Westside Extension Transit Corridor Project comment

26 Oct 2007
Dan Kegel

Traffic on the Westside is awful, and there's no room to build more roads, so we definitely need to improve public transit.

Our main need is for faster east-west service, but because not everyone lives within walking distance of the major east-west lines, and normal bus service is too infrequent and unpredictable, we need to complete the network of north-south Rapid routes. In particular, let's add service on La Brea (Hollywood & Highland -> La Brea -> Stocker -> La Cienega -> La Tijera -> LAX).

To solve our main east-west commute problem, it seems clear we should build a subway down Wilshire. I've been paying extra sales tax for that since 1980, let's get it done already!

But that'll take at least ten years. In the meantime, I think we should implement a bus-only lane on Wilshire during rush hour. That would make the bus only slightly slower for me than driving, make commuting by bus much more predictable, and greatly increase the number of commuters Wilshire can handle. We should probably have rush hour bus lanes on Olympic, too; after all, it has more room, and moves faster, so it'd be better for longer distance commutes.

So: I recommend a subway down Wilshire, a new Metro Rapid line down La Brea / La Tijera to LAX, and bus-only lanes down Wilshire and Olympic.

But why should we expect communities to accept bus lanes? Remember, we tried a bus lane on part of Wilshire for the last few years, and the neighborhood hated it enough to get it removed recently, even though it was helping bus riders. Indeed, in some parts, mentioning the idea of a bus lane is like waving a red flag at a bull. What could cause such animosity? Well, how about:

If we don't deal with these issues, the bus lane will fail. Here's how I think they can be solved:

First, agree to cancel the current plans to narrow the scenic sidewalks on Wilshire in the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council area - the bus lane will have to fit in existing right of way there. (In fact, to widen Wilshire would contradict the Wilshire BRT Final EIR!)

Second, somehow entice a significant fraction of east-west commuters to switch to public transit. The 19 April 2007 report to the City Council says that switching 10% of commuters to public transit would cut the impact on mixed-flow traffic in half. Great! Let's switch 20%, that should get rid of most of the impact.

The city's current plan to entice commuters onto transit can best be described as "build it and hope they come". That's not likely to draw 20% of commuters out of their cars, and it won't kick in until well after the bus lane comes online. To ensure a good start for the bus lane, we should start getting commuters out of their cars even before the bus lane is built.

How to approach this impossible task? We need a coordinated plan like Pasadena's visionary "Traffic Reduction Strategies Study", which lays out a strategy for reducing rush hour traffic by 25%. It makes twelve concrete recommendations; these should be read in the context of the study document, but I'll mention them briefly here:

  1. Charge the right price for curb parking
  2. Return the meter revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it
  3. Invest a portion of parking revenues in transportation demand management programs
  4. Provide Universal Transit Passes
  5. Require the unbundling of parking costs
  6. Require Parking Cash-Out
  7. Strengthen transportation demand management requirements
  8. Improve transit
  9. Improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs
  10. Remove minimum parking requirements for off-street parking
  11. Set maximum parking requirements
  12. Establish congestion pricing
Maybe Los Angeles should do something different, but for sure it should have a strategy of some sort. (Pasadena's making Los Angeles look bad here!)

In addition, we should build awareness of transit service much more aggressively than Metro has done. (In fact, Metro's efforts to that end have been so lackluster that one wonders whether they actually want to attract new riders at all!) Here are a few ideas, for starters:

And we should actually make Metro Rapid a good way to get to LAX, especially for underserved high density areas along the Wilshire Corridor, such as Park La Brea.

All the above sounds a lot more difficult and expensive than just building a bus lane, doesn't it? But that's what it will take for the bus lane, and even the subway, to succeed. I just hope the city has the will to do what it takes to solve the Westside gridlock problem. I'm not looking forward to two hour commutes to Santa Monica, which is what will happen eventually if we fail.

-- Dan Kegel

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