Throughout this year, the city of Los Angeles has been adding bus-only lanes to a handful of corridors in Downtown. And now, that effort has been extended to the neighboring communities of Westlake and Echo Park. Officials will study the feasibility of peak-hour bus-only lanes along a 1.6-mile stretch of Alvarado Street between 7th Street and Sunset Boulevard, according to a staff report issued by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
The proposed project would reportedly convert existing peak-hour travel lanes between Mon. and Fri., operating from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. southbound, and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. northbound. It is expected that the dedicated bus lanes would increase service frequency along the corridor from 10 minutes to 7 minutes, while also cutting three minutes of travel time from each direction. Travel times in the other mixed-flow lanes would be impacted by approximately 90 seconds.
The corridor will begin next to the Westlake/MacArthur Park subway station and intersect with several major bus lines, running through neighborhoods which are majority Latino and overwhelmingly transit-dependent. Metro data indicates that 94% of residents in the area do not own vehicles, and 77% of residents rely on bus service five days per week or more.
It was previously reported that despite an early panic regarding the use of public transportation during the pandemic, scientists recently said that public transit has proven to be one of the most COVID-safe places to be outside the home.
Metro and LADOT staff expect to begin community outreach in Jan. 2021, and a traffic study for the project is already underway. The project design could also bring about other safety improvements to the corridor, including new lighting and pedestrian infrastructure.
The proposed Alvarado Street bus lane and the peak-hour lanes already operating on Wilshire Boulevard, 5th Street, 6th Street, and Flower Street are the most tangible evidence of Metro’s NextGen Bus Plan. A sweeping realignment of the Countywide transportation network, the program aims to improve service speed and frequency, which has the potential to increase ridership by upwards of 20%. As part of the effort, Metro reportedly plans to invest $750 million in infrastructure such bus-only lanes and synchronized traffic lights, while also spending roughly $150 million to improve accessibility and passenger amenities at stations.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the crippling blow to public transit ridership nationwide has hindered the implementation of the NextGen Plan. Metro, which relies heavily on sales tax revenue for funding, slashed its budget for fiscal year 2021 to $6 billion – down $1.2 billion from 2020. The budget cut is ultimately reflected in a 20% reduction to bus service, as well as pared back service on subway and light rail lines.
Despite this, planning for new bus infrastructure continues. Additional peak-hour lanes are proposed for Grand Avenue and Olive Street in Downtown, as well as along Lincoln Boulevard in Venice. Regional bus rapid transit projects could also bring all-day exclusive lanes to a handful of corridors in Northeast Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.