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Yaroslavsky Asks for Bus Lane on Wilshire

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

February 18 -- Saying that traffic congestion on the Westside is “spreading like a cancer,” County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked local officials Thursday to designate a bus-only lane along Wilshitre Boulevard.

The bus lane would be in effect during peak hours from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles, said Yaroslavsky, noting that “it’s going to be a long time before there ever is a Wilshire Boulevard subway.”

The request to think “outside the box” and “have the courage to try simple solutions” came during a meeting of the Westside Council of Governments at City Hall in Culver City.

With the City of Los Angeles already on board, the supervisor is now enlisting support from city leaders in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

“It’s got to go to Santa Monica,” Yaroslavsky told Westside officials. “It’s got to go east, and it’s got to go west” to be a viable transportation option.

The curb lanes along Wilshire Boulevard between Federal and Centinela avenues have already been dedicated for buses during peak hours as part of a pilot program that has been in effect for a year, Yaroslavsky said.

But the program will die, he added, if it is not extended into Santa Monica.

Acknowledging that it would be a hard sell politically -- especially with motorists and area merchants -- Yaroslavsky offered to give local leaders “political cover.”

“Try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll kill it,” he advised elected officials to tell their constituents.

Council member Kevin McKeown, one of six representatives from Santa Monica at the meeting, said it would take more than just convincing constituents to accept the idea.

“To see our challenge, look at the change in skyline along Wilshire Boulevard from Santa Monica and West L.A.” McKeown said after the meeting.

“They’ve already redeveloped with high rises and underground parking,” he said. “Our small local businesses rely on street parking, and we don’t want to tear down those buildings just to get buses.”

The dedicated bus lane would likely be a short-term solution to the Westside’s traffic woes, officials said.

Ultimately, a light rail system is expected to link Santa Monica and Los Angeles, but recent cuts in the state budget have slashed funds for the Exposition Light Rail project, leaving only enough cash to lay tracks from the Downtown LA to Culver City. This first phase of the project is expected to be completed by 2010.

Yaroslavsky expects to get the money for phase two -- which will bring the line to its terminus in Santa Monica -- but says he is facing stiff competition from the San Gabriel Valley for matching Federal funds.

Meanwhile, Yaroslavsky advocates for “bit-by-bit solutions” to get the Westside moving “here and now.”

We can’t wait for “something that takes 25 years to build,” he said.

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