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L.A. City Council Considers Removing Westside From Bus-Only Lane Project

Andrew Khouri |
February 2, 2011 | 12:15 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)

Updated Wednesday: L.A. City Council votes to study removing Westside from bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard.

Nearly two months after Los Angeles County’s transit agency jettisoned a controversial Westwood segment from its proposed bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard, the leftover Westside route has fallen under the crosshairs.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl has proposed limiting the project to a continuous 5.4-mile segment during rush hour from San Vicente Boulevard to just west of downtown, eliminating the Westside from the project. The council will take the issue up Wednesday.

Rosendahl said drivers on route to the 405 freeway from Santa Monica - which is not part of the project - would suddenly have to squeeze into fewer lanes, creating confusion and gridlock through Brentwood, especially at the intersection of Centinela Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard where the lanes would start.

Metro said it did not have time to consult with Santa Monica and Beverly Hills prior to applying for federal funding.

“My segment is just a little piece in Brentwood,” Rosendahl said, referring to his district, “that gets totally overwhelmed by Santa Monica (traffic) and to squeeze it to two less lanes makes no sense at all.”

Rosendahl said a previous bus-only lane between Centinela and Federal avenues was a “nightmare” for local businesses and residents.

In December, the Metro (MTA) board—at the urging of Supervisor and board member Zev Yaroslavsky, whose supervisorial district includes Westwood—voted against a staff recommendation and agreed to exempt the condo canyon area between Comstock and Selby avenues, cutting the previously 8.7-mile project down a mile.

The project, as currently approved by Metro's board, runs along Wilshire Boulevard from Centinela Avenue to South Park View Street, with gaps through Beverly Hills and from Comstock to Selby avenues.

Metro says the lanes will increase ridership and decrease travel time, running weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Metro staff is currently studying the environmental impacts of removing the condo canyon segment, and the board will vote on final approval in April. The lanes are expected to open in 2013.

The Metro board’s exemption of condo canyon “not only diminishes the benefit of having a bus lane (on the Westside) but it’s also incredibly confusing to motorists on the road,” Rosendahl said during a January meeting of the city council’s Transportation Committee, which he held by himself and forwarded his recommendation to the council.

“What is happening here is a ripple effect,” said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union. “We think it is a whole attempt to chip the project away mile by mile. It really compromises the benefit and the effectiveness of the project.”

Yang said the exemptions show a “lack of political will and a lack of political leadership in making breakthrough transportation policies.

“There is a lot to lose in credibility with the FTA as a region,” she said. “If you can’t deliver a $30 million project, how do you suppose MTA and this region can deliver other projects that are way more expensive?"

Metro could potentially receive $23 million from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the $31.5 million project, Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said.

Rosendahl said he has received assurances that scaling back the project again would not affect federal funding.

“I was told by both the mayor and the MTA board that they felt that the federal funding, which I played a major role in acquiring, would continue for the 5.4-mile, which is from the border of Beverly Hills to downtown,” Rosendahl said.

Sotero said the agency has not yet written to the FTA—as it had in regards to the condo canyon exemption—to see if removing the entire Westside from the project would harm federal funds. The FTA said the condo canyon exemption would not harm funding, Sotero said.

“We’re in close communication with the FTA on this matter,” Sotero said, adding the FTA will not weigh in until the city of L.A. and the Metro board agree on a route.

Jay Handal, chair of the West L.A. Neighborhood Council, said a fragmented bus lane, which would appear and disappear on its way downtown, would not push Westside residents to abandon their cars and make traffic worse.

“I won’t get on a bus to start and stop. I’ll drive and take Washington (Boulevard),” Handal said, adding he would support a lane from the ocean to downtown.

Rosendahl said he hopes a 5.4-mile segment will just be a first step, and that Santa Monica and Beverly Hills will join in later as people grow to appreciate the bus-only lanes.

“If everybody plays in the game, it makes a lot of sense,” Rosendahl said. “If anybody should play in this, it’s Santa Monica first and Beverly Hills. My little segment is just a little piece in Brentwood that gets totally overwhelmed by Santa Monica [traffic]."

Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes a portion of the proposed Westside exemption, said at this time he supports moving forward on the 5.4-mile segment, a sliver of which is also in his district.

“There is community support for the project along these segments of Wilshire Blvd. … and very few negative impacts,” Koretz said in a statement. "I have questioned moving forward on the Westwood segment of the project area - the segment would run through a primarily residential portion of Wilshire, and it appears from data that little to any significant travel savings for bus travel would occur."

At the Transportation Committee meeting, where the Westside exemption was moved to council, members of the Bus Riders Union spoke out against exempting the entire Westside from the project.

“By proposing the Westside exemption, essentially what you are saying is that our city is O.K. with placating to a few narrow self interests at the expense of progress for the entire city,” Ronald Collins told the committee.

Collins identified himself as affiliated with the Bus Riders Union in a speaker card.

LADOT senior traffic engineer Kang Hu said at the meeting that the mile-long exemption approved by the Metro board “creates an undesirable condition,” but that the remaining Westside section still has benefits.

“It will work,” he testified. “It’s just that it will create a little bit (of an) operational issue. But that can be overcome, and the bus benefit will still be there with the remaining of the Westside.”

Sotero said if the council removes the entire Westside portion, the Metro board must approve the change as well. The process must be completed before June, when Metro must submit its final application for federal funding, Sotero said.

Reach reporter Andrew Khouri here.



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