By T.A. Hendrickson
At a pair of Zoom meetings on Thursday, Metro staff presented two options now under consideration for a bus rapid transit (BRT) route on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock. The Eagle Rock route is one segment of a proposed BRT line from North Hollywood to Pasadena (NoHo-Pas).
Under both options for Eagle Rock, dedicated bus lanes would be added to Colorado Boulevard to accommodate the BRT. Both options also preserve or enhance the boulevard’s bike lanes.
The main difference between the two options is in how they would make room for dedicated BRT lanes and buffered bike lanes. One option would reduce much of Colorado Boulevard to one car lane each way while the other would retain two car lanes each way. Both options would require removing a big chunk of the boulevard’s curbside parking, with the larger parking loss occurring under the two-car-lane-each-way option.
The boulevard’s medians fare better under the one-travel-lane option, with 6,730 linear feet of medians/islands that would be kept at their present widths. To compare, the medians under the two-car-lane option measure 5,360 linear feet and the widths are modified in some places east of El Rio Avenue to six to 16 feet.
Who wins and who loses under the two options?
Either way, Metro wins, along with other advocates for public transit, because their key aim is to have dedicated BRT lanes. Either way, bicyclists win, because both options retain and/or improve the bike lanes. Either way, safety advocates win, because Metro has included similar safety enhancements in both options, such as curb extensions, better crosswalks and upgraded signals.
As for losers, businesses lose either way because both options significantly reduce curbside parking, with the bigger loss occurring under the two-travel-lane option.
Drivers lose under the one-travel-lane option because they would spend more time in traffic while advocates for biking, walking and lingering on the boulevard win because car-lane reductions are central to their vision of a more outdoor- and leisure-oriented boulevard.
Conversely, the two-car-lane option favors drivers and denies the lane reductions that advocates of one-car-lane-each-way have been seeking.
Whether the environment wins or loses depends in large part on how many people use the BRT and the bike lanes. To date, Metro has had a hard time getting people into busses and the pandemic hasn’t helped, while anyone who drives on Colorado Boulevard knows that the bike lanes are seldom used. Moreover, a BRT that worsens traffic congestion and/or removes trees would be a mixed bag environmentally.
Here in more detail are some takeaways:
Dedicated BRT lanes
To add dedicated bus lanes to Colorado Boulevard while protecting bike lanes and preserving some or all of the medians, Metro has to reduce the number of car lanes and/or the number of curbside parking spaces.
Metro’s one-car-lane-each-way option would eliminate one of two car lanes in each direction and about one-third of the boulevard’s curbside parking spaces – for a loss of 122 parking spaces out of 310 spaces in total, according to Metro.
The two-car-lanes-each-way option would retain the current two lanes in each direction but remove two-thirds of the boulevard’s curbside parking spaces – a loss of 210 spaces out of 310 spaces.
The loss of 122 parking spaces under the one-car-lane-each-way proposal was unexpected. In general, it had been assumed that removing a car lane each way would be enough to fit in dedicated BRT lanes and related design features.
The loss of 210 spaces in the two-car-lanes-each-way option was not unexpected, because with the bike lanes protected and the medians at least partially preserved, where else would space come from to fit in dedicated BRT lanes?
The upshot is that the difference between the two options when it comes to loss of parking is 88 spaces.
Here’s where the issue gets political. Metro doesn’t do parking. But elected officials, who control and influence the levers of power, can engage those levers to ensure that accessible, safe, convenient and equitable parking is built in Eagle Rock to make up for any lost curbside parking.
And clearly, all it would take to keep two car lanes each way on Colorado Boulevard without a net loss of parking is to build 88 more parking spaces than would be needed under the one-car-lane-each-way option.
A plan to replace lost parking spaces is crucial because at the presentations on Thursday Metro did not have a credible answer for how to mitigate the loss of parking in its BRT options for Eagle Rock.
Metro Project Manager Scott Hartwell suggested that drivers park on the side streets of Colorado Boulevard, where Metro has counted 763 parking spaced within 300 feet of the boulevard. It’s not going out on a limb to state that there’s not a big surplus of parking spaces on the side streets of Colorado Boulevard, especially in business-dense areas, say, from Eagle Rock Boulevard to Highland View Avenue. Moreover, the side streets of Colorado Boulevard are residential areas that would be better off without cars driving around looking for parking spaces.
Traffic Congestion and Diversion
The Metro presentations on Thursday showed that car-lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard would result in more traffic congestion, especially at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard where Colorado’s two lanes would merge into one.
Metro Project Manager Scott Hartwell said that lane reductions would cause 20% of the traffic on Colorado Boulevard to use the 134 and 2 Freeways, but even so, there would be “increased delays and congestion” on the boulevard.
Metro has calculated that the one travel lane option would add seven to nine minutes of travel time for cars traversing Colorado Boulevard during the morning and evening rush hours, or about twice the time it currently takes.
For example, with one car lane each way, it would take 14 minutes to traverse Colorado Boulevard (from Broadway to the 134 Freeway) during the morning rush, versus seven minutes currently, according to Metro. In the evening rush, it would take 16 minutes versus seven minutes currently. One car lane each way would also slow down local busses by a few minutes. It would take the BRT nine minutes to traverse the boulevard in its dedicated lane.
The average speed of passenger cars on a one-laned Colorado Boulevard during the morning rush would be 9 m.p.h., compared to 19 m.p.h. currently, according to Metro. The average speed of passenger cars during the evening rush would be 7 m.p.h. versus 19 m.p.h. currently.
According to Metro’s modeling, one-lane-each-way on Colorado Boulevard would not cause traffic to divert onto Hill Drive or Yosemite Drive, because those streets would not be any faster than the boulevard.
One lane each way on Colorado Boulevard would cause worse snarls in the event of a freeway closure than a two-lane-each-way option, said Brent Ogden, a Metro consultant. Ogden also said that drivers in a single lane would be delayed when they had to wait behind someone who was parallel parking, but that the road ahead would likely be clear once the parking was completed, so drivers could speed up enough to make up for the delay. That assumes, however, that the driver doesn’t end up behind another person parallel parking or a local bus in the single lane.
To model the traffic effects of a lane reduction on Colorado Boulevard, Metro relied on a computer simulation that incorporates the design characteristics of the proposed BRT route. Metro says this simulation is more accurate than a “cone study” that many Eagle Rock residents have called for because a cone study, which would physically block off a lane for an extended time period, would not account for changes on the boulevard from the BRT project, say, to left hand turns and car/bike interactions.
Unfortunately, the video by Metro of the traffic effects from lane reductions on Colorado Boulevard started at Eagle Rock Boulevard and ended at Townsend Avenue. As such, the video did not show the traffic effects east of Townsend, around Trader Joe’s, an area that is congested even with the current two lanes of traffic.
Metro spokesperson Brian Haas said even though the video did not show the traffic effects of a lane reduction around Trader Joe’s, such effects were incorporated into Metro’s calculation of travel times, speeds and other traffic data.
What didn’t get said
Here is a link to Metro’s slide presentation from Thursdays meetings. Metro has said that audio of the presentation, including the question-and-answer period, will be posted as soon as possible.
However, what did not get discussed is as important as what did get discussed. Metro made no mention of simply running the BRT in regular traffic on Colorado Boulevard. Instead, Metro has insisted on dedicated bus lanes for the Eagle Rock segment of the BRT, saying that dedicated lanes provide for greater reliability and better travel times and set the BRT apart as a premium service.
The problem with that explanation is that the BRT in Pasadena and in smaller segments in Burbank and Glendale runs in regular street traffic, not in dedicated lanes, and in some areas, the BRT travels on the freeway. At the very least, Eagle Rock should qualify for top notch fixes and offsets to all of the downsides that may result from dedicated lanes, such as loss of parking and greenery. It will be the job of elected officials to make sure that Metro fixes the problems it causes.
City Councilmember Kevin de León will hold meetings on Saturday, Oct. 2 with Eagle Rock stakeholders who sign up to meet with him in small groups to discuss concerns about the BRT on Colorado Boulevard. Details are here.
Metro is currently working on a Final Environmental Impact Report on the NoHo-Pas BRT with an anticipated completion around the end of 2021. In the FEIR, Metro staff will recommend a specific route for the NoHo-Pas BRT to the Metro Board of Directors. The Board will then decide whether to certify the FEIR and adopt the project.
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