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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

They’re Buses, Not Strip Clubs

Does the Westside want public transportation, or doesn’t it?

It’s hard to imagine that business owners would be opposed to public transit, especially to the construction of a new system that promises to bring masses of potential customers, or employees, to their doorsteps and reduce automotive traffic. Yet judging from the reaction of Westside businesses and residents to the host of transit proposals being considered by government officials, you’d think planners were talking about putting in a series of giant adult bookstores rather than busways.

Planners and politicians are so cowed by politically powerful Westside interests, that many public-transit proposals now avoid the area entirely. A dedicated busway being studied for Wilshire Boulevard could fall apart because of opposition from business and residential groups, and it faces real trouble as it approaches Beverly Hills. Another proposal for a busway or light rail line running from USC to Santa Monica calls for the line to veer south off the Exposition Boulevard right of way owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in order to bypass upscale neighborhoods in West L.A.

Part of the reason L.A.’s public-transit system is laughable compared with those in cities like New York and London is that it covers such a piecemeal area. The multibillion-dollar subway is great, as long as you’re going from Hollywood Boulevard to downtown; otherwise it’s entirely useless. L.A.’s sprawling geography is primarily to blame, but so is the entrenched Not-In-My-Back-Yard mentality that stops transit projects from proceeding in some of the areas that need them most.

There are convincing reasons why business interests oppose transit projects, particularly the proposed busway down Wilshire. That plan, as it stands now, might take away traffic lanes, eliminate left-turn lanes and wipe out parking spaces thus potentially creating a far worse congestion problem than it’s trying to solve. And major transit projects don’t just materialize; they involve months or even years of disruptive construction activity that can prove devastating to area merchants.

These types of problems, though, tend to solve themselves. If Wilshire were to become a public-transit corridor that’s difficult to drive on, more single-car commuters would likely use parallel routes like Olympic Boulevard. While residents fear these commuters would clog up residential routes like Sixth and Eighth streets, there are simple ways to discourage the flow of traffic along minor routes while encouraging it on major corridors like Olympic, Santa Monica and Pico boulevards. And construction woes, while trying, are only temporary.

The real disaster would occur if Beverly Hills were to use its economic might to stop the Wilshire busway at its borders. The city has demonstrated such power in the past; after the city opposed a plan to turn Santa Monica Boulevard into a 10-lane highway from the San Diego (405) Freeway to Hollywood, the proposal was altered to stop the expansion at the Beverly Hills border. Yet a busway that ends at Beverly Hills would only be half as effective as one that follows the Wilshire corridor all the way to the ocean and would only contribute to the piecemeal nature of L.A.’s public transit system and prevent it from being a truly effective way of moving people from place to place.

Change is a frightening prospect for many, but L.A. is going to change whether we want it to or not. As the population swells, traffic will get increasingly congested, the air will get more polluted and the city’s infrastructure will be increasingly strained. Dedicated busways certainly won’t solve all these problems, but they’re a step in the right direction.

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