Ever wonder why L.A.'s public transit system seems haphazard, with rail lines that don’t go where they’re most needed and inadequate bus service? A political battle over bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard serves as an instructive example of the ways the best-designed plans of transit engineers are often thwarted.
Wilshire is L.A.'s densest business and residential corridor, and it’s among the city’s biggest traffic nightmares at rush hour, which is why devoting a lane in each direction to bus use only is a good idea. More people already travel by bus than by car along the route during peak hours, and a fast bus lane would lure even more out of their cars, reducing pollution and radically reducing commuting times for bus riders.
The lanes, which have been in the planning stages for nearly a decade, were originally supposed to run from MacArthur Park to the Santa Monica border, except for a segment in the city of Beverly Hills, which opted not to participate. But when wealthy Westsiders complained about a loss of street parking and increased automotive congestion, politicians started looking to carve out chunks of the 9-mile route. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, carrying water for high-rise dwellers in the Condo Canyon neighborhood between Selby and Comstock avenues, led a push in December to cut that mile-long stretch. Then City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, no doubt after getting an earful from constituents in Brentwood, proposed deleting the entire segment west of Beverly Hills, which would leave just 5.4 miles of bus lanes.
At the behest of the L.A. City Council, transit planners are now studying the impact of Rosendahl’s carve-out; the full council is slated to decide whether to approve the longer or the shorter route in April. It’s unclear whether the mid-Wilshire-only option would jeopardize the $23 million in federal funds designated for the project, more than two-thirds the total cost. It is clear that it would render an attractive commuting alternative far less attractive, slowing Westside buses to a crawl for large parts of the journey.
Bus-only lanes are by no means an ideal solution for Wilshire’s traffic woes, which would be best alleviated by a subway line. But the so-called Subway to the Sea is many years away and may never materialize, and the lanes are the next best thing. It takes courage — something seldom seen among Westside politicians — to build an effective transit network; we hope the council exercises it this spring by approving the full route.