Metro Bus Rapid Transit Project Could Drastically Affect Wilshire TrafficMay 20, 2009
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit project could drastically affect traffic on Wilshire Boulevard and increase bus efficiency along the route, but full project funding has not been secured.
The project would introduce dedicated bus lanes on both sides of Wilshire Boulevard from the Santa Monica city border to the west edge of Beverly Hills, and from the east edge of that city to Valencia Street near downtown Los Angeles. The 9.6 miles of lanes would only be active between 7-9 a.m. and from 4-7 p.m., and curbside lanes would be repaved. However, obtaining federal funding for the project remains an issue.
“Our project is still in [the federal] budget at this point but it could be removed,” said Rex Gephart, Bus Rapid Transit Project Manager. “[Even] if it remains, the dollars could be cut back.”
The project, if approved, could serve as a temporary solution to the traffic problems currently afflicting Los Angeles commuters. Without federal funding, however, the project’s future could be called into question.
“The things that we’ve been doing for the last five to eight years have not resulted in any improvements and [the federal government is] looking for improvements, and they think this is a great project to try and improve that congestion,” Gephart said.
Metro estimates the project’s cost at $31.5 million with $4.9 million from Metro, $3.3 million from the city of Los Angeles and the other $23.3 million – more than 70 percent of the total – from the Federal Transit Administration.
Originally, Metro authorities had hoped to organize a series of four public meetings in late April or early May, but that’s been delayed. The meetings – set at different locations along the Wilshire Boulevard corridor – would help explain what Metro, along with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, found in the study taking a close look at what impact the project would have on air quality, noise, the environment and, of course, traffic. The project paid special attention to 74 Los Angeles intersections on and off Wilshire Boulevard that might be affected by the new dedicated bus lanes.
Gephart said that although the study is in the final stages and is “looking really good.” Public meetings have been pushed back to June or July. Taking more time in this initial study is, according to Metro authorities, actually a money-saving move. If the federal government finds that Metro has not done all it can to mitigate various negative effects of the project on the community, an additional study might be required, potentially leading to higher costs and more delays.
While commuters in personal vehicles might see their travel times on Wilshire Boulevard slow if the project is approved, regular bus riders like Keith Maloy believe the project is a good idea.
“It would definitely be a lot of help. I mean, I miss buses, some buses pass us up because they’re too full and sometimes the buses are just late,” Maloy said.
The project is designed to encourage more bus ridership. As travel times for Wilshire buses improve, Metro hopes the buses will be able to carry more passengers during morning and evening rush hours. The ultimate goal is to see a 25 percent travel time improvement for the 120 buses that operate on Wilshire.
“We wouldn’t have to add buses because the bus speeds will improve,” Gephart said.
Local motorist Bill Stephens has some reservations about the proposal.
“In concept it’s a great idea, but … in actual use, I don’t think you could get enough people to take the bus to make it worthwhile,” Stephens said.
Even without the uncertain impact the plan might have on bus ridership, Gary Russell with the Wilshire Center Business Improvement Corporation, is excited about the proposal.
“One thing we really do like is the new concrete,” Russell said, “You know, right now, you go out there, it’s bad.”
Since the proposal limits the buses’ use of the lane to two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening during which some street parking is already restricted, Metro authorities said there would be a minimal effect on parking for Wilshire Boulevard businesses. Most of the 11-16 spaces expected to be lost under the plan would be on the 2.8-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and Western avenues.
Parking may be one issue in Metro’s study, but traffic impact is certainly the biggest.
“My suspicion is that they will be able to manage things a lot better than people think,” said Lisa Schweitzer, an assistant professor in the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.
Santa Monica is not a part of Metro’s plan, but it’s not that part of Wilshire Boulevard Metro needs for the project to have the most positive impact.
“We’re not trying to run bus lanes into Santa Monica. We didn’t even ask them about it,” Gephart said. “It’s not nearly as important as the other middle parts of the line. And a middle part of that line we would like to get in as part of the study is Beverly Hills.”
Gephart added that Metro just ran out of time to get Beverly Hills’s application for the project approved in time before the study began. The agency indicates the city is interested in eventually connecting the two sides of the project, but as Beverly Hills city council member and former mayor Barry Brucker noted, the city might not benefit from the bus lanes as much as other cities.
“A good portion of our traffic doesn’t end up in Beverly Hills—it’s drive through traffic to Century City or the Westside,” Brucker said.
Brucker held more support for the “Subway to the Sea,” a more ambitious and expensive project. The Bus Rapid Transit project could serve as a temporary measure until the subway is built or supplement subway traffic if there is sufficient consumer demand. For now, commuters who drive personal vehicles or ride buses on Wilshire Boulevard will remain stuck in traffic.