Sunday, June 19, 2016

4 glaring gaps in the Los Angeles County Metro's bus network

About 9 months ago, I singled out 5 lines that I thought Metro should prioritize as part of its short-term list of rail and bus rapid transit project. When looking again at a Metro system map the other day, I was reminded that even with the rail expansion I desire, the backbone of public transit in LA will remain the Metro and municipal bus networks (which offer a crucial "first mile-last mile" connection for rail transit users). The map showed me the extensiveness of the bus system but also revealed deficiencies on some crucial transportation corridors. The following list presents the five most glaring of these "gaps".

1. Valley to Basin (Especially on the Westside)

After losing a morning (or afternoon) appointment on the "other side of the hill" due to bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405, valley residents frequently start petitions like this one demanding that Metro construct the long-awaited rail (or light-rail) line through the Sepulveda Pass. While I bemoan the prolonged timetable of the Sepulveda Pass rail connection, I find the inadequacy of bus connections between the Valley and the LA basin to be equally disconcerting. The Rapid 734 bus that runs along Sepulveda down from Sylmar and over the Sepulveda only goes as far south as the Sepulveda Expo station on the basin side. This forces those traveling further south to not merely change buses but switch to the Culver City Bus system's rapid 6 line (with a different fare structure) if traveling down to Culver City or the airport. Furthermore, the Sepulveda rapid 734 and local 234 are the only two bus lines that traverse Sepulveda Pass (aside from a peak-only express bus service between Arleta and Westwood): those who need to get between any two destinations not on Sepulveda, say from the corner Bundy and Santa Monica to the corner of Van Nuys and Oxnard (where the Van Nuys Civic Center is located) have to change twice. This routing ignores the fact that, as a "chokepoint," the Sepulveda Pass "funnels" traffic from multiple major activity hubs on both sides of the hill, few of which border Sepulveda. Ideally, bus lines from Bundy, Van Nuys, and Reseda might converge at Sepulveda and travel over the pass from there.
The situation is even worse for bus service over the Cahuenga Pass. Metro's "156" and 222 Locals, the only buses that cross the pass, both terminate south of the pass in Hollywood (the former at Santa Monica and Highland and the latter at Hollywood and Highland), rather than continuing to, say, La Brea or Vine and Rossmore (close to the heart of the Wilshire Corridor). Fortunately, the Red Line (which interfaces at Hollywood/Highland with the La Brea and Fairfax rapid and local busses) provides reliable service under the pass (from the basin to Universal City--and points beyond), though it does not help one if he or she needs to get to locations within the pass, like the Ford Theater or the famed Joe's Falafel. Sigh.

2. Culver City/Palms to Wilshire Corridor and West Hollywood
Home to some of the Los Angeles area's most cutting-edge art galleries and trendiest restaurants (including the infamous Father's Office), Downtown Culver City is as much of a regional destination on the weekends as during the week (when the Sony studios and light industrial district along Ballona Creek draw in thousands of employee commuters from across the region). A steady flow of Bobo traffic between here and the Beverly Hills segment of the Wilshire Corridor (which houses a considerable bulk of Los Angeles' financial and medical office space and is a magnet for well-heeled tourists)--three miles to the north-- is highly predictable, and can be confirmed, in part, by the daily traffic pile-ups on Robertson Blvd (which is the most direct arterial link between these two areas, given that the Beverlywood and Cheviot Hills residential neighborhoods to the west denies another north-south arterial link before Motor) starting just south of the Pico. Adding to the potential demand for public transit along the corridor is the Culver City Expo Line station, which provides residents of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood an alternative (for getting to University Park or Santa Monica) to the 10 freeway, so long as they can avoid the station's crowded parking lot. Despite this, Metro currently runs only hourly local service on Robertson Blvd, and only during the week. Supplementary Big Blue Bus service along this arterial was cut as part of service realignments implemented in connection with the Expo phase II opening.

3. Hollywood/Mid-Wilshire area to LAX
Driving through the Baldwin Hills on La Cienaga or La Brea at 4pm on a weekday is a hellish experience, not far behind that of the Sepulveda Pass. Like the Santa Monica Mountains, the Baldwin Hills create a chokepoint on an important corridor: all traffic between the airport and its surrounding jobs centers, and the tourist hotspot of Hollywood and (entertainment and financial) jobs centers of Mid-Wilshire, Beverly Hills and Fairfax gets funneled onto one of two arterials. To an even greater extent than the Sepulveda Pass Corridor, the Baldwin Hills thoroughfares lack bus connections that provide a viable alternative to aggressive driving. The 705 Rapid and 105 Local Busses, which service La Cienaga through the basin, both swerve eastward to Vernon Ave (by way of Rodeo Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) at the foot of the Baldwin Hills, leaving only the 217 local (which joins La Cienaga from Fairfax north of Jefferson) to traverse the transmontane portion of La Cienaga (and only on weekdays) . Once over the hill, the 217 does not veer southwest (onto La Tijera) towards the LAX City Bus Center, as logic would dictate, but heads one mile west (on Centinela) to the Fox Hills Mall, ultimately ending at the Howard Hughes Center: technically, you can change from the 217 to the 102 at the junction of La Cienaga to continue the journey but the latter route has such low frequencies as to not even consitute a real option. On La Brea, the 212 and 312 routes offer a direct path of service from Hollywood to Inglewood, but stay a good two-and-a-half miles east of the LAX terminals (since La Brea Avenue itself keeps this distance from the airport). The Flyaway bus service provides a nonstop connection to the Airport terminals from the heart of Hollywood, but is inconvenient for travelers originating from intermediate points and costs a hefty 10 dollars per ride.

4. Central Los Angeles to the Far Westside (i.e. West of the 405)

This link would seem obvious to anyone who knows about Los Angeles' "linear downtown" (along Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds.). After all, the apartment section of Brentwood south of Wilshire is as much of a bedroom community for UCLA (to the east) as Palms is. Tourists who start off their day in Hollywood gravitate towards Santa Monica Pier or the Venice beachfront like cells engaged in osmosis, while Santa Monica's software designers and chefs drift en masse , nightly, back to their Beverly Hills mansions, Silver Lake apartments or Downtown restaurants. Sadly, traveling by bus to the coast along either Santa Monica or Wilshire from points west of Sepulveda often requires a transfer on weekdays, not merely between busses but between the LA County Metro and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus systems (since half of the rapid 704 and 720 buses --and virtually all of the local 4 and 20 buses--that travel these arterials, end at Westwood or Sepulveda): unlike with transfers from one Metro bus to another (which are included in Metro's regular fare), an intersystem transfer requires either the purchase of a paper transfer (when starting on Big Blue Bus) or adding a special municipal transfer fee to one's TAP card (when coming from Metro).  Moreover, such manuevers are necessary for those traveling to Santa Monica on Olympic Blvd from any point west of Century City (where the Metro 728 rapid, that services the arterial from Downtown, ends and the Big Blue Bus 5 takes over). Traveling east from the coastal area on Pico Blvd., the number 7 and Rapid 7 Big Blue Bus routes get one as far as the Rimpau Transit Center or Wilshire/Western metro station (thus offering access to West LA and Pico-Robertson), but require transferring to the Metro bus or rail system to get all the way Downtown. The completion of the Expo Line has eased the connection from Santa Monica to Downtown (and to areas along the 10 Freeway), but runs a good distance south of the "heart" of the Wilshire Corridor.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Many of these are issues that I have also wondered about. Here are some of my comments:

    Valley to Westside buses: (1) Topanga-Ventura-Sep Pass limited to UCLA; (2) Sepulveda - Sep Pass limited to UCLA; (3) Van Nuys - Sep Pass limited to UCLA. Essentially, UCLA/Westwood Village area should be the main transfer point between these 3 key Valley routes and the Westside. These are long buses, you can't expect one bus to go from the north end of the Valley all the way to the South Bay unless it is an express bus with very few stops. The above suggestions will stop at every key E-W arterial of the Valley. There should also be a local bus along Beverly Glen to serve the commute from Van Nuys/Ventura to Century City, similar to the Laurel Canyon bus.

    Valley to Hollywood: Thanks to the red line, the existing services along the Pass are sufficient. U City and NoHO are big hubs for Valley buses and Hollywood/Highland serves buses along La Brea and Fairfax.

    (2) Pity the poor Robertson bus. It shows so much promise as a key connector, yet it is always cut to death.

    (3) I have been wanting the 217-Fairfax to reach LAX for the longest time. I always thought it was wierd to have the N-S route stop at WLA Transit Center and have a the 439 reach LAX, which basically serves Downtown along the freeway. When I was growing up there was local service from LAX to Lincoln, Sepulveda, Robertson (very round about), and the 42 towards La Tijera/MLK. There definitely should have been a bus from LAX to either Fairfax or La Cienega. With the Expo line, we can finally say good bye to the 439, but the 217 should follow the 439's old southern routing all the way to LAX, as you suggest.

    The beauty of LA's bus system is its grid. But the grid only works if its complete. Every major N-S street from Lincoln to Vermont should have a bus connecting Hollywood or Sunset Blvds to at least the green line (or LAX).

    (4) There certainly is demand for direct connecting bus service along any of the main E-W arterials all the way to the beach. However, because of "turf wars" only 2-Sunset and 33-Venice make this trip. I think every rapid bus along SM, Beverly, Wilshire, Olympic, and Pico should do this trip. And yes, Beverly becasue there shouldn't be a gap of 2miles in mid-city between Wilshire and SM for a full-length downtown to beach trip.