An update from me and my colleague Francisca Porchas of the Labor/Community Strategy Center:

For the first time in L.A., the car capital of the world, a bus-centered public-transportation system has been given priority over the auto — a big victory for environmental justice and the reduction of auto-based air toxins and greenhouse gases.

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On Aug. 15, the Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union secured an important environmental and public-health victory at the Los Angeles City Council: the approval of a $27 million project to implement peak-hour bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard. The Wilshire bus-only lane would run from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica and would operate during rush hour, 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. Wilshire Boulevard has the largest transit ridership in the county with over 90,000 boardings a day. The bus-only lane is expected to reduce travel time by 20 percent for current transit users and would attract new riders to public transportation.

This is a step toward the implementation of a countywide network of bus-only lanes on all major bus-transit corridors in Los Angeles County. A countywide bus-only lane network would reduce the harmful emissions of auto tailpipe toxins that attack our children’s health and damage the environment. As BRU Planning Committee member Jorge Alberto says, “This decision represents a challenge to the auto industry, but equally as important, it’s an improvement in the mobility and public health for the transit-dependent, primarily immigrant and working class of color.” We also believe dramatic changes in transit policy are necessary to reduce greenhouse gases in order to begin to address our responsibility to the Third World and communities most devastated by global warming.

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Bus-only lanes are a way to utilize the existing infrastructure — roads and freeways — and use it more efficiently. By taking one existing lane of mixed-flow traffic (cars, buses, etc.) and using it exclusively for buses, we can triple or quadruple the lane’s utility, improve the speed of the buses, and help make public transportation an alternative to the auto.