Wilshire bus lane study to be released next week

The map shows two of the alignments reviewed by the draft environmental study to be released next week. The alternative has three major differences.

The long-sought project to add a bus lane to 9.5 miles of Wilshire Boulevard for peak hour commutes will take a step forward next week when a draft environmental impact report is released jointly by Metro, along with the city and county of Los Angeles.

Those with long memories know that this is one of those projects that has taken its time to ripen. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded the bus lane project about $21 million in funding in Feb. 2008 (the total cost of the project is about $30 million). In the time since, the city and county of Los Angeles and Metro have been hammering out the study to review the bus lanes’ impacts on traffic.

The bus lanes will go from the Santa Monica/Los Angeles border to near Alvarado Street, excluding the portion of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Why no Beverly Hills? While they had previously considered it in the past, there wasn’t time to fully consult with them before applying for this set of federal funds for the project. Metro staff have recently asked Beverly Hills staff to take another look at the possibility of adding that portion of Wilshire in the future.

The lane will operate during peak rush hours in the morning and afternoon and will be mostly situated in the curb lane, which will be a parking lane or general traffic lane the rest of the time. Private vehicles making right-hand turns will be allowed in the lane. Conversely, buses will be allowed to exit the lane to pass buses and other vehicles, if necessary.

We’ll write more about the project after we’ve had the chance to read the draft environmental study — which we have not yet seen. That said, I think this is a very important project for a couple of reasons:

1) With Metro asking for hundreds of millions of dollars from the FTA for the Westside Subway Extension and Downtown Regional Connector and other projects, getting the bus lane done shows the agency is serious about using the federal money it has already been awarded, and;

2) there are about 85,000 boardings on buses that run on Wilshire on the average weekday, which is about 7% of all Metro bus boardings each day. That makes Wilshire the busiest bus corridor in the nation — even ahead of some in New York City.

Here are a few kernels about the project from Metro officials:

•The bus lane is expected to cut about 25% of the travel time from bus rides on Wilshire. For example, it takes the 720 Rapid Bus about 40 minutes in the evening rush hour to travel between Wilshire/Westwood and Wilshire/Western, according to Metro schedules. The bus lane should shave about 10 minutes off that ride and also help all buses along Wilshire adhere better to schedules.

•By the way, the Westside Subway Extension should make that same trip in about 13 minutes, according to that project’s alternatives analysis. But the subway may not reach Westwood until 2036 if the 30/10 Initiative to accelerate construction fails to happen; under 30/10 the subway would get to Westwood in 2017.

•Metro officials believe the bus lane will be completed in mid to late 2012. That’s about a year behind what officials were saying in 2008 when the federal money was awarded. The delay was largely due to taking extra time to work with the city and county to properly model traffic impacts.

•As for the impacts, the draft study concludes that traffic at nine of 74 intersections on or near Wilshire will be negatively impacted by the bus lanes. Only two of those are on Wilshire — the others are relatively nearby and the cause of the impact, generally speaking, is due to traffic avoiding Wilshire due to the lane. “Five of those nine we can partially mitigate with some things that both agencies can build out there,” said Rex Gephart, director of regional transit planning for Metro.

•There will be at least two lanes of general purpose traffic lanes in each direction open on Wilshire at all times, even with the bus lanes. In the high-rise condo area of Westwood, between Malcolm Avenue and Comstock, one alternative would retain the occasional curb lane that exists for parking for that purpose. If Metro, the city and county choose to build that alternative, general traffic lanes will drop from three to two in that area, with the bus lane occupying the lane second-closest to the curb.

We’ll write more about this once the study is released. Metro is also planning on holding public hearings to discuss the study and take public comment later in June. We’ll post those dates as soon as we get them.