As a candidate, Antonio Villaraigosa tantalized commuters with the dream of building a subway along Wilshire Boulevard to the ocean.

Some dream. Under the best political and economic circumstances, it would take billions of dollars and a decade or more to make it happen.

So what do traffic-weary Angelenos do in the meantime? Depend on a lot of smaller initiatives, such as dedicated bus lanes, synchronized traffic lights, added turn signals and rush-hour parking bans.

"All of the easy things, the low-hanging fruit, have already been done or are being done," said Bob Poole, director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation.

Villaraigosa hasn't said what his game plan is, so traffic planners are sticking with the incremental stuff, such as putting officers at key intersections like Westwood and Sepulveda boulevards and repairing bumpy curb lanes steps that are barely making an imprint.

Wilshire, the city's main business artery, is trampled by more than 100,000 vehicles per day along certain stretches, a volume more akin to a freeway than a surface street. Already, major stretches are virtually impassable at rush hour and even at times outside of traditional rush hour.

"You can only squeeze so much extra capacity out of our existing streets," said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Municipal conflicts
It's not just the traffic, it's the politics or more specifically, the inability of local municipalities to agree on anything.

Consider a $100,000 pilot program last year for a bus-only lane along Wilshire, from the Santa Monica city line to Federal Avenue. L.A. traffic planners concluded that the test went well, shaving a few minutes off travel times, so the City Council approved making the bus-only lane permanent. "This is an extremely cost-effective way to improve bus service," said David Mieger, director of Westside planning for the MTA.

But on the other side, Santa Monica city officials oppose having the lane go through their city. "We really don't think we need it," said Kate Vernez, government relations assistant to the city manager. "We're the end of the line on Wilshire and typically traffic moves pretty well, even during rush hour. Besides, our businesses have let us know they don't want the street parking taken away."

Consider, too, MTA's popular Rapid Bus program, where the trademark red-and-white buses zip along Wilshire with fewer stops. The buses proved so popular that service is now being expanded to dozens of other major streets throughout L.A.


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