It’s a really good idea to create more bus-only lanes along heavily traveled corridors in Los Angeles: Bus speeds in LA County have declined for more than a decade, while complaints about the reliability of bus arrival times have increased and ridership has continued to decline (25% in the last decade).
A bird's eye view of a dedicated bus lane in action. We're moving nearly 70 buses an hour through the Flower Street bus lane each evening! pic.twitter.com/funsVVdX81— LA Metro (@metrolosangeles) July 23, 2019
Metro has been working with the City of Los Angeles to implement bus-only lanes in downtown LA on 5th and 6th, on a quarter-mile segment of Aliso from Spring to Alameda, and on Flower (as part of the rehab project for the A Line in 2019)—with resounding success. The 2019 pilot on Flower—which came to halt with the arrival of COVID but will soon reopen—increased travel speeds by up to 30% and ridership by 32%. And the impact on car traffic was negligible, with speeds slowing just 2 mph on a 35 mph street.
Another bus-only lane opened on Alvarado this summer from 7th Street up to the 101 freeway (the segment north to Sunset Boulevard will be installed later this fall)—with a bus traveling south to DTLA in the curb lane during the morning rush hour (7-10 a.m.) and north in the curb lane in evening (3-7 p.m.). This line is expected to speed up bus service by at least 15%, with a bus arriving every 7-8 minutes.
The importance of bus-only lanes is clear when one looks at the equity benefits of, for example, the Alvarado line:
- 94% of bus riders on Alvarado do not own or have access to a car and rely on bus service
- 77% of riders take the bus at least 5 times a week
- 63% of riders live below the poverty line
- 63% have been riding transit for 5 or more years
- 96% are people of color
- 67% are local residents.
Moreover bus-only lanes may help LADOT reach its Vision Zero commitment to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025 (nearly half of those killed were walking or biking). Bus priority lanes have been shown to improve overall safety by reducing accidents caused by aggressive lane weaving, excessive speeding and failure to yield, and because they separate buses from car traffic.
True, traffic flow can slow down by 90 seconds—approximately one red light signal—but hey drivers, isn’t it time we make streets safer for bus riders, pedestrians and people on bikes?!
THE NEWEST BUS-ONLY LANES
Metro’s newest bus-only lane is a couplet planned for southbound Grand Avenue from Pico to Hope Place, and northbound Olive from Pico to 2nd Street—which can together serve about 60 buses per hour(!) or about a bus per minute, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Approximately 120,000 passengers ride buses that serve this corridor now, and it will benefit riders on routes from South LA, San Gabriel Valley, Westside and the Gateway Cities in Southeast LA, while also benefitting municipal transit operators including LADOT DASH, Foothill Transit Commuter Express and Torrance Transit 4X.
This program will include a “signal queue jumper” at 5th and Flower that allows buses to pick up riders across the street from downtown’s Central Library and immediately merge to the left—before cars merge to the right to get on the 110 freeway—in order to quickly and safely continue into Westlake.
Metro is also partnering with the City of Los Angeles to pilot and test amenities including real-time arrival information as well as lighting at several bus stops on Grand and Olive. Metro is also looking at ways to improve the walking and waiting experience, and advocates are asking for shade trees. The bus-only lane will take up the far-right travel lane, and people on bikes will have the protected far-left lane. In between are 2 lanes for car traffic.
Interest in bus-only lanes heated up in 2019 as part of the discussion about improving bus ridership with projects that would also support the NextGen plan and that would be done in coordination with LADOT and municipal operators. The goal: to increase travel speed, service frequency and system reliability—and these recently implemented projects have done all of that.
The bus system in LA hasn’t been examined and re-configured for decades, even though both the city and county have changed dramatically, as have the needs of riders. Metro and the City of Los Angeles are also working on improving bus speeds by
- Adding bus-only lanes outside of downtown LA
- Expanding Transit Priority Signaling (TPS)—technology that can extend green lights—to include the entire bus fleet
- Continuing to expand all-door boarding.
Climate change is here and in California transportation is responsible for at least half of all GHGs when emissions from oil refineries are included. We must persuade people to drive less. Making buses more frequent and convenient is one good way to do it.
The LA Times Editorial Board put in this way in a 2019 story, at about the same time that LA City Councilmember and Metro Boardmember Mike Bonin made a motion to improve bus speeds: “A slow bus is less convenient and reliable, and it certainly won’t entice people out of their cars. But a bus that comes every 10 minutes and then speeds past cars stuck in traffic? Now that’s a much more appealing choice , not to mention a far better service for the people who rely on public transit to get to school and work. That’s why bus rapid transit and bus only lanes are so important.”