At a community meeting last night, Metro representatives presented their plans for new priority bus lanes along a 5.9-mile stretch of La Brea Ave. from Coliseum St. on the south to Sunset Blvd. on the north. As with priority bus lanes in many other locations, including our local stretch of Wilshire Blvd., the lanes would be open to all traffic (and parking, where currently allowed) for most of the day, but would be reserved for buses and bikes during rush hours ( 7 to 10 a.m., and 3 to 7 p.m.)
According to Metro, there are two kinds of goals – both technical and social – for the program, which is part of the agency’s larger NextGen bus system improvement project.
On the technical side, the aim is to improve how many people are moved, how fast they move, how efficiently they move, and how well they can connect to other forms of transit…WITHOUT expanding local streets. (Other elements of the NextGen improvement program include schedule improvements, new technology, and system infrastructure.)
According to Metro engineering representative James Shahamiri, it’s already been proven in other locations that bus priority lanes can be very helpful with these goals. In fact, along Metro’s Flower Street bus priority lane, downtown, Shahamiri said bus speeds have improved by more than 15%, while ridership has increased by 25%.
The project also helps with Metro’s larger connectivity goals, since it will intersect with the Expo light rail line near its southern end, the new Purple Line Extension in our area, and terminate near the Red Line in Hollywood.
On the social side, according to Metro, creating a better transit experience for bus riders is also an important equity issue, since improving the public transit experience helps address racial, socio-economic and gender disparities in Los Angeles, where nearly 80% of bus riders are people of color, more than 50% are female, nearly 90% live in households with incomes below $50,000 per year, and nearly 60% are below the poverty line.
And that goes for local riders on the La Brea line as well:
So having access to reliable, effective public transit is an important factor in helping people access quality jobs, housing, education, and more.
According to Shahamiri, the new bus lanes would be in effect from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m., and 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., one hour longer in each period than the current rush-hour no-parking zones in effect on La Brea. Buses would also run a bit more frequently with the dedicated lanes – approximately every 7-8 minutes instead of the current 15-minute intervals. And it’s estimated that buses would be able to traverse this section of La Brea five minutes faster than they now do during similar time periods.
And while buses and bikes will be allowed in the priority lanes during rush hour, the other traffic lanes will not change, as shown below.
Also, as with other places where bus priority lanes are already in use, cars will be able to enter the lanes to make right turns at corners.
According to Shahamiri, pre-pandemic traffic levels on the section of La Brea between San Vicente and Sunset Blvds. were only at 70-80% capacity, which means that section of the project route did not meet the official threshold for a traffic study before implementing the priority bus lanes, and also indicates that the current street configuration can handle the planned bus lane changes without causing delays to other vehicle traffic.
The section between San Vicente and Coliseum, however, was deemed to be more congested, Shahmiri said, and studies indicate that traffic on that stretch will slow by 2-3 minutes after the bus lanes are implemented. (Note, however, that because of traffic entering and existing the 10 Freeway, the bus priority lanes will not be implemented in those approach and exit areas.)
In addition to the increased speeds and efficiency for bus riders with the new priority lanes, Shahmiri said there will be other benefits as well. For example, pedestrian crossing safety should improve, bikes can legally use the bus lanes during their hours of operation without having to fight other vehicle traffic, and car drivers will not have to compete with buses for lanes, nor switch in and out of bus lanes to avoid delays if they’re caught behind a bus, as car drivers tend to do now.
In a public comment session after the presentation last night, among a couple dozen speakers, comments were largely favorable toward the project, though there were a few people who were adamantly opposed, and a number of others who expressed specific concerns and questions.
Among the concerns, one commenter suggested that simply improving enforcement of existing no-parking hours, and towing illegally parked cars during those hours, would provide many of the same benefits as the priority lanes. And without such enforcement, he said, the bus priority lanes won’t help the situation.
Another speaker asked why the priority lanes would stop at Sunset, instead of going all the way to Hollywood Blvd. But Shahamiri explained that the section of La Brea between Sunset and Hollywood is much narrower than the street south of Sunset, so modifications would need to be much more expensive and intrusive if priority lanes were to be used there.
Several other speakers suggested that because much of the route is already an anti-gridlock zone, where parking lanes are ceded to traffic during rush-hours, allowing only buses in those lanes during rush hours would make the rest of the street more congested again, defeating the purpose of the anti-gridlock zones. Again, though, Shahamiri reported that the peak-hour traffic lanes tend to carry only about 1/2 the volume of other lanes on the street, so moving that traffic back onto other lanes shouldn’t been too burdensome. Also, he noted, the bus lane solution requires no major re-configuration of the street, and is a simple policy change that can make a significant difference without actually widening the street, which doesn’t really work anyway. “We’re not going to build ourselves out of congestion,” he said.
Finally, a few local merchants complained about loss of parking being hard on businesses’ customers and employees…but Shahamiri pointed out that parking will be taken for only one hour longer, during each rush hour period, than is currently taken for rush-hour no-parking zones, and that there will be no larger or longer loss of parking on the street.
Meanwhile, although not part of last night’s meeting, the Mid City West Neighborhood Council discussed the proposal at its most recent meeting on November 9. And although an initial suggestion to recommend making the priority bus lanes permanent, 24/7, instead of restricted to rush hours, was voted down by a narrow margin, a motion to support the project with rush-hour-only hours, as currently proposed by Metro, passed unanimously.
The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council has not yet discussed the issue, though Transportation Committee chair Cindy Chvatal said at the November 10 GWNC board meeting that the committee will be looking into the issue before its next meeting.
Metro is currently in its community outreach phase for the project, and the presenters at last night’s meeting said that they will continue their outreach to local residents and businesses, will consider all the feedback they’ve received, and will create a new FAQ to answer some of the concerns on the project website.
The plan is scheduled to be implemented in the spring of 2022.
In the meantime, if you would like more information, or to comment on the priority bus lane project, you can connect with Metro representatives at the addresses and phone numbers below.