If City Hall wants us to use public transportation and reduce our car trips, why don’t they demonstrate a commitment to public transit? Instead of making the bus more convenient and better than using a car, they often do things counter to good public transportation.
Look at recent actions on Fourth Street in Downtown Santa Monica.
There used to be stops on the west side of Fourth Street at Wilshire Boulevard, at Arizona Avenue, and in front of Santa Monica Place. They have combined the first two into a stop between driveways, right in front of the parking structure entrance between Wilshire and Arizona, and have removed the other one, replacing it with a location for valet parking of cars.
Buses still stop at other corners of Fourth and Wilshire.
Having a stop only in the middle of the block makes public transit harder for hundreds of people every day. People connecting between a southbound or westbound 2, 3, 4, or 9 Big Blue Bus and a northbound or eastbound BBB, or any Metro 720, must now walk (or run) half a block. This is especially difficult for seniors, the handicapped, and people with children or parcels.
Bus schedules are created with the assumption that stops are close to each other, possibly just across the street. The extra half-block causes many riders to miss their connections. Some riders run in the street across traffic on Fourth Street. Others run on the sidewalk through many pedestrians. Still others leave the bus with their bicycles and ride on the sidewalk. People who cannot run find the bus much harder, or impossible, to use. Cars using the driveways on either side of the bus stop add to the danger. One of the driveways provides access to the parking structure itself.
This change is an accident just waiting to happen. Do we need a tragedy before it gets fixed?
Fourth and Wilshire was the stop for the Third Street Promenade. People could get off the bus, walk down Wilshire and find the promenade. Now passengers, including tourists looking for the promenade, are dumped off in front of a parking garage with no clues.
The inconsistency confuses passengers. The bus stops at the corners of Wilshire and Arizona on the east side of the street, but not on the west side of the street. People leaving the Farmers’ Market by southbound bus have to carry pounds of produce a half-block north, past a tempting parking structure.
The old Santa Monica Place gave away bus tokens to those making purchases. The new one has free valet parking on Second Street, and the once-convenient bus stops are gone, discouraging bus riders from shopping there. The current situation rewards people who drive and punishes those who take public transportation.
The bus stops should be restored to their original locations before an accident happens, and before City Hall loses more bus riders to cars. Giving us fancy new bus stops at inconvenient and dangerous locations makes no sense whatsoever.
How does the Big Blue Bus make these decisions, and why? What, if any, safety evaluations were made? How can we improve the process? City Hall prides itself on openness and transparency in the community process, but City Hall and the Big Blue Bus can apparently be convinced, by a single organization, to move a bus stop in such a way as to endanger and inconvenience many bus riders, pedestrians, and drivers — all without input from people who actually use the bus.
A few changes would greatly improve public transit and demonstrate City Hall’s commitment to its use:
• Convenient Stops: Restore stops along Fourth Street — at Wilshire, at Arizona, and in front of Santa Monica Place. Make sure that there are stops convenient to shopping, dining, and drinking locations.
• Convenient Schedules: Buses should leave the Main Library and shopping areas shortly after closing times, making it convenient to leave with that last-minute purchase or book.
• Special Events: Provide convenient bus service during special events, such as GLOW. During the UCLA Book Fair weekend, years ago, it was a pleasure to get onto a Big Blue Bus and get off at the Hilgard Bus Terminal for a short walk to the Book Fair. Now, it stops a mile away, with a long wait for a crowded UCLA shuttle bus, or a mile-long walk there and back (with books). This causes more people to drive, and more congestion, some of which could be reduced by restoring the stop at Hilgard.
• Consult bus riders before making changes. People who use the bus frequently know what works, and what doesn’t.
If City Hall expects us to buy local, while reducing car trips, we need bus stops and schedules convenient to local businesses. City Hall needs to truly commit to public transit, and to bus riders, if they want to reduce gridlock. As we implement the Land Use and Circulation Element, public transportation needs should take priority over private interests and valet parking.
Valerie Griffin is chair of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition and wrote this column in collaboration with other board members and bus riders.