DESIGNATED BUS LANES ARE THE LATEST TRANSIT PLAN FOR WILSHIRE BOULEVARD

For years, L.A. transit officials have wanted to run a mass transit route down Wilshire Boulevard the city's busiest east-west commercial corridor.

But when funding for subway construction dried up in the early 1990s, Wilshire was left out in the cold.

Now transportation officials have come up with a plan for a dedicated busway down the boulevard that would be far cheaper than building a rail line and move almost as many people nearly as quickly. One option calls for the buses to run down the middle of the street, and another to travel alongside the curbs.

Proponents of the $169 million project say that with fewer stops and no interference from other vehicles, the busway would take half as long as existing bus service to travel the 16-mile stretch from the Western Avenue Metro Red Line station to the transit terminal in Santa Monica.

Opponents, who include business and residential groups in the Mid-Wilshire and Miracle Mile areas, say the project would remove left-turn lanes, take away medians designed to beautify the Wilshire corridor and make it harder to find parking. They have launched a campaign to stop the busway in its tracks.

"We would definitely like to see a safer and more efficient bus system, but this simply has too much impact on the people who work and live here," said Wally Marks, executive director of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition, a consortium of residents, businesses and property owners. "It would permanently alter and destroy the character of Wilshire Boulevard that we have worked so hard to cultivate."

There is also concern that as the buses increase congestion along Wilshire, commuters would seek other routes, further clogging residential side streets.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials acknowledge those concerns and say they intend to work with residents and businesses in the design of the busway.

"We're looking at several options," said Carol Inge, the MTA's director of rail, busway and bikeway planning. "For example, if we put the busway by the curb, then we can keep all the left-turn lanes and the medians. If we want to keep parking, we might just run the busways during peak traffic hours."

But either option would take away a lane of mixed-flow traffic and convert it to bus-only use.

Avoiding roadblocks

The MTA board gave the go-ahead last month for staff to study the environmental impacts of the busway. It could be a year or more before final approvals are given.

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