Wilshire Boulevard, the most heavily used bus corridor in Los Angeles with lines running every couple of minutes and tens of thousands of passengers enduring lengthy and crowded rides, is about to get a facelift designed to bring riders some relief.
To streamline and speed commutes from MacArthur Park to Centinela Avenue at the eastern edge of Santa Monica, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to construct bus-only lanes along 7.7 miles of that stretch. Officials estimate that it will shave 11 minutes off a nearly one-hour trip.
“It’s a real breakthrough,” said Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union. “The city has taken a huge step forward to prioritize transit over single-passenger automobiles.”
Yang and representatives of other transit advocacy groups had hoped the council would approve a longer stretch for the bus-only lanes, but still felt the 7.7-mile route was an achievement.
The original proposal called for 8.7 miles of the special lanes, but a one-mile section west of Beverly Hills known as Condo Canyon was excluded after residents and some officials said the lanes would create difficulties for motorists entering their driveways and were not necessary in that section.
When the council approved the 7.7-mile route Tuesday, members made a point of supporting the full route and asking the Metro board to reconsider the Condo Canyon exclusion.
If the MTA does reverse course, the project would return to the council for a new vote. Officials with the city, Metro and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors must all approve the same project to be eligible for $23.3 million in funding for the bus-only lanes from the Federal Transit Administration.
The project is expected to cost $31.5 million, Metro officials said, with the remainder coming from other transportation funds.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl and some Brentwood and Westside residents had sought yet another alternative: a 5.4-mile stretch of bus lanes that would stop east of Beverly Hills. But Rosendahl found little support on the council for that proposal.
Some Westside speakers said they were worried that the new lanes would increase traffic congestion and decried claims that they were prejudiced and classist.
“We’re not NIMBY’s, we’re not racists, we’re not against bus lanes,” said Marylin Krell, president of the South Brentwood Residents Assn. “We’re against gridlock,” she said.
Allison Mannos of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition pushed for the full alignment and suggested that those “folks who say congestion will increase should get on the bus” rather than drive cars. Several council members, including Richard Alarcon, said exceptions made to the full alignment were driven purely by political influence.
Brad McAllester, Metro’s executive officer for long-range planning and coordination, said the bus-only lanes would be established on both sides of the street in the current curb lanes — which would be repaved.
Only a half-mile segment would need an additional lane, McAllester said, and there would be other improvements to the corridor such as widening in some areas, restriping, signal improvements and changes to some left/right-turn lanes.
Only buses would be allowed in the designated lanes from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Officials hope to begin construction of the lanes in the summer of 2012 and open them in mid-2013.
“We’re looking to make the best use of the transportation system as a whole,” McAllester said, adding that officials will look to Wilshire’s success — or failure — to see if similar efforts can work in other places in the county.
“I’m absolutely in favor of it,” said 40-year-old Jason Friedrich, who takes the Metro 720 Rapid from Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue to work in West L.A. each day. “There’s a huge bottleneck created by traffic coming off and on the 405,” he said.
His morning trip generally takes about 35 minutes, but sometimes after work it can take more than an hour because of traffic, he said.
“This city needs more people on transit,” Friedrich said. “We’re not getting anywhere in our cars.”