BRT Envy. What? BRT means "bus rapid transit" and "envy," well, we all know what that means. And that is what some Westsiders have and civic leaders like LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl are pandering to. It dawns on me as I sit on the Metro 720 "Rapid" bus in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I am heading west on Wilshire just shy of Westwood Blvd and the world, or at least the traffic, is standing still.
Lightbulb. The handful of vocal opponents of the Wilshire BRT dedicated bus lane idea are jealous of Metro's big high-capacity Rapid buses driven by men and women who know better than to text or talk on the phone without a headset while they are driving. This is more than I can say for many of those I see stuck in traffic alongside the bus.
Why is it that some supposedly pro-transit politicians appear to have caved in, again, to the not-in-my backyard- (NIMBY-) inspired lobbying and cajoling of the No Real BRT on Wilshire camp? These anti-BRTers are the shortsighted homeowners and business owners of the Condo Canyon and Brentwood, and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica before them, who have asked Councilman Rosendahl and others to lie down in front of the buses on Wilshire. You see the anti-BRT whiners drive and love their cars, and in all likelihood, rarely take the bus. And they will stop at nothing to maintain their god-given right to drive alone in... traffic.
Don't get me wrong. I drive too, but not when public transit is a better option and not without remorse that I am part of the problem. We all are, and it is time to take some responsibility for the fine mess we have gotten ourselves into.
What makes me crazy and kinda angry about this classic case of LA civic strife is the fact that even if the whiners are publicly or privately for Metro's expansion and the 30/10 Initiative they just can't accept the idea that a bus full of commuters should actually move faster than they do along Wilshire during rush hour.
But you know what, the joke is on the whiners, as well as on Metro's customers. In other words, we all suffer. Mobility in this still-growing town isn't going to get any better unless we have the vision and make the sacrifices that we need to make. And those visionary sacrifices include a dedicated lane Wilshire BRT and BRTs on other broad boulevards that have the capacity to accommodate the smart and relatively low-cost surface mass transit solution.
Looking for a silver lining in L.A.'s horrendous traffic there are at least some positives. These slow bus rides to and from the current end of the Purple Line subway at Western and Wilshire -- I fondly call it, "The Stump Line," thinking of what could have been the Subway to the Sea completed at lower cost long ago -- have given me the chance to read a slew of great books and think about what is wrong with the culture war raging over public transportation in L.A.
Here's one conclusion. L.A. needs a dedicated lane BRT on Wilshire and there is no way around it. So if you are blocking the lane, it's time to get over your envy of the big bus filled with commuters sharing the boulevard. That's right. Size matters in transit and an ever-increasing number of us rely on the big Metro Rapid bus over the relatively puny Lincoln Navigator, Lexus SUV or Prius you may be driving.
In Lysistrata, the famous Greek play about the Peloponnesian War by Aristophanes, the women of Greece are convinced to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers until the warring men negotiate a peace. In a similar vein, perhaps it is time for the nannies, gardeners, handymen, cashiers, office workers, teachers, and thousands of others who ride the bus from downtown and beyond to work on the Westside, to withhold their labor until the anti-BRT whiners stop behaving like spoiled children. With the City Council meeting Friday to discuss the emasculation of the Wilshire bus-only lane plan, I can't think of a better time for a massive work slowdown by bus-riding commuters. Maybe then the whiners and politicians who do their bidding will realize how desperately we need mobility solutions that serve all of the people of LA.
The Wilshire BRT doesn't have to die. It's time to let the City Council, Metro and Councilman Rosendahl know that LA supports it.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a Westside resident, Metro customer, and strategic communications consultant focused on transportation and other critical urban issues. For more about Joel visit: JoelEpstein.com