5 Ways to Vastly Improve the City’s Bus-Only Lanes

Because a bus that doesn’t sit in traffic is a happy bus

Santa Monica is getting a lot of things right lately when it comes to transportation. The city had a bike share before L.A. did, welcomed the Expo Line with open arms, and make the stations’ surrounding streets more amenable to pedestrians and cyclists. 

The latest step in the right direction is Santa Monica’s decision to turn one lane of Lincoln Boulevard into a bus-only lane during rush hour. It seems a relatively modest project—buses traveling north from 7 to 9 a.m. get exclusive access to a lane once used for parking, while buses going south from 4 to 7 p.m. get access to the parking lane–and it represents a huge change for traffic-averse, and change-averse Santa Monica.

Officials think riders will gain eight minutes in one ride—possibly even 25 minutes if the lane is extended to the Green Line near LAX—which adds up to nearly an hour and a half a week. Imagine if Santa Monica had bus lanes going in both directions and extended rides until 7:30 p.m. (when rush-hour really starts to quiet down).

Though Santa Monica’s Lincoln experiment is humble, it’s commendable—and it’s more than L.A. or nearby cities are doing. Here’s what they could and should:

1. Expand the Wilshire Boulevard bus lane from the ocean to East L.A.

We won’t have a cross-city subway for another six years, at least. A bus-lane on L.A.’s main drag is a necessity until then, and after. Right now, there’s a patchwork bus lane on Wilshire that cuts out in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. The latter city should be easy to convince, but the former will be a tough sell. Transit-averse Beverly Hills is probably the most congested part of Wilshire, though.

2. Give Santa Monica Boulevard buses priority

Yes, SMB is a damn mess as it is, but people on transit shouldn’t have to suffer as much as those causing the actual traffic. An SMB bus-only lane can be added in segments–a line cutting through West Hollywood would drastically cut down travel times for riders, and transit-loving WeHo would probably go for it. A line slicing through East Hollywood would make it that much easier to hop on the subway near Los Angeles Community College.

3. A La Brea Express could speed Expo riders to Hollywood

With the Expo Line, you can travel from Downtown to Santa Monica relatively stress-free. Meanwhile, the Red Line provides a quick link between DTLA and Hollywood, but if you’re trying to get from Hollywood to Santa Monica or vice-versa, you have to completely backtrack on the train. Until the Crenshaw Line extends to Hollywood, we need a quick way to get people from Crenshaw, Mid-City, and Santa Monica up to Hollywood, and a La Brea bus-only lane would do it. With much of the construction for the future La Brea station on Wilshire now underground, it wouldn’t cause a traffic apocalypse (well, relatively speaking).

4. All-door boarding is needed now

Metro just passed a resolution adding all-door boarding on its popular express buses on Wilshire and Vermont, saving mucho time on people fumbling for change or tourists asking for directions and holding up the whole queue. The problem is it’s limited to these two routes and won’t happen until 2018 (Wilshire won’t have all-door boarding until December 2018!) Metro needs to speed this project way up and bring it to lines like Van Nuys, Crenshaw, and Olympic.

5. Start ticketing drivers for darn sake

We often see scofflaw drivers traveling through the bus lanes while fellow cars sweat it out in the regular lanes, like they’re supposed to. Where are the cops? If the LAPD can pocket tens of thousands through pedestrian stings, they should be more than happy to nail that Mercedes SUV racing through Koreatown.