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.