Bus lanes a peak event on Wilshire

June 4, 2013 

With the launch of a bus lane on Wilshire, a new chapter in the street's storied traffic history was opened.

Every two minutes during rush hours, Metro buses roll—or, rather, crawl—down Wilshire Boulevard, carrying tens of thousands of riders along one of Los Angeles County’s most clogged arteries.

But beginning Wednesday, those passengers may find a modest measure of relief from the blockage with a new 1.8 mile stretch of curbside bus lanes between MacArthur Park and Western Avenue. By late next year, according to Metro officials, the Wilshire Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes will span 7.7 miles—with a one-mile gap through Beverly Hills—ending at Centinela on the border of Santa Monica.

Metro predicts that the $31 million project could improve peak-hour travel times for riders by as much as 24 percent, or 15 minutes, between downtown and Santa Monica.

During a media briefing and ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, Metro board member and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who’s long championed dedicated bus lanes, called the introduction of the Wilshire BRT’s first segment “a signal day for Los Angeles.”

With quicker, less stressful trips for bus riders, Yaroslavsky said, “there’s no question that their quality of life will be improved significantly.”

Yaroslavsky acknowledged that there’s been speculation and anxiety among some commuters over the potential traffic impact of eliminating a lane for cars in each direction during rush hours. “I hope people will give it a chance,” he said, then added: “I know they will.”

Dedicated bus lanes are seen as a crucial component in Los Angeles’ multi-faceted effort to reduce the region’s legendary traffic and encourage the use of mass transit—from subways to light rail to dedicated busways—all of which have increasingly been embraced by the public. Metro officials hope that the Wilshire Boulevard BRT will coax even more drivers out of their cars when they see a potentially faster alternative.

Metro’s project manager for the Wilshire BRT, Martha Butler, acknowledged that there could be some initial congestion in the “mixed use” lanes as drivers adjust to the famous boulevard’s new peak-hour realities. “But they’ll get more used to it,” she said, as the project progresses, one segment at a time.

Butler also said there’ll be “a grace period,” during which Los Angeles police officers will give warnings to drivers who improperly use the lanes on weekdays between 7- 9 a.m. and 4- 7 p.m. After that, they’ll get ticketed.

In all, the Wilshire BRT will encompass 12.5 miles, although only 7.7 miles will have designated bus lanes. The project, funded with a mix of federal and local monies, will also include street and signage improvements.  

Before the Wilshire BRT project, the only other designated bus lanes in L.A. were along Figueroa Street from Adams Boulevard to 7th Street in the Downtown area. For more information, click here.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky said the first segment of the Wilshire bus lanes represented "a signal event in Los Angeles." Photo by Josh Southwick/Metro

Posted 6/4/13

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