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Traveling down Wilshire: Better options to come




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Last Tuesday, I made the ill-fated decision to drive to Santa Monica — and spent about 20 minutes trying to go two blocks on Wilshire Boulevard. Cars trying to get on the 405 caused a major traffic jam!

Wilshire is my favorite boulevard, but traveling down it really poses some problems at the moment. Driving down the thing’s an exercise in frustration, and these days, is also an act that plagues me with eco-guilt. I love walking down Wilshire, except the sidewalk suddenly ends on the north side of the street in Beverly Hills, forcing pedestrians to make a mad, dangerous dash across six lanes of traffic. Also, walking to Santa Monica from my apartment in West Hollywood takes a really long time. I do take the Metro 720 sometimes, and the rapid bus is great at odd hours — but gets stuck in the same, infuriating traffic snarl during most of the day. And the Metro Purple Line would be great to ride — except its current plans stop a few miles short of the sea and, in any case, the subway extension won’t actually exist for many many years.

Do you have the same Wilshire woes I do? Then I hope you’re staying informed and involved in the plans to alleviate some of those travel problems — by making public transit a more viable option. In case you’re new to the plans, here’s a quick summary of what’s being planned for Wilshire:

Rush hour bus-only lanes. Metro’s got a plan to create 8.7 miles of bus-only lanes between Centinela and South Park view between 7 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 7 pm on weekdays. If approved, bus trips could be 12 to 17 minutes faster come mid-2012, when the project’s expected to be completed.

Not everyone’s happy about the bus-only lane plans though. According to LA Times, “high-rise residents of Westwood’s ‘condo canyon’ are pushing to exempt a nearly mile-long stretch of Wilshire between Comstock and Selby avenues because, they contend, the bus-only lane would cause huge backups for motorists in an area where traffic already moves smoothly.” That exemption could imperil the project’s chances of getting a $23 million “Very Small Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Administration, which is hoped to pay for the bulk of the estimated $31 million project.

Have an opinion on whether or not the Westwood stretch in question should be included in the rush-hour bus-only lanes plans? The Metro Board will be taking up the decision at a regular meeting on Dec. 9. Find out more about the project from Metro’s reports, then go ready to opinionate on Thu., Dec. 9 at 9:30 am.

Westside subway extension. The Metro Board’s approved a plan to extend the Purple Line down Wilshire to Westwood. That big plan’s one of the projects glowingly named in a NY Times article about L.A.’s about to dramatically expand its mass transit system: “Transit officials said the ride from Koreatown to Westwood by subway would take 24 minutes, compared with 50 minutes during the rush in a car or on a bus.”

This plan, unfortunately, still has a lot of uncertainties. For one, federal money hoped to help build out the subway faster many not come, due to a Republican-controlled House. As LA Times’ Steve Lopez pointed out in a recent column, without the federal funds, the subway won’t be built until 2036. With the money, the project could open by 2019.

For another, the Wilshire subway plan too is opposed by some neighborhood groups. NY Times reports that Beverly Hills is putting up a fight:

Beverly Hills officials oppose a proposed stretch of the Purple Line because it would burrow under a public high school; they want the line moved a few blocks north. That has its own complications: skirting the high school would put the subway cheek by jowl against an earthquake fault that runs down Santa Monica Boulevard.

LA Times has covered the kerfuffle too. That issue had the Metro Board approve further study of the Beverly Hills and other segments — so expect to hear more about that fight soon.

Both of these Wilshire projects have raised a larger debate — about whether or not Angelenos will actually get out of their cars and onto public transit. I’m convinced many Angelenos eager to leave the car at home if given a viable alternative. I am one of them. Others, like LA Weekly reporter Patrick Range McDonald, are not so convinced. Believe it or not, Patrick and I are actually neighbors. He’s a nice guy who went out of his way to get me a package that had been misdelivered to him — which is how we discovered we lived next door to each other.

Patrick and I will be taking a Metro ride together soon to discuss public transit. Have a suggestion where we should go on our first trip? Got a question for Patrick or me? Suggest and ask in the comments.

Photo of traffic on Wilshire Boulvevard in Westwood (Steven Damron/Flickr)