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Los Angeles Times Says: Forget "BRT" – Go With Light Rail!

Introduction by Light Rail Progress

Light rail transit supporters in West Los Angeles have been working vigorously to gain support for light rail transit (LRT) along the Exposition corridor, from downtown LA westward to Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast. it's been an uphill struggle against "Bus Rapid Transit" backers in the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA), who've been making extravagant claims that a busway, or "BRT" alternative would deliver equivalent service at lower cost – a claim that is highly dubious and energetically disputed.

In recent years, shaken by "sticker shock" at the cost of LA's Red Line subway, some LA decisionmakers – particularly, LA's rightwing conservative mayor Richard Riordan – have started trumpeting "BRT" as a "rubber-tire surface subway" alternative to rail transit, even LRT. Evidently heeding the current political winds, LACMTA planners and consultants have ostensibly been tweaking alternatives analyses of BRT vs. LRT in several corridors, including Expostion, to exaggerate LRT design and cost elements while "lowballing" these same features of BRT – and shaving critical design features like safety.

One glaring problem is the assumption of tremendous numbers of buses travelling along the corridor in peak times, and the concomitant downplaying of the impact of these vehicles on cross-traffic. For example, for the BRT alternative, at one end of the Exposition corridor, the Draft Environmental impact Statement/Report (EIS/EIR) blithely notes that "Combined headways range from 3.3 minute service on the west end of the project to 1.5 minutes on the east end of the project. " For both directions, that means at average interruption of cross-traffic every 45 seconds! How LACMTA planners expect that level of transit operation to fit into LA's heavily congested Westside street traffic volumes is never addressed.
Source: LACMTA, Mid-City/Westside Transit/Draft EIS/EIR (2001) p. 2-33

Furthermore, this volume of bus traffic is assumed to be flowing at 55 mph, protected at high-volume intersections by crossing gates. Yet there's a fundamental flaw in this design assumption: Gate-protected intersection crossings for buses are not currently legal in California! And while it's true that legislation might be introduced to change this constraint, similar legislative changes to permit more efficient LRT operation are not considered.

In an even more alarming departure from professional safety standards, LACMTA's design assumes "skip-stop" operation – whereby express buses would access only selected stations by passing others stopped at "local" stations. But how would this be accomplished on a 2-lane BRT paveway? LACMTA planners assume that highspeed buses would pass "local" buses stopped at stations by using the opposing lane – and therefore risking head-on collision! Even a child could perceive how exceedingly dangerous such an operation would be, which should ring alarm bells at the National Transportation Safety Administration (NTSA), if not the Federal Transit Administraion (which apparently has looked the other way, in its zeal to promote BRT). That such an astoundingly dangerous design and operation feature would even be considered is a glaring exposure of how the enthusiasm for (supposed) cost-shaving through BRT is apparently blinding responsible officials to the overriding need to protect public safety and the safety of transit passengers.

Nevertheless, despite the extravagant design and operational assumptions accorded BRT, the LRT alternative in the Exposition corridor is projected to attract 51,400 daily person-trips – 77% more than the 29,000 projected for the officially favored BRT alternative!
Source: LACMTA, Mid-City/Westside Transit/Draft EIS/EIR (2001) Table 5-5

In the following editorial, the influential Los Angeles Times comes out solidly in support of LRT for the Exposition corridor – a development which represents at least a partial success for the hard work of LRT proponents.

Los Angeles Times Editorial

Saturday, April 28, 2001

Putting Westside on Rails

A new projection boosts the prospects of a much needed line to downtown. The populace, it would appear, is not welded into automobiles after all.

Take one look at the daily crush on the Santa Monica Freeway--or the major east-west surface streets – and there can be little doubt about the need for mass transit on the Westside.

Yet other than a few freeway commuter buses, there's nothing. For years, the most thoughtful plan to ease traffic congestion has been held hostage to the self-fulfilling myth that Westsiders will never give up their cars.

Now, a new report on the proposed Exposition light rail line should quickly put that isconception to rest and finally get this key transit project out of neutral.

The Exposition line would carry riders between Santa Monica and downtown in about 45 minutes; from there they could easily transfer to other lines--to Long Beach, the San Fernando Valley and, eventually, Pasadena and East Los Angeles.

The 17.3-mile route, running largely along Exposition Boulevard near the Santa Monica Freeway, has long been a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's planning because it would be relatively easy and low-cost to build.

The MTA already holds title to the right of way, an old railroad line, and could tap federal and state funds already committed to the Westside.

The agency's environmental impact report, released this month, projects Exposition line ridership comparable to that of the Blue Line and more than the Green Line's.

That's because the Westside has the highest population, 1.5 million, and employment density of any Southern California area. Moreover, while the next 20 years will surely see significant growth in both population and jobs in an already nearly gridlocked area, no significant expansion of existing freeway and street networks is planned.

Residents along the Blue Line to Pasadena, now under construction, and the proposed Eastside extension have lobbied hard for those two transit alternatives.

Meanwhile, the loudest Westside voices the MTA heard for years were those of Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park homeowners vehemently opposed to the prospect of trains running by their neighborhoods.

A rerouted Exposition line now avoids those areas, dipping south to include parts of Culver City. The line, which was frozen in planning limbo for years, has started to attract the grass-roots support it has long deserved.

But the line still faces high political hurdles on the MTA board, starting with Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the board's current chairwoman.

Burke, a county supervisor, has long resisted this line, although in running through her district it would ease the commuting nightmares of many of her constituents.

Burke has tied progress on the Exposition line to approval of a dedicated busway along Wilshire Boulevard for the Metro Rapid bus already running there. But the busway is likely to take up a lane on one of the city's busiest streets while yielding little improvement in the Rapid bus' travel time.

The Exposition line, potentially serving many more riders, would be faster and less disruptive. Exposition merits approval without linkage to the Wilshire bus.

The MTA will hold a series of public hearings on the Exposition line report beginning May 7. Come July, after Burke rotates off as board chair, the MTA could take action, at long last green-lighting this worthy project.

Rev. 2001/05/13


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