Bus-only lanes that would operate during rush hour on busy Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles were approved Thursday, but a mile-long section of the proposed project was eliminated to ease the concerns of Westwood residents.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted unanimously to build the $31.5-million bus rapid transit project, which includes 7.7 miles of bus lanes on both sides of the street between South Park View Street, which borders MacArthur Park near downtown, and Centinela Avenue on the Westside.
Supervisor and MTA board member Mark Ridley-Thomas was present but abstained.
Removed from the original plan were lanes between Comstock and Selby avenues in an area known as "condo canyon" because of its high-rise development. Residents say the project would cause huge backups of traffic, which now moves smoothly, and interfere with delivery people and motorists trying to get into or out of driveways or parking garages.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, another MTA board member, made the motion to approve the project without the Comstock-to-Selby section, saying the gap would only slow buses by about 30 seconds.
"That one-mile stretch won't hurt the project at all. The interests of bus riders are not being hurt here," Yaroslavsky said, noting that Wilshire is primarily a residential street through the area and traffic moves "rather well during peak hours."
Yaroslavsky also said the project has been characterized by exemptions, noting that Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are not participating in the project.
The dedicated busway using lanes nearest the curb, would operate during weekday rush hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Plans call for traffic signal improvements, new turn lanes and selective street widening along the route.
MTA officials say the project will reduce run times for buses by about 12 minutes along the length of the line, but increase travel times for motorists unable to drive in the lanes by about six minutes. The project, which could be completed by the summer of 2012, is expected to increase daily bus ridership along the corridor from 29,000 to at least 33,000.
Some who opposed breaking up the bus lanes accused the MTA board of caving in to the interests of well-off homeowners at the expense of low-wage earners, students and others who would use the line.
"You need to prioritize the interests of those who work and go to school over the interests of a few," said Alexis Lantz of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. "You need to think beyond the views of elite Westside homeowners."
Other critics said the project would have little effect on motorists and the exemption sets a bad precedent that would encourage other interest groups to try to eliminate parts of projects they disagreed with.
Los Angeles Department of Transportation officials also contended that the gap will diminish the benefits of the project because buses will slow traffic as they merge from exclusive lanes into general traffic lanes.
But Westside homeowner groups pointed out that dedicated bus lanes that were tried between Centinela and Federal avenues in 2004 and 2006 caused adverse effects and significant delays for motorists on Wilshire Boulevard as well as on parallel streets such as Sunset Boulevard.