The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a 7.7-mile option for rush hour bus lanes for Wilshire Boulevard, clearing a key hurdle needed for the project to begin its design phase and then construction.
But the Council provided a wrinkle: adding language asking the Metro Board of Directors to restore a one-mile segment of bus lanes through the Condo Canyon part of Westwood to help workers reach their jobs faster.
Ultimately, the decision by the council, on an 11 to 1 vote, was the same one made by the Metro Board of Directors last month. The Council vote should allow the project to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration before a mid-July deadline for a $23-million federal grant to help cover the estimated $31.5-million cost of the lanes. (Here’s a post from yesterday with a map of the 7.7-mile option).
The County Board of Supervisors still must vote on the project — which includes a slice of county land along Wilshire. That vote likely will be uneventful, given that Supervisors already voted on the project as members of the Metro Board.
As would be expected, a talkative City Council made today’s vote interesting. Essentially, the Council had to choose between 5.4, 7.7 or 8.7 miles of bus lanes in the city’s portion of Wilshire Boulevard. The city began studying bus lanes on its share of Wilshire back in the 1990s and that essentially was the project proposal that was ready in time to apply for federal funding.
A recommendation by Councilman Bill Rosendahl to have 5.4 miles of bus lanes only east of Beverly Hills was quickly dismissed by his colleagues. Rosendahl has argued that the project only makes sense if Santa Monica and Beverly Hills were included and he predicted that the part of Wilshire nearest the 405 freeway would be choked by traffic as the result of converting the curb lane to a bus lane between Centinela and Barrington.
“This is going to make it worse for the buses and cars unless Santa Monica joins the team,” Rosendahl told his colleagues. “My message to the MTA is get your act together and let’s stop playing politics and let’s do the right route from Santa Monica” to downtown L.A.
Much of the rest of the Council argued that 8.7 miles of bus lanes was the best way to get commuters to jobs on the Westside, a part of town many low-income employees in particular could not afford to live.
The Metro Board last month had decided to remove the Condo Canyon portion, agreeing with residents that it would make it difficult for motorists to reach residential buildings and the lanes would have a small impact on bus travel times in that area. Thus, the 7.7-mile option that went before the Council.
Many members of the Council didn’t agree — and some suggested the Metro Board had shirked its responsibility by removing Condo Canyon from the project.
“We should be thinking about the actual people who take public transportation,” Councilman Tony Cardenas said. “We should be thinking about what’s best for the region and not just what’s best politically.”
In his view, helping people reach jobs — often doing chores such as “changing the diapers” — was of paramount importance.
Ultimately, however, the Council had to grapple with another fact: if they chose to restore the bus lane through Condo Canyon, then the issue would be tossed back in the lap of the Metro Board at next week’s meeting. If no agreement between the city and the Metro Board could be reached within the next few days, then the $23-million federal grant would be at greater risk of being lost.
The Council vote was preceded by 30 minutes of public testimony on the lanes. The testimony was a tasting menu of the many different views on the lanes: some argued that private vehicles have had reign over Wilshire for too long and others questioned the effectiveness of the lanes and assumptions by Metro staff that they would improve bus travel times by 25 percent.