News Clips

May 25, 2011

OnCentral: How a Westside bus plan could change veterans' lives downtown

OnCentral | Rick Little

Los Angeles has the nation’s largest veteran population – and the most veterans who are homeless. Many live in the shadows of downtown L.A. and struggle with substance abuse and the aftershocks of trauma related to what they experienced in military service.

For these veterans, the 720 bus down Wilshire Boulevard isn’t just transportation, it’s a lifeline between the shelters of Skid Row and the hope of recovery.

A simple proposal could change veterans’ lives and the lives of 80,000 other people who ride the 720 every day: dedicate the curb-side lane on Wilshire Boulevard exclusively to buses during commute hours for an 8.7 mile stretch from MacArthur Park to where L.A. meets the City of Santa Monica.

People who take the bus down Wilshire during rush hour will save as much as 30 minutes of travel time each day. That means veterans heading to the Westwood VA, students en route to UCLA, restaurant workers traveling from Westlake to jobs in Santa Monica, and Westsiders heading to their jobs in downtown could each save as much as 130 hours in commute time each year.

As someone who works alongside veterans every day as they struggle to get their lives back on track, I support the proposal.

This should be a slam-dunk project that creates jobs, improves transit, reduces air pollution and greenhouse gases, and moves L.A. a step closer to realizing its vision of being a 21st century green metropolis. So why are the city and MTA Board, who have to sign off on the project, thinking twice?

The project has faced opposition from some homeowners including residents in Westwood and Brentwood who want their neighborhoods excluded. They say faster buses will inconvenience car drivers. Their objections have led to a proposal to cut the project in half.

There are a lot of other good reasons to support the 8.7-mile bus-only lane instead of hacking it in half to appease homeowners.

Of the 24,000 people traveling in cars on Wilshire every day, 10% of them are expected to get out of their cars and onto the bus because of the time savings from the commute-hour bus-lanes. That translates into an estimated annual reduction of in 88,000 tons of carbon emissions and 10,000 tons of criteria pollutants – a boon for our smog-choked city.

U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard helped secure $23.3 million in federal funds for the project. If adopted in its 8.7-mile entirety, these funds will generate over 100 jobs repairing and repaving one of the region’s most pot-holed riddled streets. This will be a boon for a city with a nagging 12% unemployment rate and a budget deficit of well over $300 million.

Whittling down the bus-only lane will mean sending up to $10 million back to the federal government. And it could mean similar projects – like median bus-lanes proposed for Van Nuys Boulevard – even more of an uphill political battle in the future.

Bus-only lanes are considered a best practice by transit planners and have helped transform traffic from London to Sydney to Seoul to Bogota, Colombia. They are now being implemented in New York. If given the chance, bus-only lanes will work here in L.A.

Veterans get why it matters. Clifton Moore, a retired Vietnam War veteran, says, “This is not just a bus rider issue. It is a veteran’s issue.” You can see more from Clifton here:

Veterans served our country and many paid the price. They are good enough to ride through our neighborhoods.

Rick Little is director of Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans Advancement.