A look at the Vermont Bus Rapid Transit project

(for pdf downloads, please click here)

Earlier this month, Metro released the above presentation on the Vermont Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. The presentation summarizes a technical study that was launched in 2014 and looks at several ways that BRT might be implemented on Vermont Avenue, one of Metro’s busiest bus corridors.

First, some background. Bus Rapid Transit is a fancy name for premium bus service that are designed to improve travel times, service reliability and the customer experience. BRT projects often have their own lane and include other features such as having people pay fares at curbside, all-door boarding and stops that are spaced further apart. Metro’s Orange Line and Silver Line are examples of BRT.

In 2013, Metro finished an evaluation of nine possible BRT corridors. In 2014, the agency launched technical studies of two promising ones: Vermont Avenue and a North Hollywood-to-Pasadena route. Then, in November, the Measure M sales tax measure was approved by Los Angeles County voters, adding funding to both projects.

The Vermont BRT project is set to receive $25 million from Measure M and $400 million from other sources. Under the Measure M spending plan, the project is scheduled to break ground in 2024 and is projected to be completed between 2028 and 2030. Measure M also could provide money to convert the project to rail after the year 2067 if there is sufficient ridership demand.

As we’ve discussed on The Source over the years, BRT projects on surface streets have proven to be challenging around the U.S. A lot of people like the idea of speeding up buses and adding capacity, but putting BRT on surface streets usually means losing either a parking lane or traffic lane, something which is almost always controversial.

In the case of the Vermont BRT technical study, Metro found that the two alternatives (1 and 2) that involved taking a traffic lane performed well and were more appealing to stakeholders, many of whom worried about losing parking for businesses along Vermont Ave. Speeding up a bus could also carry benefits: faster rides, improved reliability, better frequencies and an increase in ridership.

That’s an important consideration on Vermont, which is second busiest bus corridor in Los Angeles County, carrying approximately 45,000 passengers per day — and expected to grow to 54,600 by 2035. It’s also a bus corridor that is bedeviled with many challenges, with buses often running slow and/or late which leads to crowds at bus stops. The average speed for the 754 Rapid Bus ranges between 11 mph and 13 mph while the Local 204 averages nine to 10 miles per hour.

I can’t emphasize this next point enough: this is a VITAL corridor for many riders. The Vermont Corridor area studied by Metro has a significantly higher percentage of residents commuting to work via transit (23 percent) than the averages of the city or county of Los Angeles. Additionally, about 67 percent of the households in the study area do not have a car.

So what happens next? Metro staff gave a presentation on the technical study to the Westside/Central and South Bay Service Councils this month and next month will update the agency’s Board of Directors. Before launching a full environmental study, Metro staff will conduct additional study to answer some questions raised by stakeholders involving how BRT could be built not to preclude a future rail conversion.

The full environmental study will take a deeper look at a wide variety of the project’s impacts and benefits, while evaluating several alternatives. Such studies are required by law before building large transit projects such as this. Impacts to traffic on Vermont and other nearby streets would be fully studied.

My two cents: this really has the potential to be a great project. Vermont Avenue intersects four Metro Rail lines — the Red Line (which runs under Vermont between Hollywood Boulevard and Wilshire), the Purple Line, the Expo Line and the Green Line and several popular east-west bus routes.

There is a long list of activity centers along the street, including Children’s Hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Los Angeles City College, Koreatown, the University of Southern California, Exposition Park and its many museums (and future George Lucas museum), the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and several South L.A. neighborhoods including West Adams, Vermont Square, Vermont Slauson, Vermont Knolls and Vermont Vista.

29 replies

  1. Obviously Concept 2 should be adopted.

    HOWEVER, a rail line would be far superior, perhaps an elevated branch from the Red Line.. Note that this was one on the last Yellow Car lines to be abandoned. It ran with 2-person crews to the very end due to high patronage to reduce boarding times..

    Also, the Pacific Electric San Pedro via Gardena Line operated where Vermont is widest below 103rd Street.

    • I rode the V (Vermont) streetcar off & on from 56 to 63, when it was converted to bus, but saw only PCC cars with 1 operator.

  2. What should ideally happen is that the Red Line should not go to Union Station, but rather continue down Vermont as far a possible. Vermont Station would then become the transfer point between the city’s major north-south line (the Red Line) and its major east-west line (the Purple Line). Given the layout of the existing station, I have no idea how this could come about. But it should at least be considered.

    • Hi Robert;

      Interesting idea! Funding for rail anytime in the near future is a very, very longshot but someday this may be the reality. Fun to ponder.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • That is an interesting idea, but how would it fly with commuters who travel from the SF Valley and Hollywood to downtown LA? Wouldn’t you be forcing them to transfer at Wilshire/Vermont to complete their trip? I’m sure that the vast majority of Red Line riders from the SF Valley and Hollywood and heading to downtown, not farther south on Vermont.

        • Not necessarily. I think what could happen is you would have an additional line entirely, but it would use existing service from Wilshire Vermont north to NOHO. Every trip in between could become more frequent, much like the red and purple zone on our subway now, and then what we would have is two lines east of Vermont to Union, and two lines north of Wilshire to Noho.

          The only transfers that might be required would be those leaving DTLA to potentially go to Vermont South, BUT, you’ve already got Expo to make that trip and avoid that transfer. If you are looking to make a trip to a point on Vermont between Expo and Wilshire; say Vermont and Venice/Pico, you might take the subway and need that transfer. McArthur Park Residents would have the option of going either way, and those from the Purple line heading east may have to make a transfer, while the same would go for Vermont North Riders into DTLA. I’ve probably left some options out, but this is one of my fantasy projects. : ) I’ve thought furthermore of interchanging the entire underground of the system there to allow Vermont to Westwood (hooking west), Vermont to Union(hooking east), Westwood to Noho (hooking north), while the redline remains as is.

          In another scenario, McArthur park and Beverly have the option of becoming double back transfer stations for some as well if my logic is right. Its a fun rubix cube to play with.

          If a new platform was built to accommodate all transfers, the configuration at Wilshire Vermont would be a beast. But for some reason, I think it can be done right. Just not in this life time.

          I’m not a huge fan of BRT, but I guess its a good test to see how much of a rail investment is needed. We know it needs it, but to what capacity?

  3. Ironically, Vermont Ave from Monroe St (LA City College) to 120th St had streetcar service: line V from Monroe St to Vernon Ave till 3/63, and another line from probably Santa Barbara Ave (now M L King Blvd) to 120th St till 1955. As for BRT, a rarely-mentioned advantage is ride comfort, as the bus doesnt change lanes. In 1969-71 Hill St was virtually BRT in the PM rush hour, as so many bus lines to the northwest, incl Hollywood and the Valley, ran on Hill St.

  4. I like the approach that looks at where people are using the bus system the most today and improves service there. The bus ridership numbers on Vermont are better than the rail ridership numbers on the Green Line. It begs the question of why we throw so much money at routes with so little potential. For example, based on ridership, a corridor like the Gold Line Foothill Extension should probably be BRT, and a high-ridership corridor like Vermont should be rail. But of course we don’t make decisions like logical robots and spreading the rail around gives the most politicians ribbons to cut.

  5. Taking 14 years or more to bring an idea to a reality is ridiculous! There has to be a better way to get things done more effectively. BRT is not like rail. The road is already there, and the only thing needed is to repaint the road to make a BRT.

  6. My problem is why 120th Street? Why not take the BRT (or some of the buses) to the Harbor Gateway Transit Center that is a primary transfer location with a large park-n-ride lot that is very full now?

          • The Pico/Rimpau transfer point came about becasue the LARY P Car only went as far west as Rimpau. Again, this is a route that Metro should assume to extend Line 30 weast along Pico in addition to serving Beverly Hills.

            It seems that Metro can serve ONLY those streets that historicallly had rail, such as along Santa Monica and Venice Blvd,

            So called “Turf Battles” have no place when it comes to providiing adequate bus service..

  7. I just hope that Metro will reconsider the rail line for Vermont if it can get some $$$$ from the Trump Transportation or infrastructure improvement spending that Trump plans on spending. Does Metro have a wish list for Trump and his infrastructure bill?

  8. Uhh, I never understood the all or nothing approach for these projects (for lack of a better term). Am I the only one that thing both Concept 2 and 3 can be used to form a 5th Concept: A combination of Side, Curb, and center running BRT.

    Run curbside BRT between Hollywood and Wilshire and between Jefferson and King BL (Google Maps will explain why running curbside between King and Jefferson will be fine here), Side running between Wilshire and Gage, then Center-running between Gage and 120th??

    I don’t think reducing Vermont to one Lane between Wilshire and Hollywood makes sense if there is a 3rd lane to use, even if it means losing parking.

  9. I always said that Vermont 204/754 should go to at least to the Harbor Gateway Transit center people gave always complained about waiting 15-30 min for the other transit line to arrive

    • This would duplicate Gardena Line 2 which, I think,, Metro should assume to eliminate duplication that already exists with 204 and.754;

      BTW – Neither the 204 nor 754 timetables reference the existence of each other on their route maps, only at transfer points.

      As I have suggested several times, ALL schedule should combine the parallel local and Metro Rapid lines in a single time table, as are Line 2/302, 16/316., 30/330, etc.; We would thus have a single 204/754 time table, a single 33/733.time table, etc

      • Metro does that today by consolidating 260 and 762 service on Fair Oaks/Atlantic. Creating one timetable might save some money in printing duplicate timetables. The lines would be scheduled the same.

      • The only problem is that Rapid is marketed as a different type of service. If it was the former 354 Limited then it wouldve been combined on the schedule already just like 2/302.

        • Which is more important in providing good transit service? A marketing tool or passenger convenience?

          I rest my case!

          • When the original Rapid lines went online I don’t think they had a timetable, only frequencies. Also the there’s usually more Rapid buses than the Local bus it complements on its corridor due to having to take some resources from the Local line to operate. Wouldn’t look really nice on a shared timetable especially if the Rapid is more frequent than the Local version. The timetables for frequent runs are already cluttered as is.
            And if you want combined timetables come up with one for the 18/20/720 lines. Let me know how that works out.

  10. Yeah, Concept 2 is the definitley best due to minimal interaction with other vehicles and/or busway intrusion from adjacent traffic. I like the idea of the red line being able to continue south along Vermont for some of its runs. Of course, there isn’t funding for such rail right now, but that service pattern ought to be considered if rail can eventually be funded.

  11. Has there ever been any thought of providing a bus from Harbor Gateway – USC via the 110 freeway transitway and then continuing along Vermont from USC to Hollywood Blvd?

    • It would be nice as a Rush Hour commuter but they’ll probably point to the rush hour extension of the 550 “Express” as a means to get there.

    • Both Lines 204 and 745 currently provide service along Vermont from between USC and Hollywwod Blvd, and the proposed BRT will also.