Friday, February 21

Chris Campbell: Olympic bid must drive LA to a greater investment in public transit

(Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin senior staff)

In 1984, Los Angeles was facing threats of smog, hair metal and potentially the biggest traffic disaster in its history.

City officials were gearing up to host the 1984 Summer Olympics. The city had gone without serious public transportation for over 20 years and had grown (in)famous as the epicenter of American car culture. But now, naysayers were predicting that the Olympian games would bring similarly Olympian gridlock on the city’s web of freeways, making life unbearable for the average commuter.

Fortunately that antedated Carpocalypse failed to materialize and the City of Angels went on to host the most financially successful Olympics since 1932, when it was also in LA.

Flash forward to the present day – and LA is back at it. The city is submitting another bid, this time to host the 2024 Summer Olympic games and repeat its previous Olympic successes. But once again the threat of unabated gridlock looms large as spectators will attempt to shuttle between facilities at several different spots throughout Los Angeles. And it won’t be minor – almost 850,000 attended the 2012 Games in London.

LA can’t count on another 1984 scenario. In a September interview with the Bruin, former city councilman Zev Yaroslavsky attributed the 1984 traffic miracle to commuter anxiety. “People were so scared and frightened about what the traffic congestion might be that they stayed out of their cars during that period of time,” he said.

Garcetti needs to improve transit options, and fast. More specifically, he needs to focus on improving bus service as a more feasible and less costly alternative to rail expansion. After all, for $31.5 million the city can create a new bus lane in about a year, while the proposed Purple Line Subway expansion will take about 10 years and $100 million to complete.

Adding dedicated bus lanes will go a long way toward solving two of the principal problems with LA bus service, and the reason why many people opt to drive themselves: slow service and unreliable schedules. After all, people aren’t too inclined to use transportation that will pick them up 10 minutes late and make them miss their transit connection.

The plan still faces blowback from some residents – including the Westwood Neighborhood Council. They argue that adding dedicated lanes for buses and bikes will only make traffic congestion worse.

But it’s worked in the past. Yaroslavsky recalled the bus-only lane installed on Wilshire Boulevard in 2010. Despite facing much of the same criticism from community leaders, the bus lane proved to be massively successful. Ridership is projected to increase by 15% to 20%. What’s more, the traffic congestion the chorus of naysayers anticipated failed to materialize. “It didn’t prove to be the disaster everyone said it would be,” Yaroslavsky said.

In fact, he supports more projects like it. “They definitely didn’t go for the low-hanging fruit there,” he said. “Projects like this are the mark of a dynamic city.”

Making bus service faster and more prompt will encourage people to ride it instead of spending their commute stuck behind a steering wheel. And since the bus system is relatively cheap and easy to expand and maintain, this is the best option for expanding public transit access and encouraging people to ditch their cars for the morning commute.

It doesn’t need to be advertised that LA already has a traffic problem. Like most other big cities, there are a lot of factors contributing to the city’s traffic woes, but the problem can be boiled down to this: too many people, driving too far, toward too many different places.

Since 1984, the city’s population has grown by nearly a million people. Garcetti can’t count on nearly 4 million citizens simply staying home for two weeks, especially in a city that’s only seen growth in international prominence, urban density and traffic.

But the Olympics would provide a unique opportunity for Los Angeles – two weeks on the international stage to show the world that LA isn’t just a giant parking lot. Two weeks of nonstop TV broadcasts watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So a few more bus lanes won’t hurt.

It worked for 2016 Olympics host Rio de Janeiro. And that city has even worse traffic than LA – third worst in the world, to be exact. It’s used its Olympics bid as an opportunity to invest heavily in bus transit and a new subway line. And now, city officials are urging Olympic spectators to ride public transit to events.

LA has been on the right track – no pun intended – in recent decades. It now has 200 different bus lines, six rail lines and a commuter rail system that stretches all the way to Oceanside and the Inland Empire. It’s even constructing an extension to the Purple Subway Line, which is expected to reach the Veteran’s Hospital in time for the Olympics. But that’s nowhere near enough to avert the impending 2024 traffic doomsday.

It’s all part of a larger effort. Between programs like Great Streets, Complete Streets, People St and a bunch of other streets I’m probably missing, Los Angeles is trying to kick its automobile habit by revolutionizing its streetscape. The idea is that more walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods will encourage residents to embrace a car-free lifestyle.

Improving public transit will improve LA traffic, simple as that. And hosting the Olympics could be the jolt the city needs to make serious investments in it.

And maybe, if it receives the Olympic nod, Los Angeles can look forward to a gold medal in the 2024 Game’s most important event: just showing up on time.

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  • Lisa Chapman

    Once again, let’s be clear on the stance of the Westwood Neighborhood Council as far as bike lanes go, as this is often misrepresented in the Daily Bruin. We are NOT against bike lanes, we are opposed to bike lanes on the stretch of Westwood Blvd. from Wilshire to Campus. This stretch of WW Blvd is fraught with huge busses, all day long, pedestrians, UCLA commuters, and bikers. Unfortunately, the bikers lose out when it comes to safety. Plans that have been proposed that “take nothing away” are fraudulent, they take lane size away, and make WW Blvd even more dangerous than it is already. We care about transportation being efficient and safe, pedestrians, and bikers. We have to see the entire picture of an area.We have proposed alternate bike lanes next to WW Blvd on much less congested streets. The Westwood NC is made up not only of homeowners, but renters, business people, students, and many other stakeholders. These articles that marginalize us into one group are misleading and wrong.

    • B McMorran

      Lisa, like transit that goes to/from places that people don’t want to go, don’t you figure that bike lanes elsewhere…that don’t go to/from places people who bike want to go…will just be underutilized? Major bus routes do run up and down WW Blvd. For that very reason I bike down WW Blvd every day…to catch a bus. Is the expectation that I would bike out of my way in order to provide amply wide lanes for cars? Even though studies have shown that narrower lanes are actually safer for all involved? I’d be willing to bet that even with continuous bike lanes on side streets that the number of people who bike down WW Blvd would not change substantially. So if a given population is going to utilize the streets regardless can’t we find a way to accommodate them all safely? Linking up campus bike lanes with those south of Wilshire and ultimately with the Expo line (and Purple line when it comes) seems reasonable to ensure our “transportation being efficient and safe for all, pedestrians, commuters and bikers.”

      • Lisa Chapman

        Would love to see an appropriate plan that can “accomodate them all safely”. Unfortunately, there is no such plan. Ryan’s “take nothing away” plan, reduces the already small lanes on WW Blvd., which are barely large enough to accomodate the bus traffic on this stretch of roadway that already exists. As a biker, I am sure you are already aware of how the buses take over more than their share of a car lane. This makes biking, walking, and driving on WW Blvd. even more dangerous than an average street. Moving one side street over for bikers/ commuters should be no imposition to catching a bus on WW Blvd. They are short blocks, and easy to traverse over to WW Blvd. Looking to the future, with added infrastructure and mass transit, MORE buses and vehicles will be transporting people to campus from the subway / expo stops on Wilshire, Century City, etc. We also have to be aware of how important parking is to the vitality of businesses in Westwood Village. This is not an issue that you can just see from one perspective. It is a ‘big picture” dilemma that we must try and solve. Pitting one group against another is not helpful or productive.

    • Darren

      In response to your concern about buses not fitting in the restriped lanes, under Option 1 of Ryan Snyder’s plan, the left-hand lane would be 11 feet wide and the right lane (closer to the curb) would be 10 feet wide with a 2-foot buffer between the bike lane and the right-hand vehicle lane. This means that buses, which generally stick to the right lane, will have a 10-foot lane plus the 2-foot buffer, effectively giving the bus a 12-foot space to wiggle around in.

      Buses regularly, and comfortably, navigate 11-foot lanes, so having a 10-foot lane plus a 2-foot buffer would be ample space, especially with striping to guide drivers.

      The bike lanes truly do “take nothing away” from buses and motorists. For further information, please review Option 1 as presented on Page 4 of Mr. Snyder’s plan:

      • Lisa Chapman

        Thanks. We reviewed Mr. Snyder’s plan. We are going to have to agree to disagree. I invite you to take an afternoon and sit on Westwood Blvd….try the corner of Westwood and LeConte. Watch the buses and how they navigate the lanes, especially when 3 or 4 buses are there at the same time. It will be an eye-opening experience. Then you might want to go and actually measure the traffic lanes on Westwood. And remember not to measure to the curb, but rather to the parked cars that are actually parked on WW Blvd. I prefer to live in the real world, not the fantasy world of Mr. Snyder.

        • Darren

          I commuted to UCLA every day for two years, bicycling or taking the bus on Westwood Blvd most weekdays, and have even done an on-street parking study in The Village. Based on this on-the-ground experience, I know there is enough room to accommodate at least a standard 5-foot bike lane (i.e., not including the 2-foot buffer in Mr. Snyder’s plan) while maintaining manageable lane widths for buses. While the 2-foot buffer would be nice, a 5-foot lane without the buffer would enable an 8-foot parking lane (7 feet is doable, cities prefer 8 feet), and an 11-foot right-hand bus lane, which as I said is a perfectly normal and navigable land width for buses.

          There will be points, especially at stops, where buses stick out into the bike lane, but that is happening now anyway. A bike lane will help bus drivers and other motorists better sense when they are and when they are not in the path of cyclists, reducing the likelihood of a collision.

          The most significant effect of narrower lane widths on Westwood Blvd will make driving fast, say 30+ MPH, feel less comfortable in a car. But congestion prevents such speeds on Westwood Blvd most of the time anyway, and I suspect you agree that The Village is a place where vehicle speeds of over 20-25 MPH are appropriate.

          • B McMorran

            Can’t agree with your assessment more Darren. There’s no reason a bike lane can’t or shouldn’t fit through that stretch of Westwood Blvd, especially given the amount of people who bike through there.

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