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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Letter from an Eastbay Cyclist

Our Eastbay cycling correspondent checks in:

Those BFBC, EBBC, SFBC, & CBC bicycle activists are far left, eco-ideologues. Clearly they're radical bicycle socialists, greenies who want to re-order society by making car ownership and operation progressively more difficult through a restrictive and punitive transportation policy. In the one-party controlled Bay Area, Democrat politicians are working on or promoting such anti-car polices. The recent Superior Court decision stopped the SF Bicycle Plan. The Alameda Superior Court stopped the 2.5-mile reconfiguration of Telegraph Ave. for unnecessary bicycle lanes. It's those leftist politicians that have enabled the dubious bicycle coalition extremists to promote unpopular "bicycle improvement" traffic schemes that sacrifice bicycle safety, increase tailpipe emissions, and create regional gridlock.

The extremist bicycle coalitions are cleverly using incorrect and misleading concepts of bicycle safety, and alleged problems of reasonable bicycle access (pushing the idea that bicyclists are victims and must be given special accommodation & protection) to justify promoting traffic calming and street reduction or reconfiguration schemes to limit and reduce convenient motoring for the general public. Their calculated anti-car strategy is to force people to use buses, walk, or bicycle.

Many of the anti-car activists actually are transportation riders, but they're incapable or reluctant to develop the necessary bicycle proficiency skills for safe cycling. Instead, because they're angry anti-car bicycle socialists who see in automotive culture all of what they consider to be the negative manifestations of capitalism, such as pollution, noise, speed, freedom & mobility, selfish consumerism, imperialism & Middle East oil dependency, they hope for the elimination of the car and indignantly demand special protections from cars and unreasonable accommodation for bicycles on the public streets. My impression is that, as they have families and grow older, many of them won't be daily transportation cyclists 10 years from now. If they don't eventually start driving cars to get around daily, they'll walk or use public transportation services, which has always been part of their anti-car agenda. Fundamentally, they take up bicycling for ideological reasons, not because it's a instinctive passion or joy with them, but that's not to say they don't come to enjoy cycling.

That's the significant difference between them and veteran natural cyclists such as myself. We ride because it's in our blood or nature---freedom, speed, fresh air, quick efficient mobility, fitness, economy, no parking & moving violation tickets or car registration & taxes, or vehicle insurance hassles, and of course our sense of adventure or wanderlust is fulfilled by cycling. It's the urban sporting life, a twin-wheeled existentialist lifestyle, as the Manchester poet John Cooper Clark said in the 80s about the nonconformist motorcycle culture in England. And we occasionally enjoy driving sporting cars as well! We certainly don't like the road & fuel/air hogging excess of those stupid & absurd monstrous SUV's, but we're not angry with sensible cars, as the bicycle coalition extremists certainly are. Criticizing them is not to say that where possible and reasonable---that's the issue!---accommodating bicycles with such improvements as constructing or striping wider road shoulders and, most importantly, making the street pavement smooth is helpful to cyclists.

But filling public streets with bicycle hazardous traffic-calming control devices, such as speed bumps, circles, chokers, bulb-outs, channelization, etc., is seriously detrimental to bicycle safety, and it's a growing problem for cyclists. Most traffic-calming control schemes sacrifice bicycle safety rather than improve it, as the anti-car bicycle coalition extremists always claim. Not only are most traffic-calming control devices bicycle unfriendly,they also significantly increase auto tailpipe emissions. When that very important air polluting fact is pointed out to the ban-the-car bicycle coalition greenies, they amazingly refuse to acknowledge it!

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