Can a Rapid Transit Line Save Messy, Perilous Vermont Avenue?

A new north-south connection could transform the shoddy 23-mile-long street

Though not technically a boulevard, Vermont is one of those iconic L.A. thoroughfares that stretches for miles and passes through iconic neighborhoods (Los Feliz, Koreatown, West Adams, Torrance, etc.). With hundreds of thousands living on or near it, Vermont is served by four subway stations and two light rail stops. All the train service runs east-west though, meaning the only way to traverse the length of Vermont is via buses like the 754 and the 204, which are some of the busiest routes in the transit system.

With billions now in its kitty thanks to Measure M, Metro is looking to address the lackluster transit service on Vermont and lighten the load on those packed, slow buses. While the transit agency once bandied about a light rail line, it’s now looking at bus rapid transit—basically, giving buses exclusive lanes and train-ish amenities like all-door boarding and curbside payment (no more tourists fumbling for change while riders fume). Metro is now looking at options for how the BRT will operate—side-running, center lane-running, curbside running, or a mix—and hopes to start work in 2024, if not sooner. With Measure M, Metro says its possible the BRT can be converted to light rail in the future.

Center-running option for the bus-rapid transit line

Image courtesy The Source

Renderings from Metro’s community presentation show a painted lane on Vermont indicating a bus-only space. The images look similar to the MyFigueroa plan, which is adding bus-only lanes, bus shelters, landscaping, wider sidewalks, and bike lanes to a stretch of Figueroa between USC and DTLA. Could Vermont get a similar upgrade with the BRT? For much of Vermont’s length, it’s covered with shade-less, broken sidewalks, dirty bus benches, overflowing trash cans, and buildings that are both dilapidated and anti-pedestrian, with numerous parking lots and driveways pushing up against the street (think of the grocery stores at Vermont and 3rd), instead of mixed-use buildings.

Vermont’s suburban model is starting to change slowly in Koreatown, north of the Wilshire/Vermont station. But knocking down an old Denny’s and putting up a seven-story apartment building isn’t the only solution to Vermont’s woes. Metro needs to work with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and invest in the street experience, ensuring the BRT’s riders have functioning sidewalks and shade trees; flower beds instead of litter and transit maps instead of graffiti. Pushing safety is even more important; Vermont needs clearly-marked crosswalks and traffic light synchronization that doesn’t force pedestrians to cross often-wide Vermont in 15 seconds.

Vermont should be a premier street in L.A., like Wilshire, Beverly, Crenshaw, or La Brea; instead it looks neglected and sad. If Metro wants to reverse its staggering bus ridership drop, the agency needs to pay attention to all the things that discourage people from getting on board.