MTA Plan Calls for Taking Away Wilshire Car Lane for Rapid Bus

Staff Reporter

In a controversial bid to speed up bus traffic, transit officials plan to close off a mile of the curbside lane in each direction of Wilshire Boulevard through West Los Angeles during the morning rush hour, reserving those lanes exclusively for buses.

The buses-only lanes will be instituted as early as this spring for 30 to 90 days along the stretch of Wilshire from the Santa Monica city line to Federal Avenue. Eventually, transit officials want to permanently expand the lanes from the Western Avenue subway terminus to the ocean.

That larger plan to improve bus service, which the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates will cost $235 million, calls for replacing the current fleet of red-and-white Rapid Buses with buses up to 50 percent longer. Also being planned are revamping the Rapid Bus stations and resurfacing large portions of the curbside lanes along Wilshire.

"Our goal is to move people, not necessarily move vehicles," said David Mieger, the MTA's director of rail and busway planning. "Since we can't widen streets or add lanes, we have to figure out how best to accommodate all the additional people we know are coming. And having that lane used by buses moves more people around than if cars used that lane."

Besides the Rapid Buses, which only stop once each mile, MTA local buses and the Santa Monica Big Blue Buses travel along that stretch of Wilshire. Mieger said that during rush hour, an average of one bus a minute travels the one-mile stretch, in one direction or the other.

But the initial small-scale test project is likely to arouse opposition from businesses concerned about losing curbside parking and from commuters upset over losing lanes during rush hour.

What's more, MTA officials need to convince a skeptical Los Angeles city government that the lane closures wouldn't cause too many disruptions. MTA planners are expected to make their case in the next couple of months, with the proposal due to reach the City Council sometime in the spring.

A proposal two years ago to establish a 24-hour dedicated bus lane along Wilshire through the Miracle Mile and Mid-Wilshire area generated so much opposition that then-City Council President John Ferraro pushed through a resolution opposing it. Local business and resident groups at the time said the bus lane would have disrupted traffic and taken away curbside parking they had fought hard to reinstate. MTA officials quickly backed off their 24-hour bus lane plan, opting instead for exclusive lanes only during rush hour.

Effect on traffic

"We will review very carefully any impacts of a dedicated bus lane during peak hours," said John Fisher, assistant general manager of transportation operations for the city Department of Transportation. "We are most concerned about the impact on vehicular travel and how right-turn lanes will be accommodated."

Though right turns from the bus lane would be allowed, Fisher said if a driver has to wait for pedestrians to cross, it could hold up buses.

Mieger said MTA officials view the West L.A. stretch of Wilshire as their top choice for the pilot project because they believe a dedicated bus lane there would cause the least amount of disruption. The stretch of Wilshire around Bundy Drive has lower overall traffic volume than most of Wilshire and allows curbside parking from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so instituting bus lanes there would seem to be less disruptive.

The pilot program is planned to run only during the 7-to-9 a.m. rush, so retailers wouldn't be deprived of many curbside-parking customers, MTA officials said.

Cherished meters

But the head of the area's chamber of commerce said taking away any parking would hurt businesses.

"Some of my members think this plan is lunacy," said Jay Handal, president of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. "We can't afford to lose any parking anywhere in West L.A., even there. Parking meters are very valuable."

The loss of curbside parking also tops the list of concerns by L.A. City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who represents the area. "Even if only 25 percent of the metered spaces are taken, it's still vital traffic for the businesses along that stretch," said Chris Bing, field deputy to Miscikowski.

Along the eastern portion of the mile-long stretch, around Barrington Avenue, the biggest concern seems to be traffic congestion. As it is, traffic often backs up during rush hour as Wilshire nears the San Diego (405) Freeway.

"The feeling is that this would hurt the flow of traffic far more than any good it would do for buses," said Jean Shigematsu, vice president of community affairs for the West L.A. chamber.

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