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Rumbling Buses Spark Petition, Soil Tests Near West L.A. Route


Each day before the crack of dawn, residents along a stretch of Federal and La Grange avenues in West Los Angeles are jolted out of bed by a temblor, which some say would measure 3.0 on the Richter scale.

It is the first of many such jolts during the day that residents say come at regular intervals, as many as 74 times a day, with a force so strong that they have set off car alarms, cracked walls and caused needles to skip across records.

But this is no earthquake. The residents describe the annoying vibration as a "busquake," caused by Santa Monica's Big Blue Buses rumbling down their street.

"My bed starts shaking and my windows rattle every time one of those buses come down the street," said Barbara Rosen, who lives in an apartment on Federal. "It starts the first thing in the morning. That's when the noise is the worst. The bus hits a pothole or a seam in the road, everything starts shaking and I wake up and say to myself, 'That must be the 5:40 a.m. bus.' "

Rosen is a member of the Westside Residents Assn., which began a petition drive six months ago to change the route of the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines' No. 5 bus. The route now begins at the Wadsworth Veterans Administration Medical Center, travels down Federal and across La Grange on its way to Century City and its final stop on Pico and Rimpau boulevards in Los Angeles.

The association, which has 150 members, has collected about 300 signatures so far.

Officials from the city of Los Angeles and the bus company acknowledge that there is an unusual amount of vibration in the area that is caused by the buses, which run every 20 minutes during peak hours. The city is conducting soil tests to determine the cause of the problem.

"It's definitely a problem," said Terry Oberrieder, assistant district engineer with the city Department of Public Works' bureau of engineering. "It's not the kind of vibration that would cause structural damage, but it's there." He said that other neighborhoods have similar problems, "but this neighborhood seems to be a little more vociferous about it."

Oberrieder, whose office is conducting the tests, lives on Federal and has felt that early morning jolt.

He speculates that the problem is the condition of the road. "The street is old, and there have been numerous cuts through the concrete over the years to make repairs and to improve utilities," he said.

Although the road is then resurfaced with asphalt, because the concrete underneath has been cut, large plates remain and vibrate when a bus hits a seam in the road, Oberrieder said.

The road may also produce more vibration because it may have been laid without a bed of crushed rocks under the concrete and asphalt to absorb the shock of large vehicles, as is done today, he said.

Despite its condition, Oberrieder said there are no immediate plans to rebuild the road, because funds are limited. One possible solution, he said, would be to put another layer of asphalt over the street to act as a shock absorber.

Officials for the bus lines say the solution is to repair the road rather than change the bus route.

But residents along Federal and La Grange say that the problem would be solved if the bus changed its route to a more commercial street, such as Sawtelle, which they say would be better suited to accommodate the 50-seat, 25,000-pound buses.

Robert Ayer, assistant director of transportation with the Santa Monica bus lines, visited an apartment on Federal and described the vibration as similar to the sensation one feels just before an earthquake. "It was like a stiffening feeling. Nothing shook but you definitely knew something was happening," he said.

However, Ayer said it might prove difficult to alter the bus route, because many of the streets are too narrow for buses to make turns. Also, he added, the company might lose some of the 485 passengers--the daily average--who ride the bus along that stretch. About 70 riders board or depart the bus each day at the six bus stops on Federal, he said.

"We want to be good neighbors to the residents, but we have to balance their concerns with the concerns of our passengers," he said.

But Greg Rank, who lives on Federal, said that the cost of losing 70 passengers doesn't justify the damage.

"That is not right, they feel they can justify shaking our houses for a few dollars a day," he said.

Jodi Duckett, who helped organize the petition drive, agreed. "These buses shouldn't come down a residential street. They would be better off on a commercial street."

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