By T.A. Hendrickson
Metro’s plan to reduce much of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock to one traffic lane each way was approved on Wednesday by the Planning and Programming committee of the Metro Board of Directors.
The lane reductions are a feature of the Metro bus rapid transit (BRT) route through Eagle Rock on the North Hollywood-to-Pasadena (NoHo-Pas) line, to be built by 2024.
The committee’s support for eliminating traffic lanes on the boulevard is another burst of momentum for the one-lane plan. It follows Councilmember Kevin de León’s endorsement of the plan on March 31 and a statement by Metro staff on March 25 saying it would recommend lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard to the Metro Board of Directors at the next Board meeting on April 28.
The Metro Board has the final say over BRT route configurations. But support for the one-lane option from Metro staff, De León and the Planning and Programming Committee virtually guarantees Board approval.
Under Metro’s proposal for lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard, shown here and summarized in the recent Final Environmental Impact Report on the NoHo-Pas BRT, there would be one traffic lane each way between Eagle Rock Boulevard and the 134 Freeway ramps near Linda Rosa Avenue. By removing traffic lanes, the plan creates room on the boulevard for dedicated BRT lanes, buffered bike lanes and the medians. Dedicated BRT lanes are Metro’s priority while buffered bike lanes and lane reductions are priorities for cyclists and road-diet advocates. The medians are prized by environmentalists and advocates for beautification of the boulevard.
The tradeoff, according to Metro’s analysis, is that lane reductions will cause bottlenecks at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard and near the 134 Freeway ramps at the eastern edge of the boulevard, single-digit travel speeds during morning and evening rush hours and the loss of 122 on-street parking spaces (out of 319 total).
How did we get here?
In public meetings in 2019 on possible BRT routes through Eagle Rock, attendees repeatedly told Metro staff and officials not to eliminate traffic lanes on Colorado Boulevard. There was no apparent advocacy at that time for lane reductions, but Eagle Rock residents recalled the previous loss of a traffic lane to make room for bike lanes and were concerned that another traffic lane could be lost to make room for dedicated BRT lanes. Residents were also locked in debate during 2019 about whether to run the BRT on the boulevard or on the 134 Freeway. Residents who didn’t feel strongly one way or the other– or who preferred a freeway route but felt it was a losing proposition – routinely said in public forums that if Metro decided on a boulevard route, it should not eliminate traffic lanes.
The popular sentiment against lane reductions was noted in contemporaneous reporting by the Boulevard Sentinel and in Metro’s own materials and statements. Hilda Solis, a Metro board member and the L.A. county supervisor for Eagle Rock, held a meeting at Occidental College on August 7, 2019, where concerns over possible loss of car lanes were raised repeatedly. A possible solution, according to one Metro staffer at the meeting, was to keep two lanes of traffic each way on the boulevard, narrow the bike lanes and mitigate the resulting loss of parking.
Similarly, at Metro workshops in Eagle Rock that drew 195 participants on November 16, 2019, 21 of 25 working groups said the design for Colorado Boulevard should retain two traffic lanes in each direction, according to Metro. Twenty-one groups also said the boulevard’s on-street parking should be retained. Twenty groups said the bike lanes should be kept. Nineteen groups said they would narrow the medians to accommodate the BRT while a few said the medians could be eliminated and some recommended keeping them at their existing size.
On October 26, 2020, Metro released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on the NoHo-Pas BRT. The DEIR showed two possible ways to run the BRT on Colorado Boulevard, both of which retained two lanes in each direction. On March 26, 2021, after Metro had started zeroing in on a one-lane option, Scott Hartwell, the Metro project manager for the BRT told a Zoom meeting with Eagle Rock business owners that the agency’s initial two-lane proposals were based on feedback from Eagle Rockers in 2019, where residents told Metro not to eliminate traffic lanes on the boulevard.
So what changed?
In the summer of 2020, Metro began previewing BRT route options for Eagle Rock that it intended to include in the NoHo-Pas DEIR. In addition to the two Colorado Boulevard options that retained two traffic lanes each way, there was an option to run the BRT on the 134 Freeway.
Of the three options, the one favored by Metro – called the “proposed project” – preserved the boulevard’s two traffic lanes each way, most of its curbside parking and the medians, but called for running the BRT in the bike lane. Under the plan, cyclists in the shared BRT/bike lane would have “priority,” meaning the BRT would have to go around them.
According to Metro spokesperson Brian Haas, the first Eagle Rock stakeholders briefed by Metro on the forthcoming proposed project were members of The Eagle Rock Association (TERA), a private civic group, which received its briefing on July 26, 2020.
TERA opposed the design and on August 19, 2020, Greg Merideth, TERA’s president, emailed a letter to Metro “to reiterate the elements that must be accounted for” to gain the group’s support. One of those elements was “innovative design solutions.” As an example of what he meant by that, Meredith included illustrations in the letter showing various designs for eliminating traffic lanes on Colorado Boulevard, including one labeled “Concept C,” which removed one traffic lane in each direction to accommodate dedicated BRT lanes, buffered bike lanes and the medians.
Metro’s next DEIR preview briefing was to the transition team for then Councilmember-elect De León on August 26, 2020, followed by a public briefing by Metro project manager Hartwell on September 1, 2020, via Zoom to the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC).
TERA member Michael MacDonald, who attended the ERNC meeting, spoke up to oppose the shared BRT/bike lanes in Metro’s proposed project. Hartwell replied that shared bus/bike lanes were used in other parts of the city. In general, cyclists say that shared bus/bike lanes are unsafe and effectively nullify the victories they have won in fights to create bike lanes on city streets. They also point out that city mobility policies call for maintaining or enhancing the cycling experience in bike lanes throughout the city.
Another attendee at the ERNC briefing expressed support for Metro’s proposed project to retain two traffic lanes in each direction. Marcel Wittfeld, the owner of Peekaboo Playland on Colorado Boulevard, said he initially favored running the BRT on the freeway, but that he could live with Metro’s proposed project largely because it retained the boulevard’s car lanes and parking. In general, business owners have said that driving and parking are essential for customers and, by extension, business along the boulevard.
TERA’s suggestions to Metro for a one-lane option became more widely known in October 2020, when the ERNC voted to send a letter to then Councilmember-elect De León, asking him to require Metro to study a BRT design for Colorado Boulevard that would remove a traffic lane in each direction. In the letter, a drawing of the one-traffic-lane proposal is labeled “TERA’s Option C.”
The ERNC letter, dated October 12, 2020, was spearheaded by Michael Sweeney, ERNC board member and chairman of its Land Use and Planning Committee. Sweeney said that, in his experience, riding a bike in shared bus/bike lanes was terrifying.
Only one ERNC member, Lisa Karahalios, voted against sending the letter. Karahalios explained that she had attended every community meeting on the BRT and that in each one, Eagle Rock stakeholders had said they wanted to preserve two lanes each way on Colorado Boulevard.
When the Draft Environmental Impact Report was released in late October 2020, it was just as Metro had previewed it, including two boulevard options that retained the traffic lanes and one route option on the 134 Freeway. The report was opened for public comment so the agency could potentially refine its proposals based on public input. The deadline for public comment was initially set for December, 10, 2020 but Metro later extended the deadline to December 28.
In mid February 2021, public discussion and media reports began referencing a “community-led” proposal called “Beautiful Boulevard,” which advocated a one-traffic-lane design for Colorado Boulevard. Essentially option “C” from the earlier TERA and ERNC letters to Metro and de León, respectively, Beautiful Boulevard called for eliminating a traffic lane in each direction to make room for dedicated BRT lanes, bike lanes and the medians. It also repositioned bike lanes and parking lanes so cyclists would ride between the curb and parked cars.
On February 15, 2021, Metro Board Member and L.A. County Supervisor Solis, posted praise for Beautiful Boulevard on her social media and urged Metro staff to bring the proposal to the Metro Board for consideration if it was deemed feasible and within budget.
The seemingly sudden prominence of the one-lane idea triggered a public outcry. Up to then, the Beautiful Boulevard proposal was chiefly known only to those who had developed and promoted it to Metro, including some TERA members and some past and present members of the ERNC. The Beautiful Boulevard coalition had proceeded to collect signatures on a petition in support of its proposal. But some 500 signatures were collected before the petition added a mention about reducing lanes on the boulevard—an omission that Beautiful Boulevard supporter Natalie Freidberg, who helped gather signatures, did not comment on when asked about it for a story in the Boulevard Sentinel on March 30, 2021. The coalition has also posted logos on its website of some 25 businesses that support the proposal, although half of them are not on Colorado Boulevard or on stretches of the boulevard that would be reduced to one lane.
Be that as it may, Metro shifted its emphasis in early 2021 to removing a lane in each direction.
According to Metro spokesperson Brian Haas, lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard were the topic of meetings in March, 2021 between Metro and staff members representing Mayor Eric Garcetti, De León, Solis, State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, Metro Board Member and then Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and the L.A. Department of Transportation.
Metro also previewed a one–lane proposal in two invitation-only meetings in March, 2021, with members of the Eagle Rock community. The first meeting was with individuals from groups that have been active in the BRT debate in Eagle Rock, including TERA, the ERNC, the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce, Eagle Rock 411 and Eagle Rock Forward.
The second meeting in March, 2021 was for local businesses. The Boulevard Sentinel attended; other owners in attendance included those from Peekaboo Playland, Arnott Kenpo Karate, Mathnasium and Super Copy.
During the meeting with business owners, Metro’s Hartwell acknowledged that the agency’s initial proposals for Colorado Boulevard had retained two lanes of traffic in each direction because that is what Eagle Rock residents had said they wanted. But Hartwell went on to say that during the DEIR public comment period on the NoHo-Pas BRT, the agency received so many letters of support for Beautiful Boulevard that it had decided to revise one of its earlier two-lane proposals into a one-traffic lane version.
The public comments are in Appendix C of the Final Environmental Impact Report, released on March 25. The Boulevard Sentinel counted some 250 letters regarding Eagle Rock, of which 54 supported Beautiful Boulevard, some with multiple signatures. All the support letters were submitted after the initial December 10 deadline, which Metro had extended to December 28. Forty-nine of the 54 letters came in during the last week of the extended deadline period, with 19 of them arriving on the last two days.
There were no letters in opposition to the Beautiful Boulevard proposal because apparently only its supporters knew about it.
The public comment letter submitted by TERA President Greg Merideth on December 28, 2020 said “TERA supports study of the Eagle Rock community’s Beautiful Boulevard proposal and urges Metro to review it in full.” He also wrote that “the Eagle Rock community” had collaborated in the development of the Beautiful Boulevard proposal.
In Hartwell’s telling, Metro was persuaded to pursue lane reductions by the public comment letters it had received in support of Beautiful Boulevard. But that explanation did not acknowledge that the general public was not aware of the Beautiful Boulevard proposal until after the comment period had closed.
On April 1, 2021, Metro presented its one-traffic-lane-each-way proposal for Colorado Boulevard at a public Zoom meeting. Metro’s aim was to gather public input before recommending a route to the Metro Board for inclusion in May in the Final Environmental Impact Report.
On May 13, 2021, De León announced that he was calling on Metro to delay its push for lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard. De León said the agency had failed to present a full picture of the plan to Eagle Rock residents and solicit their feedback. De León further called on Metro to present the community with two options for BRT dedicated lanes on Colorado Boulevard – one with one car lane each way and another with two lanes– and to hold public meetings to explain the proposals and invite debate.
Metro publicly presented the two options in Zoom meetings on September 23, 2021. Both options had dedicated BRT lanes and protected bike lanes. A big difference between the two was that the single-lane option lost one third of the boulevard’s curbside parking (122 spaces) while the two-lane option lost two thirds (210 spaces).
This was a significant shift in the terms of the debate, because given the options on the table, parking spaces—not BRT lanes or bike lanes—had become the key issue.
In effect, Eagle Rock residents were given the choice of one lane each way that creates bottlenecks on the boulevard but keeps most of its parking spaces or two lanes each way that preserve traffic flow on the boulevard but lose most of its parking.
In the Metro meetings on one-lane versus two, Eagle Rockers remained divided. Proponents of Beautiful Boulevard spoke up in favor of the one-lane option while opponents questioned the necessity of lane reductions and their impact on traffic and local businesses. Opponents also asked for a ‘cone study’ to block one car lane in each direction to test the traffic effects of the proposed lane reductions. Metro said that a cone study would not be useful because it would only show the impact of lane reductions and not other BRT project changes, including the impact on left turns and car/bike interactions.
De León’s announcement
At his press conference on March 31 to announce his support for reducing lanes, De León spoke about the importance of the BRT in fostering clean air, responding to climate change, advancing social equity for low-income riders and providing an alternative to cars for higher-income people who don’t currently ride the bus. He said the plan for Colorado Boulevard would involve planting more trees and that businesses would be protected from disruption.
After the press conference, the Boulevard Sentinel asked De León why he supported the one-lane proposal when those same goals could have been achieved under Metro’s two-lane proposal.
His answer: “The parking.” He said one car lane each way is better because it loses fewer parking spaces than the two-lane option.
De León also said that he would make sure that Metro builds parking to replace the spaces lost under the one-lane option, adding that if the agency balked, the permits it needs to proceed with the BRT could be withheld.
In a follow up question sent to De León’s spokesperson, Pete Brown, the Boulevard Sentinel asked why De León couldn’t just as well require Metro to build enough parking to replace the spaces that would be lost under the two-lane option, which loses 88 more parking spaces than the one-lane version. In an email, De León replied that “the decision between the one-lane and two-lane lane alternatives along Colorado Boulevard should not be simplified only in terms of the quantity of street parking,” adding that the one-lane option offers residents and businesses outdoor dining, increased landscaping and shorter crossing distances for pedestrians that otherwise would be unavailable.
At his press conference, De León said that the BRT plan for Colorado Boulevard would “upend the status quo” in ways that would improve and elevate Eagle Rock and make it a model for the other cities. But there is really no telling at present how the plan will play out. How will traffic adjust to losing a lane? Will the BRT attract significant ridership? Will significantly more cyclists use the bike lanes?
Also unanswered is the extent to which the BRT could encourage higher density development on and near Colorado Boulevard and whether such development would increase the use of buses and bikes enough to offset the increased car use that tends to come with population growth.
Metro says that the BRT will not change zoning rules in Eagle Rock in part because the area is already zoned for denser development as a “high quality transit corridor.” While true, that statement does not take into account that Eagle Rock at this time doesn’t look or act like a high-quality transit corridor. However, when there’s a BRT running in dedicated lanes on Colorado Boulevard, the transit features of the community will take center stage, potentially inviting more development.
For now, two things seem clear: The political moment favors lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard. And those lane reductions would only be the beginning of changes that would impact Eagle Rock for decades to come.
The NoHo-Pas BRT project will be on the Metro Board agenda on Thursday, April 28 at 10 a.m. To tune into the meetings and provide comment, go to http://boardagendas.metro.net or by phone: 888.251.2949, Extension: 8231160# (English) or 4544724# (Español)
This story was updated on 4/22/2022 at 2:55 p.m. to include Councilmember Kevin de León’s comment.