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Bus trips on Wilshire Boulevard are expected to get faster under a plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday to create bus-only lanes on the busy thoroughfare during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The city council approved a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) plan to create 7.7 miles of bus-only lanes in both directions on Wilshire Boulevard from MacArthur Park to the Los Angeles/Santa Monica border. The City of Beverly Hills will be excluded, as will a one-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard near Westwood known as “Condo Canyon”, where residents had complained that the bus lanes may interfere with vehicles coming in and out of the residential buildings in the area.
Under the $31.5 million plan, 3.6 miles of the curbside lanes on Wilshire Boulevard will also be repaved between Western Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard. Repaving will not occur in Beverly Hills, which opted out of having the bus-only lanes.
The lanes will be restricted to buses between 7 to 9 a.m., and 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, but will be open to motorists at all other times. According to Brad McAllester, executive officer for long-range planning for Metro, the bus-only lanes will reduce travel times for riders by 11 minutes over the 7.7-mile stretch.
“The project will provide a lot of benefits,” McAllester said. “It is heavily congested both with cars and people taking buses, and this will make the trips a lot quicker. It is improving travel times for our buses by about a mile-and-a-half a minute.”
City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said he supported the plan because of the quicker travel times, and because it will lead to some badly needed repairs to Wilshire Boulevard.
“The biggest benefit is the rebuilding of Wilshire Boulevard. The road is so bad, and it is aggravated by the buses that already use the curbside lanes,” LaBonge added. “It affords the opportunity to repave the lanes, so riders won’t be on an E-ticket ride like at Disneyland.”
McAllester said approximately 29,000 riders currently use buses on Wilshire Boulevard daily, and the new bus-only lanes are expected to increase the number of users to between 33,000 and 35,000 daily. The project will be funded with $23.3 million from the Federal Transit Administration, and an additional $8.2 million in state Proposition C bond funds and county and city transportation funds.
Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union, said the non-profit organization has been advocating for the bus-only lanes for the past six years, and added that the riders she has spoken with are excited about the decision to move forward. Yang said the organization had advocated for an 8.7-mile route that would have included the “Condo Canyon” area, but said the project approved by the city council will be a big benefit for riders, particularly low-income workers who live near downtown Los Angeles but work in hotels, restaurants and other businesses on the Westside.
“Among the bus riders who are traveling across the city, it will save them ten to fifteen minutes of time, which means less time traveling and more time spent with their families or having breakfast. It’s less stress,” Yang said. “A lot of veterans also use the 720 rapid bus on Wilshire to get to the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles, and this will really help them.”
Yang added that she hopes the bus-only lane project will serve as a model.
“It is the first time the City of Los Angeles has de-prioritized auto use and prioritized public transit,” Yang said. “It sets a precedent for the rest of the city to put forth projects like this.”
The project is also supported by the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, which has been following it closely for years during the planning stage. According to Stephen Kramer, president of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, the chamber was initially opposed because Metro was considering 24-hour bus-only lanes, which would have eliminated parking in front of the businesses on Wilshire Boulevard. Kramer added that no parking is currently allowed in the curbside lanes on Wilshire Boulevard during rush hours, so the project will not have an impact on parking.
“As long as it stays during rush hours, the chamber doesn’t have any objections to it,” Kramer said. “I am not sure how people are going to make right turns and how the local buses are going to move around, but we are willing to go forward in concert with the MTA and see how it works.”
McAllester said Metro will conduct an extensive public outreach campaign prior to the opening of the bus-only lanes. The buses will remain in the curbside lanes except to pass, and new striping will be installed to differentiate between the regular lanes and bus-only lanes. The bus-only lanes will have stopping areas before intersections, allowing time for vehicles to make right turns around the buses.
“There will be a lot of signage and a lot of public outreach,” McAllester added. “We are trying to attract more people to transit, and we think this will be a tremendous benefit for the riding public.”
McAllester said the design process will now begin for the project, which will take approximately one year. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2012, with the bus-only lanes projected to open in 2013.
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