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The Fun of Partial Information

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, June 15, 2005, at 07:56PM

Right inside the front door of my apartment building there's a little table where people can put flyers, take-out menus, etc. Today, sitting on top of the copies of the Downtown News, was a bright yellow piece of paper titled "ACTION ALERT." It caught my eye, so I stopped and picked it up to find that it concerned the Spring Street contra-flow lane. The anonymously authored alert calls for those who share "our concern about this proposal" to contact the City Council's Transportation Committee and Wayne Tanda, General Manager of LADOT. In my sometimes humble opinion the piece has a number of fundamental flaws, so I think it worthwhile to reproduce and rebut it here.

The blockquote sections are from the alert. The text, minus the contact addresses, is fully reproduced.

The city of Los Angeles to address growing congestion of the Spring Street bus-only contra-flow lane in Downtown Los Angeles proposes to shift the northbound contra-flow lane between 1st and 9th Streets from Spring Street to Main Street.

Correction: LADOT proposes eliminating the Spring Street contra-flow lane between 1st and 9th and making Spring a truely one-way street. A peak hour bus lane, moving in the direction of traffic, would be striped on both Spring and Main. Southbound buses would use Spring, while northbound buses would use Main.

It's important to make this distinction between contra-flow and northbound traffic because I'm seen them be confused far too often. "Contra-flow" means against the direction of the normal traffic flow. A northbound bus lane on Main would be "concurrent-flow", or basically just a normal lane for buses such as you see on Figueroa.

A lane on Spring (which is a one-way Southbound street except for the bus lane) would be dedicated bus-only. But to address the congestion issue "...some existing bus services on the contra-flow lane would be re-routed to other north-south streets". That means some bus service would be moved from a dedicated lane to congested mix-flow streets! Plus these new lanes would only be during peak periods.

I strongly disagree with the assertion that Spring and Main are congested streets, but I'll grant you that I don't have the traffic volume or level of service data to back that claim up with figures.

Vastly oversimplifying things (throwing out entirely the problems of pedestrians), there are two considerations that need to be taken into account here: bus congestion and vehicle congestion. As for bus congestion, there is no question that during peak hours buses would flow better given a dedicated concurrent flow lane and the option to merge into the adjacent mixed-flow lane. This setup is what is known as a Type II bus lane, and the benefits over a Type I lane (where bus traffic is solely restricted to one-lane) is easy to see in situations like the one I recently documented here.

Buses would indeed have an effect on the vehicle capacity of the adjacent mixed-flow lane, but this effect would only matter in situations where the adjacent lane is already close to capacity. I don't see that as the case on Spring.

The bus lanes would be peak-hours only simply because there's no need for them at other times. Most hours of the day Spring and Main are wide, fairly empty streets.

We see the situation as being the contra-flow lanes are a victim of their success. Wouldn't it be reasonable to build on that success by adding a second northbound contra-flow lane in addition to the Spring Street facility and shift some of the buses from Spring to Main?

As I said above, a northbound bus lane on Main would be concurrent-flow, not contra-flow. That aside, this argument ignores the detrimental impact that the contra-flow lane has had on the east side of Spring Street. Without any potential for short-term parking or loading, commercial life on that side of the street is almost non-existent. Removing the contra-flow lane will allow for street parking, leading to renewed retail and restaurant opportunities.

Also why does the MTA appear to not have been consulted regarding this proposal? And why was it not presented to the MTA Westside/Central Service Sector Governance Board for their input?

The MTA was most definitely consulted, including at our January Transportation & Public Works Committee meeting. At that meeting representatives from both LADOT and the MTA sat in the same room and talked through their issues on the lane.

In the end, LADOT and the City of LA have the control over how lanes are striped. They certainly accomodate and try to cater to the desires of the MTA, but it's the city's call in the end.

I do have issues with the proposed striping that I think LADOT is going to suggest for Spring and Main. The removal of the contra-flow lane, however, is definitely not one of those issues.

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