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At a community meeting held Wednesday to discuss Big Blue Bus’ proposed Expo service plan, BBB representatives (from left) Tim McCormack, Planning Administrator; Ed King, Director of Transit Services; Suja Lowenthal, management; Jimmy Famalori, planning.
Photo by Corina Mun
At a community meeting held Wednesday to discuss Big Blue Bus’ proposed Expo service plan, BBB representatives (from left) Tim McCormack, Planning Administrator; Ed King, Director of Transit Services; Suja Lowenthal, management; Jimmy Famalori, planning.

News, Big Blue Bus, Santa Monica, Exposition Light Rail

Big Blue Bus Shares Proposed Expo Service Plan

Posted Jul. 25, 2014, 8:33 am

Corina Mun / Staff Writer

The impending completion of the Metro Rail Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica within the next couple of years naturally carries with it a series of subsequent impacts on its surrounding communities. The most apparent change due to occur is the increased appeal of the Expo Line.

With an estimated projection of about 64,000 riders per day by the year 2030, the Expo Line is predicted to assist in decreasing the number of vehicles on local roads and alleviating the issue of traffic.

However, the Expo Line has also catalyzed a more comprehensive analysis of an underlying core issue within the realm of local public transportation: the current status of the Big Blue Bus routes.

As widely used as the Big Blue Bus system is, it has been a while since the efficiency of the present-day routes has been brought to question.

“It’s been 15 years since there has been a comprehensive look at ridership patterns in Santa Monica,” Thomas Wittmann, project manager of the Expo Line integration study at Nelson\Nygaar said.

“The Expo Line coming into Santa Monica is a dramatic change for mobility for folks across the Westside. The question is: how should Big Blue Bus services change as a result of that? Is the system set up to accommodate that right now? If not, what are the steps necessary to accommodate to the influx of new folks coming in from the Expo Line?”

Big Blue Bus, in alliance with a team of consultants led by Nelson\Nygaard, is in a sense killing two birds with one stone: not only will a long-needed issue be brought to light, but ultimately the public usage of the Expo Line will be optimized by restructuring its bus system and ensuring that it coincides effectively with the impending rail stops.

In this way, the entire public transportation system will be working harmoniously with each other, with local buses conveniently leading its riders to Expo Line stops (and vice versa).

With the common goal of creating the most convenient interconnected transit system possible, Big Blue Bus and the Nelson\Nygaard consultant team have recently commenced a research study in order to determine the steps needed to bring their vision to fruition.

“This is an effort in conjunction with [the fact that there hasn’t been a recent comprehensive look at the bus route system],” Wittmann said. “Does Big Blue Bus serve the existing travel patterns and travel markets?”

On Wednesday evening, the second of three community meetings was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with the hopes of gaining community input and clearer perspective on rider priorities.

At the meeting, Wittmann gave an in-depth presentation on the team’s goals, motives, and research process.

His presentation also set aside a couple of minutes for each proposed route change to give the audience a look at the individual proposals.

Each participant was given a brief opportunity to vote through a small touchpad device on whether or not they held support for each of the route changes, which helped highlight the strengths and flaws of each suggestion.

Wittmann first elaborated on the series of analytic methods the team undertook in order to arrive at the current proposed route changes, diagrams of which bordered the meeting room for easy viewing.

“Every Big Blue Bus route has a recommended change associated with it,” Wittmann said. “We did not make the [proposed route changes] in a vacuum. We had a series of [data elements] that we looked at to help us understand what the conditions were, where growth is happening, and where people will be traveling today as well as in the future.”

The team has been in touch with various institutions and organizations in the area, including the Bergamot station and UCLA, to gain a more accurate idea of ridership patterns. The team has received ridership data from other public transportation systems as well, such as LA Metro and Culver City Bus.

“We also looked at population employment densities and household income,” Wittmann said. He described the end result of all this fact-finding as a “giant jigsaw puzzle”: how could they make the situation better?

As far as local outreach goes, Big Blue Bus and Nelson\Nygaard released online surveys in 2013 and early 2014, respectively, and conducted a series of public meetings at the beginning of this year as well. Discussion with citizens and individual stakeholders aided in understanding what some of the prominent challenges are within the bus system.

“Any bus-planning effort is difficult, because it will directly affect people’s lives,” Wittmann said. “There’s a huge amount of variance and opinion about the priorities should be.”

Still, it became noticeable that a lack of connectivity between the north and south neighborhoods was an issue across the board.

“It’s known as the First Mile/Last Mile Challenge, because if you live in a certain area of Santa Monica like on San Vicente or Montana, it’s not easy to travel by bus,” Aimee Wyatt, Transit Community Relations Officer at Big Blue Bus, said. “A lot of the services are currently aligned east to west, so by adding more north/south services, we’ll be able to get riders to the Expo Line stations more easily.”

Wittmann also cited “the need for additional north/south connectivity” as a repeated problem that arose among the received feedback.

“The proposed changes looks at creating a denser grid of services and takes away some service duplication,” Wittmann said. “There was a strong desire expressed from multiple groups: better connections to Expo are absolutely essential.”

However, Wittmann as well as other Big Blue Bus and Nelson\Nygaard representatives repeatedly stressed the tentativeness of the entire plan.

“All of these proposals depend on what the community has to say about them,” Wittmann said. “This plan represents a fundamental shift in how neighborhoods are served. How folks respond to that is open right now. Nothing that you see as a part of these presentations is final.”

The Santa Monica locals in attendance were vocal about expressing their opinions and willing to offer input. The constructive criticism also brought to light some of the potential changes in the route system that still have yet to be made.

There are two provisional phases set so far – to be finished in 2015 and 2016, respectively – but the team is wary of the fact that unforeseen circumstances can and will arise.

“One of the phases includes waiting until Expo opens up,” Wittmann said. “A new set of changes can then be made to better coordinate with Expo. We can predict all we want, but life will always throw you a curve ball.”

To review the proposed changes and share feedback on the Expo service planning, visit http://expo.bigbluebus.com/survey.

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Comments

Jul. 25, 2014, 9:51:22 am

D Mitchell said...

There were notable criticisms about cutbacks on east-west services, particularly to UCLA via Wilshire and Montana. You can hear an audio recording of the meeting at https://archive.org/details/BlueBus72414Edited

Aug. 8, 2015, 9:46:50 pm

Bernice Glenn said...

POSTED JUL. 25, 2014, 8:33 AM CORINA MUN / STAFF WRITERThe Santa Monica locals in attendance were vocal about expressing their opinions and willing to offer input. The constructive criticism also brought to light some of the potential changes in the route system that still have yet to be made. Now the changes have been made, here are my comments: ARTISTIC CANOPIES, SEATING AND REAL-TIME ARRIVAL INFORMATION COMING TO A BUS STOP NEAR YOU. But not those who depend on bus access at the soon to be discontinued stop at Main St and Pico Blvd. Santa Monica Big Blue Bus made an either/or rerouting decision favoring Expo riders in an ill-thought out decision to remove a well-attended #7 bus stop at Main Street and Pico Blvd. Stops on the #7 route covers areas not accessed by Expo lines. Santa Monica’s new Bus Stop Improvement Project (BSIP) states that “the Expo Line is projected to carry 64,000 riders per day by the year 2030, but this can only take place if bus connections to its stations are made as useful and convenient as possible. BBB has conducted extensive public outreach in February 2014 and July 2014 and based on this feedback, a revised version of the original plan is now available for the public.” Try it to verify — the link does not work. “We want to leverage Expo as a primary resource, but we need to be thinking about the local needs and people too.” At a public meetings last year regarding Expo and bus routes, BBB’s Chief Operations Officer Patrick Campbell said: "We want to leverage Expo as a primary resource, but we need to be thinking about the local needs and people too....” http://la.streetsblog.org/category/agency-watch/big-blue-bus/Thinking Ahead: Big Blue Bus Seeks Input on Expo Line Integration A community member at this meeting said she envisioned walking to the end of her block, taking a blue bus to Expo to go wherever she needed to go. She wanted the bigger link to Expo—but she also did not want to lose the ability to take a blue bus for her local trips either. “There was a strong desire expressed from multiple groups: better connections to Expo are absolutely essential.” Does that also mean depriving one group of riders local access to a heavily used stop when designing new access routes? Bus stop designers were given a list of 8 criteria to be covered: #1. Enhance the streetscape #7. Adhere to ADA regulations Artistic canopies, seating and real-time arrival information coming to a bus stop near you…. But not if the stop you use is at Main Street and Pico Blvd. This stop already has real-time arrival information…. But it will disappear after August 26th due to rerouting for EXPO passenger convenience! Providing Expo Access for the #7 is certainly high on the list. However, this should not deny its riders access to a reasonable stop location! Although the #7 bus has been rerouted for high priority Expo riders the new route could avoid Ocean Ave by making a right turn at 4th St. and Olympic to Main, following the #8 bus route past the courthouse. The #8 bus serving south and Santa Monica could easily provide a route to Expo, but this has not been done! WHY THESE LONG DISTANCES BETWEEN STOPS? BBB uses a 1/4-mile (1,320 foot) distance between stops as a benchmark. It is a standard recommended by transit authorities but not a legal requirement. APTA (American Public Transportation Association) and the ADA (American Disabilities Act) take issue with a rigid application of this standard and recommend applying the following when making stop distance decisions. − Will the walk to an alternative stop be difficult or much longer for a proportion of riders i.e. long, uphill, obstructions − Are the stops to be eliminated those used by the elderly, the disabled, students, etc. − Is the stop to be eliminated one connecting to other bus routes. − Is this stop is located close to city services and businesses. − Does an alternate route cost more? include transfer fees or add more additional time for the trip. BBB DISREGARDS LOCAL NEEDS AND APTA RECOMMENDATIONS BBB disregarded Officer Campbell’s “we need to be thinking about the local needs and people too” when making this poorly thought out, prejudicial decision. Local riders using these stops will need to walk 6 uphill blocks to Lincoln Blvd at Pico or an even longer one backtracking to Broadway at 4th Street. − The stop is used by those who depend on the reasonable local access promised by BBB officials. These include the elderly and disabled, students, and those visiting the Santa Monica Housing Authority at 1685 Main St. right this stop. − The walk to the next stop at Pico and Lincoln Blvd is 6 long blocks. It is an uphill walk. − A walk to the Broadway at 4th St stop is well over the 1/4 mile standard! Alternatively, a rider could take a #1 or #8 bus to reach this stop and pay additionally for a transfer to the #7. − The #7 bus is one of the most used in the BBB system. Local stops on this route offers access not covered by Expo. − Along the route are schools, libraries, markets, department stores, and medical offices, and a drug rehabilitation facility, a Dept of Public Services facility, etc. − The #7 bus at Main and Pico connects with the #1 bus and the #8 bus serving south Santa Monica residents. − Students attending Santa Monica College will be using this stop until the station at SMC is available. − Tourists riding the #7 use the stop at Main and Pico for access to Santa Monica beaches and to transfer to the #1 bus. − Court and City Hall access: for residents of south Santa Monica, the bus stop at Pico and Main is closer than the alternative stop at 4th St. (which requires getting on a westbound bus at Lincoln and Pico, or an eastbound bus at 4th and Broadway BBB ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS FEASABLE Dial a Ride and Access transportation requires that you make a reservation 48 hours in advance. Volunteer Driver Programs: are often full, or do not have enough drivers to support the service. DO FINANCIAL OR ETHNOGRAPHIC CRITERIA AFFECT BBB STOP DECISIONS When looking at the map of BBB routes, note that northern Santa Monica is well covered, but south Santa Monica is not. Some of the routes covering north Santa Monica are infrequently used, but still continue to exist. To contrast, in the past, some north-south bus service to south Santa Monica was discontinued due to poor ridership.

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