The Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to support a Big Blue Bus proposal that could add bus-only lanes on portions of 4th Street and Pico Boulevard during peak hours.

BBB obtained approval to improve travel speeds in Santa Monica’s most congested corridors, including through bus lanes.  BBB director Ed King said he believes many drivers in those areas will start riding the bus when they see buses speeding ahead of traffic, which will take cars off the road and alleviate congestion downtown and near the Los Angeles border.

“We’ve found through multiple studies that what prospective customers are really interested in is travel speed,” King said. “We want to get more people out of their cars and into buses to reduce carbon footprint and congestion in Santa Monica and across the Westside.”

BBB ridership has fallen by one third over the past five years but has started to recover in the past several months after the agency began running buses more frequently on popular routes and installed signs announcing bus arrivals in real-time at almost 200 bus stops.

“We’ve done everything we could potentially do as an organization to provide a better customer and travel experience,” King said. “Now comes the really hard work.”

The lanes would run along 4th Street between Wilshire and Pico Boulevard and along Pico from 18th Street to city limits at Centinela Avenue. Buses typically run just five to nine miles per hour in those corridors, King said.

BBB also plans to add eastbound queue jump lanes along Ocean Park Boulevard between 25th Street and Centinela, which would allow buses to bypass traffic at certain intersections.

King said BBB already operates six bus-only lanes in Santa Monica and Los Angeles that have improved travel times by up to 25% and plans to expand its existing Lincoln Boulevard corridor and its planned Pico Boulevard corridor into Los Angeles. But partnering with the city of Los Angeles will take time, and in the meantime, King said, even shorter bus-only lanes can provide benefits.

“Five years ago, when you looked at industry best practices or asked consultants, they said bus-only lanes had to be 12 to 15 miles long,” he said. “We have opposite philosophy: when you provide small segments of bus-only lanes, it’s just as successful or more successful than long corridors like L.A. Metro’s Wilshire corridor.”

Councilmember Greg Morena said extending the planned Pico Boulevard lane into Los Angeles will be necessary to speed up service.

“If we don’t solve Centinela to Sepulveda, putting a bus lane from 18th to Centinela is just going to create a fast-moving bus that is then going to be screeching to a halt at Centinela,” Morena said.

Councilmember Gleam Davis said she would like BBB to explore adding permanent bus-only lanes in addition to the rush-hour lanes proposed for 4th and Pico. She also said additional enforcement and visual cues may be needed to keep drivers out of the lanes.

Some local officials and members of the public told the council they think bicyclists should be allowed to use the bike lanes.

“We need to allow bikes in bus lanes, otherwise we’ll have conflict between bikes and buses with these queue jump lanes (on Ocean Park Boulevard),” said Planning Commissioner Shawn Landres.

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