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.
Below are my written comments to Metro LA after last nights meeting. These didn’t make it into the chat during their meeting since they had too many people with their hands already raised!
Hello Melissa & Julia,
I’ve got several things I’d like to cover with you.
1) Metro outreach to the businesses on La Brea – 2 weeks ago my friends and I walked from Waring to Wilshire talking to all the businesses on both sides of the street. Only 5 businesses knew about the project but not really any details. They hadn’t read any brochure that may have been dropped off either. When we told them about the expanded hours of operation and loss of parking, they all got very interested. The most common comment was “I will have to move or I will go out of business…my business already suffers from no clients/shoppers after 4 p.m.”
2) Last weekend we went back with a petition for the businesses to sign. In 2-1/4 hours of walking, over 30 businesses signed saying they would be against the expansion of the hours and Streets for All’s campaign to make these lanes 24/7
3) MidCity West neighborhood council did NO outreach to the community before writing their letter of support to you. But I did hear 2 people, both board members on MCW speak without identifying their community involvement. Additionally, I heard several other comments that seemed to echo the “suggested text” that “Streets for All” provided to their supporters. I’m very suspect of many of those comments that I heard. If you’d like to see that suggested text, let me know and I can provide it to you.
4) My friends at Pico neighborhood council were not really aware of the details of this plan prior to their transportation meeting last week. They didn’t remember even being contacted prior in the same fashion that Micheal Schneider at MidCity West was.
So I hear what Julia Brown said you did regarding outreach, but if you really were to walk La Brea and talk with the business owners, you may find a difference of opinion regarding how outreach was communicated to them. I saw in your presentation that you obtained recorded comments from some riders, but why not any recorded comments from businesses on La Brea or residents in the streets on either side of La Brea?
I can share many more comments from the businesses on La Brea that for many different reasons couldn’t make your meeting tonight and speak for themselves. If you’d like to contact me, please do so.
Attached is the scanned copy of the petition I circulated. There may be more coming since other members of the community asked for their own copy to do outreach themselves to more businesses south of Wilshire & neighbors that will be affected by the cut through traffic this idea is going to create.
In addition to my comments above, I don’t see where there has been any outreach to the drivers who this is going to affect. Do drivers who use La Brea to commute know anything about this plan? Don’t they matter too??? The comment during your meeting about using a lane that originally was purposed to reduce gridlock being taken away and given to buses only just sets the commuting public that drives a car back again.
You video introduction that shows all the cars in gridlock while the buses speed on by pretty much makes the point that this doesn’t help reduce traffic. Nor does it reduce greenhouse gases because cars sitting and idling produce MORE pollution, don’t they?
I’ve added Kim from the Automobile Club of So. Ca to this conversation. I feel it’s only proper that they know something about your bus only lanes on La Brea proposal and how this will affect commuters in cars.
Hopefully, Metro will be doing a lot more and better outreach to the community, the people in cars, the people on the residential streets on either side of La Brea and the businesses. Not just dropping off a brochure, but actually TALKING to some of these people and maybe even recording some of their comments – both good and bad – to add to your presentation. The outreach to groups that you know are in favor of this proposal like “Streets for All” and the Mid City West NC Transportation committee should not be counted as doing comprehensive outreach. Just my opinion!