Progress in LA Public Transit--An Update on the Wilshire Blvd. Bus Rapid Transit Lanes


** Guest blog post written by NRDC intern Danielle Hesse **

If you are a commuter who frequently travels along Wilshire Blvd. (or an avid reader of Morgan’s blog!), you are likely aware that there are big changes currently underway on a long stretch of the heavily-trafficked road. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is overseeing a project that, when completed, will add 7.7 miles of bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes, and 9.9 miles of other street improvements, such as repaving, restriping, and updated signage, along 12.5 miles of Wilshire Blvd. This will not include Beverley Hills and “Condo Canyon,” an area in Westwood that, due to pressure from residents, was exempted from the bus-only lanes. The BRT lanes will be in operation during peak traffic hours: 7am–9am and 4pm–7pm, Monday through Friday, to reduce long commuting times for bus riders. Other vehicles that attempt to drive in the bus-only lanes during these times will be subjected to a fine. During non-peak hours, these lanes will be open to all vehicles. According to the METRO website, the project is expected to decrease bus passenger travel times by an average of 24%—around fifteen minutes—and increase ridership by 15–20%. Already, these buses carry more commuters along the Wilshire Corridor than cars do during peak periods, so this bump in ridership will mean that even more commuters get to their destinations on time—something every LA commuter can appreciate! As someone who drives for an hour every day to get to work, I certainly wish that I could hand the keys over to a bus driver and shave some time off my own commute!

For those who don’t switch over to the bus, there is likely to be a slight increase in travel time due to the limitation on available lanes; according to the project’s Environmental Impact Report, “most of the delays would be 15 seconds or less” if at all, at any of the 74 involved intersections. Moreover, after mitigation, only 8 of these intersections would have unavoidable delays, with only 3 of those delays exceeding 15 seconds. Overall, the project is expected to add 6.11 minutes to passenger car driving time during these peak hours. This miniscule inconvenience should not have a significant impact on commuters, and hopefully, disgruntled drivers who don’t want to sit in traffic for those few extra minutes will be encouraged to get onboard (pun intended) with public transit.

Similar peak hour bus lanes have been successful in other big cities, including New York City, Boston, and Chicago. For years, these cities have been much better equipped when it comes to successful and efficient public transit, so this bus-only lane is a definite step in the right direction for LA.

On June 4th, 2013, the first 1.8 miles of the bus-only lanes were officially opened, between South Park View St. and Western Ave. Now, months later, LADOT has begun the next phase of the construction. In January of 2014, construction began from Western Ave. to San Vicente Blvd. We can expect the westbound segment from Western to Highland to be open in May, with the rest of the project wrapping up in early 2015, according to Curbed LA.

Since construction began, there has been no real publicized disapproval or opposition to the lanes, a positive sign that Los Angeles residents are ready for bus only lanes. We are excited for progress to continue, and we are optimistic about the positive environmental benefits they will have on Wilshire Blvd. and the surrounding community. We hope the success of the Wilshire bus lane will lead to more bus lanes and other public transit advances all across the LA area.