Jewish Journal: It has been 10 years since the East-West Transit Corridor was first proposed. Why do you think there is still so much resistance to the project, despite the fact that everyone is affected by the dismal traffic conditions in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles?
Kevin Michel: The first thing I want to mention is there is significant support for the project, particularly from businesses, some homeowner's associations, schools like Pierce and Valley colleges and the West Valley Occupational Center and their students. Our existing transit customers would certainly benefit from an express service across the San Fernando Valley. So there are a number who feel this is a good fit for the Valley and who appreciate the mitigations we are trying to do.
As for the resistance to the busway, there is a concern about change that is natural. There have been some misunderstandings and misperceptions about the project. Our renderings show all these improvements, landscaping and such, and there are concerns that when it comes down to it, will all those measure still be in place?
Part of the controversy is that people started to speculate on what they had heard. It was never our intent to have drivers going 60 [mph] across the Valley or to build massive sound walls along Chandler Boulevard. It is important the project be rated as proposed rather than as imagined.
JJ: Why pour so much money into just one bus route when it would cost significantly less to improve bus travel throughout the entire Valley?
KM: We're certainly not thinking the busway is the end-all to traffic problems in the Valley. We have significant funding available to do other improvements, like expanding the rapid-bus program that has been so successful on Ventura Boulevard over to Van Nuys Boulevard and perhaps San Fernando Road, Sherman Way and Sepulveda Boulevard. We intend to continue on a whole number of fronts to improve traffic throughout the Valley.
JJ: How will it be possible to run the buses in 30 minutes, including stops, without exceeding 37 miles per hour for a majority of the route?
KM: There are a number of things we intend to do, like having our customers pre-pay before boarding the bus, either with a pass or a ticket from a vending machine on the platform. We will have level boarding, which means using a slightly raised curb and a low-level bus so passengers walk directly onto the bus. This will make loading wheelchairs easier, as well. We're also looking at using multiple doors and articulated buses like the ones that used to run on Wilshire Boulevard. We will also be using technology with traffic signals, where the bus and the signal detect each other, to give buses an advantage at intersections. Although the average running speed is 37 mph, in sections along the right of way where there are good sight lines and few intersections, we may be able to operate at 45 to 50 mph. But like we've said, on Chandler Boulevard we will be going the speed limit.
JJ: If the goal of the busway is to make a fast and easy trip across the Valley, it does not seem to make sense to use Oxnard Street. Why, then, was the Lankershim/Oxnard alternative initially included in the EIR?
KM: We recognized that the community [along Chandler Boulevard] had significant concerns, and felt it was important to have an alternative that is viable. We also wanted to make sure the route stayed approximately the same. The two routes are almost mirror images of each other. Each has pluses and minuses, but on balance Chandler is the best alternative. It has fewer intersections, less congestion, and would make for a more predictable and reliable trip.
JJ: What other factors do you feel are being ignored or distorted in the current debate over the busway?
KM: I wish there were more efforts to work with people who are existing transit riders, people like students and the elderly who are dependent on public transportation. The controversy [on Chandler and on Oxnard] makes for an interesting story but [the media] need to reach out to potential users. There is also the misperception that the drivers will have control over the traffic signals, which is just not true. The driver has no control over the function of the signal; that is handled by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation's traffic engineers [in conjunction with] the California Highway Patrol and other agencies.