Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wilshire BRT Scorecard

The past week has seen a flurry of activity around the Wilshire BRT. LA Streetsblog has done a great job of covering it all as it has unfolded. The Condo Canyon private traffic study rapidly upgraded, with the help of some key political players, from a shady contract study to a directive that Metro staff rethink that section of Wilshire. Richard Katz, Zev Yaroslavsky, and Paul Koretz all made statements to the press that the Condo Canyon section should come out. Almost immediately, Metro asked the FTA to approve a project revision, and within days the FTA said yes. I personally found this very disheartening; I had scrambled to put together a letter to the FTA which was signed by a practically unprecedented range of transportation activists. Before we could even send the letter, the FTA had granted Metro's request to change the project. You can still read the letter, which is in .pdf form at this Streetsblog article, which is a pretty good overview of the whole drama.

Things were looking down for the BRT, when Bruins for Transit took to the streets and collected 135 petitions supporting the original BRT project. They got signatures, email addresses, and zip codes from bus riders living in every single one of the five county supervisorial districts. Via twitter, facebook, this blog, and the LA Subway Blog, at least 47 emails have been sent to Metro Board members in support of the original project. The Bus Rider's Union got moving; theywill be coming out in force on Thursday to keep the bus-only lanes intact.

Today started with some bad news: the Brentwood "Community Council" saw that loud rich neighborhoods can get out of bus-only lanes and went ahead and made their own request to be excluded from the project. Hmm, see where this is going?

The Brentwood Community Council should check their math, though. Or maybe just their notion of fairness. They complain that the BRT will "take away 1/3 of the roadway from cars." Well, they should remember that 80,000 motorists use Wilshire everyday, and so do over 80,000 bus riders. So if we're going to divvy up the roadway fairly, buses should really get half. This project gives buses less than that, at only 1/3 through this section. And just to be nice, it still lets turning cars use the bus only lanes. Oh, and the bus-only lanes only last for peak hours, 7-9 AM and 4-7 PM. So we're actually only dedicating (1/3)*(5/24) = 7% of the space to buses. On a corridor where bus riders are half of the travelers.

On the other hand, today ended with some good news: the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the City of LA moved to support the original project.

To summarize, the scorecard on the Wilshire BRT is now:

Team Keep the BRT Whole: 47 emails, 135 street petitions, and one Citizen's Advisory Committee

Team Destroy the BRT One Rich Neighborhood at a Time:
2 Neighborhood Councils, 1 Rabbi, 1 County Supervisor (Yaroslavsky), 1 City Councilmember (Koretz) 1 Other Metro Board Member (Richard Katz), 1 FTA Regional Rep Leslie Rogers

Team Undecided: 1 Mayor, 4 County Supervisors,  1 Metro CEO, 4 Metro Board Representatives from Duarte, Glendale, Santa Monica, and Lakewood, 14 City Council Members

We only have until Thursday morning so the time to start your pro-BRT engine is now. Send a letter if you haven't yet. If you already sent a letter, call your county supervisor and pressure them to take a stand on this. (Let us know how your phone calls go in the comments :)

Ready, set gooooo!

Letter writing tools: (QUICK AND EASY)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Write Mayor V and your County Supervisor to Protect the Wilshire BRT Project!

Ahh, bus-only lanes. In a city where the vast majority of the public transportation network runs on buses, they are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve public transit. With bus-only lanes, transit doesn't have to compete with peak-hour congestion. Time tables are actually reliable, and travel times are a lot shorter. This all seems downright fair, considering that during rush hour, buses are packed with upwards of 50 people, while cars usually contain... one person.  Our streets should move people, not just cars, is my view, and bus-only lanes get us closer to that. Oh, and bus-only lanes may not be as sexy as subways, but they sure are cost-effective: a bus-only lane can achieve rail-like speeds for about 1/300th of the cost. In this era of budget crises, that sounds like a win to me.

Lucky for us. Bus-only lanes are coming to Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles! And are set to open by 2013! But there's one catch. If your neighborhood is rich and noisy enough, it can throw a wrench in the whole bus-only lane idea. Back when the bus-only lane project was being developed, Beverly Hills refused to participate. So Metro wrote up a proposal that excluded their city. This proposal was successful and won a whole bunch of federal money. Now, the wealthy neighborhood just West of the Country Club, an area known as Condo Canyon because of its many high-rise buildings, is refusing to do its part to move buses faster. This might jeopardize said federal money, and it will definitely slow down the buses. What's saddest about this whole scenario is that Supervisor Yaroslavsky is actually siding with this small group of noisy NIMBYs, instead of protecting the project for the rest of his constituents. It's clumsy politics at best, and clientelism at worst. Who knows if we'll ever be able to build out a true network of bus-only lanes in Los Angeles if our politicians continue to cave like this.

Lucky for us. A coalition of transportation activists is roaring back to oppose this exemption. LACBC posted this earlier today, and Bruins for Transit was on the streets tonight talking to 720 riders. As a co-founder of the UCLA Bicycle Coalition and a car-free commuter, I'm posting here to ask you to do your part to protect this important demonstration project. If you can, attend the Metro Board meeting on Dec. 9.

Whether or not you can attend the meeting, definitely send an email to your representative asking them to insist on a complete project and reject Yaroslavsky's NIMBY handout. Here are the steps to doing so:

1. Open a new email with a hard-hitting subject: Preserve the Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes! Protect Regional Car-Free Mobility!
2. If you live in the City of LA, put Mayor V in the to:
3. Go to this website and figure out what County Supervisorial District you live in (unless you're some kind of political savant / activist who already knows).
4. Paste the appropriate supervisor email

District 1, Gloria Molina,
District 2, Mark Ridley-Thomas,
District 3, Zev Yaroslavsky,
District 4, Don Knabe - he doesn't have an email posted on his website, which is strange and opaque, but umm, you can email his chief of staff at, or make your case here . That link also has a number you can call.
District 5, Michael Antonovich,

4. Copy the text below into the body, adding your name and zip code and any personalized comments you want to make.
5. cc: so that we can let you know how your politician voted.
6. Tweet it, blog it, facebook it, pass it on to someone at your office or someone in the street. Let's rally.

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa (if applicable) and [your supervisor here],

As a resident of County Supervisorial District [x] [and a citizen of the city of Los Angeles], I write to urge you to approve the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Lane (BRT) on Dec. 9th. Creating a bus-only lane between Centinela Ave. and MacArthur Park during peak hours can save up to 17 minutes one-way, or over half an hour round-trip.

The Wilshire BRT project will provide LA residents with a travel alternative more comparable with the car and attract more riders, improving air quality for the region. On weekdays, approximately 80,000 people board the bus along Wilshire, whereas an average of 80,000 cars drive along Wilshire. As the region grows, we need to find solutions like the Wilshire BRT that move people, not cars.

While we look forward to the Westside Subway Extension, we hope to see near-term projects like the Wilshire BRT that will open in 2 years, as we await the subway opening in 25 years. Improving bus service and reliability will also be important for future subway riders who also need to make bus transfers to reach their destinations.

More specifically, I am writing to ask you to protect your constituents and reject the recent proposal by Supervisor Yaroslavsky to exclude a select neighborhood in his district from participating in the project. Removing the bus-only lanes between Comstock Ave. and Veteran Ave in Westwood not only risks federal funding, it threatens the integrity of the project altogether. Buses will not achieve the fast times that have been promised if this exemption is allowed to go forward. We must not compromise the success of the project simply because a wealthy neighborhood dislikes it. Help us move toward a future where Los Angeles's streets move people, not just cars. Do not allow any more holes to be poked in this crucial demonstration project.

The Wilshire BRT will not only bring tremendous benefits to the commutes of the thousands of people that ride the 720 [with me - if applicable] every day, it will also improve the air quality of the region by providing an alternative transportation choice. It will also improve riding conditions for bicyclists, who will be allowed to share the repaved and widened curb lane.

Please approve the Wilshire BRT, and adopt Alternative A, Truncated Project Without Jut-Out Removal as the Preferred Alternative, which includes the Westwood portion of Comstock to Veteran Ave.
The vote on Dec. 9 is about more than just the Wilshire bus-only lanes. It's about fairness, and it's about priorities. Should a wealthy neighborhood that benefits from the regional economy not have to contribute to regional mobility? Should our streets prioritize cars at the expense of public transportation's speed and quality? I'll be watching this vote closely, and I hope you take the stance that moves us forward into a cleaner, greener, and more mobile future.

[your name here]
[your address or zip code]