaps some kind of minimum prescribed bus lane widths where a few inches actually makes a difference? Perhaps, it seems like once the city is doing some work on the street, it might as well pile on extras?) But, for both Alvarado and La Brea, I question whether removing and reinstalling these lane markings might be excessive. Why not save time and money by keeping existing lane markings, existing lane widths (which buses are already using) - just add signs, extend existing stripes, and put down "BUS LANE" markings? Why use up limited bus lane funding to move multiple stripes around just a few inches?

Clearly it is too late to change La Brea or Alvarado, but maybe raising concerns could streamline future projects.

What's great about bus-only lanes is that they are cheap and quick. Metro and LADOT have been able to implement a couple dozen miles of bus lanes fairly quickly - just since the start of the pandemic. Which is great. And there are more on the way.

But maybe, if these straightforward projects were even more truly quick-build - a little simpler and cheaper - they could get done sooner, perhaps with fewer of the delays that have plagued the La Brea project for the last year and a half. Speeding these projects up - and delivering more of them - could greatly improve quality of life for L.A.'s bus riders.

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