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Plan Calls for Wider Wilshire, Skinnier Sidewalks [POLL]

Plan to widen Wilshire Boulevard for bus-only lanes sparks concern over narrower sidewalks, especially with the prospect of more foot traffic when the Westside Subway comes to town.

West Los Angeles pedestrians might have to walk on narrower sidewalks as a project to widen Wilshire Boulevard is moving closer to the Los Angeles City Council for adoption. 

A mere two blocks in Metro's 12.5-mile Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project—which stretches from the Santa Monica border at Centinela Avenue east to the 110 Freeway—the agency contends the area between Barrington Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard (called Federal Avenue to the south) is a crucial choking point that hinders public transportation.

To reduce the width of the sidewalks, certain provisions in the Brentwood-Pacific Palisades Community Plan would have to be amended, according to officials.

But there's more to consider than getting public transit passengers to their destinations more quickly, said Lauren Cole, a South Brentwood Residents' Association board member.

"Those two blocks—they're extremely congested and a lot of the buildings are right up on the sidewalk," said Cole. "It's actually a very pedestrian-heavy area as it is."

Cole was particularly concerned with the large groups of University High School students that congregate and wait for buses near the 7-Eleven on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard, she said.

"There's already not room for them and they're already spilling into the street and the parking lot," said Cole.

The Brentwood Community Council also opposes the widening project, which would reduce the 10-foot sidewalks to eight feet. 

With the Westside Subway Extension coming to the area, that will give less walking room when there's the potential of more pedestrian traffic, wrote community Council Chairwoman Nancy Freedman in an email.

Transit agencies over the years have increasingly looked at bus-only lanes as a viable and cost-effective solution to speeding up services, said Juan Matute, a Santa Monica resident and a researcher at UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies.

"Bus-only lanes are probably the number one treatment for speeding transit vehicles—giving a transit vehicle the right-of-way is very important," she said. "When you're sending vehicles through there every two to three minutes during peak hours—that's significant. ... For transit riders, it makes the services more reliable. For the agency, it runs the service a little bit quicker and saves some money on labor costs."

Matute said he uses the north and south sidewalks in the area at least once a week, but also rides his bike and drives on Wilshire Boulevard more frequently.

"I feel like I have a little more of a diverse perspective than somebody who's always on transit or just driving their car," said Matute. "For my personal values, the trade-off of giving up two feet in order to have the bus-only lane through that area is something that I'm supportive of."

Metro and the Los Angeles Planning Commission are compiling public comments on the widening project in a report to be released in the near future, according to officials.

The planning commission will hold its final meeting on this aspect of the Wilshire BRT on Aug. 9, before presenting to the full council for adoption.

Dee Holtzman July 12, 2012 at 03:10 AM
There’s just not enough room there. Ironically, this would turn BUS STOP STRUCTURES into a problem -- probably pushing kids into traffic (as suggested by the photograph posted with the story here) or further into the 7-11 parking lot (if 7-11 doesn’t build a wall so cars can move in the lot, which would jam the sidewalk even more), while getting in the way of bicyclists (who would abandon the street for the sidewalk since the lanes would be narrowed and buses would threaten them from behind and leave them no room to pass) and people with strollers or wheelchairs. Plus, this wouldn’t even work well to move buses faster, because, as happened last time they tried a bus-only lane there, cars going in and out of businesses and side streets would block the bus lane. Right turns from Wilshire are obstructed by pedestrians. And especially on the south side of Wilshire, right turns onto the Boulevard at rush hour involve slow merging because the traffic lanes are too full to enter all at once. And if they do this, they’ll take out ALL THE TREES.
Gary Kavanagh July 13, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I'm all for having a dedicated bus lane. However if doing so comes at the expense of the public realm on the sidewalk, which would presumably have more people walking about if transit service was enhanced, than I would want to see more details and options before supporting this proposal. For example if the car lanes are 13ft. highway speed width lanes (I'm not sure on those blocks), might other lanes be narrowed slightly to make up the space needed for the bus lane? If 2 ft. is all that is needed to make it work, it seems quite possible it can be made up other ways that don't require the expense of shifting the curb position or squeezing space for pedestrians. I think our transportation planners sometimes bring a jackhammer to every problem when sometimes a paint can is sufficient.
Eric W July 13, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Like all transit projects, It's a trade off. And I'd really like to get a bus/bike lane on the lenght of the famous Wilshire Bvld. Really, the bus lane will move more people than all the cars, so lets speed up the busses. And every bus lane is a bike lane - a nice wide bike lane. Two feet of sidewalk from 10 to 8 feet sounds worth it, though if looks to me that there's 2 feet available by narrowing the street's lanes to 11ft. Maybe this plan needs a traffic engineering review? Prehaps there's other place to get bus/bike lane width.
nancy freedman July 14, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Fast bus service is great and necessary. However, walking is a way to travel also. This short area of Wilshire between Federal and Barrington only holds up service a few minutes longer leaving it the way it is. Seems that a compromise for riders, drivers and walkers would be met by leaving it and putting the Federal money in another part of the project where it is really needed further east on the project.

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