Friday, November 17, 2006

Bus Rapid Transit: The Los Angeles experience

A councilman wants to suspend the mile-long stretch along Wilshire Boulevard because it is adding to gridlock.

By Jean Guccione,
L.A. Times Staff Writer
November 8, 2006

Businessman Jay Handal blames the bus-only lanes for making traffic "miserably worse" along Wilshire Boulevard. Why, he grouses, should motorists driving the nearly one-mile stretch of Wilshire have to wait longer so buses can zoom past them in dedicated traffic lanes? Because, transit officials counter, those few frustrating minutes could eventually show the way to reducing the number of cars on one of the nation's most congested corridors. If buses move faster, they reason, some motorists might get out of their personal vehicles and onto public transit. But now even that one-mile stretch of bus lane between Centinela and Barrington avenues is in jeopardy. And that, in turn, could put the brakes on a plan to extend the lane along the length of Wilshire.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area, told colleagues last month that he wants to suspend use of the current bus-only lanes until the larger project gets underway. "It has caused more gridlock than it has helped," he said, noting that his proposal is based on a city traffic engineer report. Rosendahl pledged to reinstate the lane when other sections are opened. But Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who also represents the area, said that unless the existing lane remains open, "there is no reason for the whole project to go forward."

County transit officials propose building a 13-mile bus lane along Wilshire from Western Avenue to Santa Monica as part of its Metro Rapid bus program.The first segment, the one-mile stretch on the Westside, was re-striped and opened in 2004 as part of a six-month demonstration project that was made permanent. Since then, the city of Los Angeles has eliminated two blocks of the demonstration project, between Federal and Barrington avenues, because of impeded traffic flow near the San Diego Freeway. In the remaining 14 blocks, only buses and private vehicles making right turns can use the far right lane during peak periods — from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. No other portion of the proposed lane has been built. Transit officials estimate it would cost $100 million to fix potholes, re-stripe the street and make other improvements as part of the larger project to give buses their own lane.

Rosendahl says he supports extending bus lanes through the cities of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. But for now, he adds, it is unfair to target only his constituents. Merchants complain of lost street parking. Residents complain about increased traffic on surrounding streets, caused by motorists snaking through neighborhoods to avoid getting stuck on Wilshire. Handal, who is president of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said transportation officials should look at the bigger picture. Bus riders, on average, save just 40 seconds in the bus lane, hardly noticeable on an hour-long bus trip, especially when it comes at the expense of thousands of motorists sitting in traffic. But transit officials hasten to point out that when the entire project is finished, bus riders could save 20 minutes or more. Even now, the 40 seconds bus riders save using the mile-long bus lane can increase during the worst rush-hour traffic to as long as 12 minutes. Transit officials have clocked buses taking just seven minutes to travel those 14 blocks, while cars might take as long as 19 minutes. "If we can carry more people with fewer vehicles, we think we are doing a good thing," said David Mieger, director of Westside planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who leads the council's Transportation Committee, said she supports extending the Wilshire bus-only lanes. She said she has asked staff for additional information on Rosendahl's proposal before it goes to the full council. A vote has not been scheduled. An identical proposal was withdrawn earlier this year. "I want to make sure that nothing we do jeopardizes the future of a peak-hour bus-only lane," she said. Rosendahl said he hopes his motion will nudge county transit officials to move faster to extend the lanes. In recent months, the MTA has begun two Wilshire bus-lane extension projects. Nearly a mile of busway is being added eastbound on county-owned land in front of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center. And $1.1 million has been dedicated to building bus-only lanes between San Vicente Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. "We need bus-only lanes," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "We've got to move more people from single-passenger automobiles to buses, to trains, to public transit."

Manuel Criollo, a spokesman for the Bus Riders Union, a transit advocacy group, envisions a time when buses speed past stopped vehicles on Wilshire, offering a much-needed incentive for motorists to take the bus. "It's the best alternative that we can actually do right now," he said. "It helps the mobility of riders and it challenges the car."

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6 Comments:

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Pauline Foau said...

So..... does this have anything to do with your opions on Geary BRT?

As for Wilshire, what they really need to do is extend the red line subway, that will solve the problems without touching traffic, but with no federal dollars that aint gonna happen.

I doubt it will happen on geary either, which is too bad.

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm skeptical of doing this on Geary Blvd., because it looks like we'll have to take away either a traffic lane or a lot of street parking to do it. A lot of small businesses on Geary depend on that parking. Besides, I just don't believe that Muni has that much trouble moving on Geary Blvd., except for the section from Market St. to Van Ness, and that's because of the two-lane street in a densely populated neighborhood.

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger m said...

Hey Rob, I must admit that I was not amongst yer supporters during yer last election attempt. I find myself in a lonely loony camp of Lefties that lean lightly Libertarian, and was not prone to vote for yer general policy ideas. However, despite being pals with the founders of critical mass & not owning a car, I see yer bike lane battle is indeed righteous...

I do generally agree that stopping automobile traffic for the benefit of hypothetical cyclists is ridiculous and has made the city even less livable.

I am glad that you requested an environmental impact report. Ironic how it is the same sort of derigeur report that every so-called Green Party "environmentalist" begs for when it is time to save the rare striped three toed tree worm or whatnot. I am disgusted that holier than thou "freedom & nature loving" bicyclists would oppose such a study in SF, but not surprised.

While I doubt yer suit will ultimately will stop the anti-auto zealots in their quests to take away the public's right to use our roadways, at least it temporarily shows the process can work both ways.



Despite the horrible waste of $45 a month to MUNI on my (not)FastPass, I do not believe dedicated bus lanes are the answer. I have been on Wilshire, and I have been on Valencia since the zealots took away the lanes...and it is obviously a stupid move. Everytime I am on a street with bike lanes, I see perhaps one or two bikes ... and auto traffic congested for blocks.

The bus system runs slow due to mismanagement, not exclusively traffic issues.

If traffic is a problem... the city should fund smaller electric "shopping" shuttle type busses, that run more frequently, and also go through more parts of town, on alternate streets. This would be more civilized, and get better results than giant cattle cars full of drunk homeless creeps, and likely attract more riders. This type of service would help & not hurt small businesses. You see similar types of vans operating already for employers, hospitals, private schools, hotels, conventions and whatnot... of course no one in the city's transportation bureaucracy probably even knows that these exist.

Building a subway to Chinatown will just create a decade long terrible dusty billion dollar boondoggle. The mess that will be a boon only to contractors & unions, and the occasional traffic cop paid overtime to stand around while they dig. The businesses along the route will suffer for years before it is completed. In the end, the taxpayer money to fund that & wasted time could've gone a long way to create a better solution...

Still, once it is dowen, the bike nuts will still want their lanes... and we'll have a new subway with few ride takers...perhaps like the new Redline in LA.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger m said...

Hey Rob, I must admit that I was not amongst yer supporters during yer last election attempt. I find myself in a lonely loony camp of Lefties that lean lightly Libertarian, and was not prone to vote for yer general policy ideas. However, despite being pals with the founders of critical mass & not owning a car, I see yer bike lane battle is indeed righteous...

I do generally agree that stopping automobile traffic for the benefit of hypothetical cyclists is ridiculous and has made the city even less livable.

I am glad that you requested an environmental impact report. Ironic how it is the same sort of derigeur report that every so-called Green Party "environmentalist" begs for when it is time to save the rare striped three toed tree worm or whisp willed whatnot. I am disgusted that holier than thou "freedom & nature loving" bicyclists would oppose such a study in SF, but not surprised.

While I doubt yer suit will ultimately stop the anti-auto zealots in their quests to take away the public's right to use our roadways, at least it temporarily shows the process can work both ways.



Despite the horrible waste of $45 a month to MUNI on my (not)FastPass, I do not believe dedicated bus lanes are the answer. I have been on Wilshire, and I have been on Valencia since the zealots took away the lanes...and it is obviously a stupid move. Everytime I am on a street with bike lanes, I see perhaps one or two bikes ... and auto traffic congested for blocks.

The bus system runs slow due to mismanagement, not exclusively traffic issues.

If traffic is a problem... the city should fund smaller electric "shopping" shuttle type busses, that run more frequently, and also go through more parts of town, on alternate streets. This would be more civilized, and get better results than giant cattle cars full of cramped commuters fighting drunk homeless creeps, and likely attract more riders. This type of service would help & not hurt small businesses. You see similar types of vans operating already for employers, hospitals, private schools, hotels, conventions and whatnot... of course no one in the city's transportation bureaucracy probably even knows that these exist.

Building a subway to Chinatown will just create a decade long terrible dusty billion dollar boondoggle. The mess that will be a boon only to contractors & unions, and the occasional traffic cop paid overtime to stand around while they dig. The businesses along the route will suffer for years before it is completed. In the end, the taxpayer money to fund that & wasted time could've gone a long way to create a better solution...

Still, once it is done, the bike nuts will still want their lanes... and we'll have a new subway with few ride takers...perhaps like the new Redline in LA.

 
At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Pauline Foau said...

The city shoould offer some degree of compensation for the invonvenience suffered during construction of BRT on Geary - also, there needs to be a better plan for Geary BRT east of Van Ness, lest that become a nasty bottleneck.

Having used the Orange Line in LA as well as the incredible BRT lines in Curitiba Brazil, I can tell you from first hand experience it is a fantastic system.

I've seen "merchants" raise a stink about this sort of thing before only to be pleasantly surprised that BRT drastically *improves* business. It's nothing but ill-informed people afraid of change.

As a resident of the outer richmond, my commute downtown is a disgrace - at odd hours it can take over an hour. BRT will breath live into the entire Richmond district, make life better for commuters, and ultimately be a huge boom for business.

It breaks my heart to hear people oppose it without the faintest clue in their souls what they're stopping. Yes - compensate business during construction, that's it.

 
At 2:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Ill-informed people afraid of change." That's what the city and Leah Shahum arrogantly said to the merchants---why put the word in quotes?---on Market St. as they took away the street parking there. Nor have I heard of any plans to compensate them for their gratuitous loss. Speaking of "faintest clues," your remarks about Geary east of Van Ness sound unrealistic. Since that part of Geary is only two lanes, and since the city has already met stiff community resistance about taking away any Muni stops, it's hard to see how BRT will be useful there without taking away a lot of street parking.

 

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