They Beat the Bus

6
Posted October 19, 2016 by The Argonaut in News
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Venice neighbors got Big Blue Bus to change a ‘nightmare’ new route by helping them find a better one

By Stephanie Case

Kids took turns whacking a Big Blue Bus piñata during the Ocean Avenue Residents Group’s recent victory celebration Photo by Stephanie Case

Kids took turns whacking a Big Blue Bus piñata during the Ocean Avenue Residents Group’s recent victory celebration
Photo by Stephanie Case

On an October Sunday in Venice’s Canal District, a gaggle of kids take turns at bat. Each grips a broomstick, winds up, and then swings at a piñata shaped like
a Big Blue Bus.

As the bus rips open, candy raining on the pavement, neighbors cheer. It’s a moment of catharsis for the residents of Ocean Avenue, who gathered to celebrate the end of a six-month battle against a public transit route they say wreaked havoc on their street.

Starting Feb. 21, the Big Blue Bus changed its routes as part of an effort to connect more pockets of West Los Angeles with the Expo Line. The new Route 1 was a streamlined path from Marina del Rey to Santa Monica’s Expo Line terminus and beyond, with buses cutting through Ocean on the way.

“The first day they came, it was a nightmare,” says Sarah Shoup, who lives in a house at the junction of Ocean, Venice Boulevard and Mildred Avenue, where one of the bus stops was planted.

Starting before dawn, buses would line up by her front yard. Because Ocean is a narrow, single lane street, they easily blocked traffic.

“Everything was stopped for three blocks going south and two stoplights going north,” she says. “It was the most dangerous intersection that you could ever imagine coming into existence, because there were pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicular traffic in every which direction.”

Cars and bikes would continually cross double-yellow lines to dodge buses, creating a domino effect of near-collisions.

“I would hear shouting, horns honking, breaks screeching,” says Shoup. “It was terrifying, and it was all day long.”

For Shoup and the majority of her neighbors, the route change was an unwelcome surprise – one they only became aware of when signs were posted two weeks prior to the buses’ arrival.

According to Suja Lowenthal, Big Blue Bus’ planning and community engagement manager, the bus company sent out three online surveys, invited input from neighborhood councils and sent letters to homeowners adjacent to bus stops, among other initiatives, but many of those efforts went unseen and unheard.

The route change, although met with outcry from some, Lowenthal says, was Big Blue Bus’ best attempt to accommodate as many commuters as possible.

“When you look at what public transit is designed to be, it’s a public service,” says Lowenthal. “So trying to reach the greater good at times can inconvenience a few individuals — and that’s unfortunately unavoidable.”

Part of that greater good is keeping bus fares inexpensive for all. In that regard, she says, picking the most efficient street routes, like Ocean Avenue, is paramount.

“If we take the longer way to get from Point A to Point B” — even just one additional block — “that can add tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars a year to providing that service,” says Lowenthal.

With that in mind, Shoup and six other neighbors organized a plan to get the route off their street while still meeting Big Blue Bus’ needs.

“Everyone has the right to be angry neighbors, and scream and shout and voice their opinion, but that’s not going to get anywhere. We knew that working with the bus company was going to get the change,” says Zelda Lambrecht, one of the seven, who now work under the banner of the Ocean Avenue Residents Group.

The group got to work: compiling video evidence of gnarled traffic, calculating the insufficient width of their street with measuring tape, disseminating signs of protest throughout the neighborhood.

One morning, Eva Greene, a longtime Ocean resident, jumped in her car and drove around Venice, testing out alternate routes. She clocked the travel time and extra distance of each, mindful of Big Blue Bus’ mileage concerns.

To coalesce their fight, Ocean Avenue Residents Group met with other local organizations. They also worked with merchants committees on Abbot Kinney and Washington Square, streets they agreed could benefit from a Big Blue Bus line outside their shops.

“We don’t want to just shove our problems onto somebody else,” says Shoup. “Our goal was to make a positive change, and bringing business to Venice would be positive.”

A mere 17 days after the bus route began, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin held a community meeting at Westminster Avenue Elementary School, where Big Blue Bus and its detractors met in person. Hundreds of residents were in attendance as the seven Ocean Avenue organizers presented their case: to divert the bus to an equally efficient route down a wider, commercial street.

“Having had that feedback, and having had the opportunity to go back out and vet with other community groups and business organizations about shifting service, Abbot Kinney became a clear alternative,” says Lowenthal.

On Aug. 21, Big Blue Bus debuted a truncated Route 1 which kept off Ocean Avenue. Route 18 picked up the slack, now extending from the Marina Peninsula to Westwood with three stops on Abbot Kinney.

Ocean Avenue considered the reroute a victory and invited their neighbors — plus the merchants from Abbot Kinney and Washington Square — to eat, dance and take a whack at the bus-shaped piñata.

“The expression on everyone’s face is one of ‘I can breathe,’” says Lambrecht, surveying the party. “It’s that relief of knowing the problem is gone, and that it’s quiet. But I think it’s also that feeling that we can do something.

“There’s always that sense that you’ll never fight the government and win. Well, we did. You can achieve something if you work with people rather than against people and find something that’s good for everybody.”

NOTE: The transit director of Big Blue Bus  penned a response to this article that was published in the Nov. 3 edition of The Argonaut.

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6 Comments


  1.  
    Matthew Hetz

    While I understand the frustrations of residents impacted by the changes to Santa Monica Big Blue Buses, the photo of people, including children, gleefully knocking a pinata of a Big Blue Bus is insulting and mean. I am a regular transit rider of buses and trains, including Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. As a rider, the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus is a very well run, and very considerate bus agency. They have a vast network of buses through not only Santa Monica, but the entire Westside to serve transit riders, and greatly expanded service to serve the newly opened Expo Line.

    I ride transit because I am very concerted about the environment, starting regular riding in 1992 first because of my concerns about air pollution, and now with my very serious concerns about global warming which will have very adverse affects for all, particularly today’s children, like the ones seen in the photo. The adults have now indoctrinated in children that buses, and therefore transit, is bad, that it is to be feared, and worse, attacked. This then transfers to those riding buses and transit. The actions in the photo are teaching fear, and with the attacks on a bus, hatred.

    The threats of global warming are real, and here now, and the easiest and quickest way to reduce this threat is to reduce our output of carbon gases, and for Southern California this means driving less. Electric cars make up less than 5% of the vehicles on the road, and even electric vehicles cause gridlock which make the other 95% plus other vehicles pollute the most.

    While alternative bus routes may be found, the actions of those in photo who to got the bus pinata, and then had an innocent child beat it has done great harm to the movement to reduce carbon gases and global warming, and encouraged attacking something which is so necessary and vital to many people throughout Southern California. This is a very wrong teaching example.

    Instead of attacking the bus, why don’t the adults make the efforts to change lifestyles and make riding transit regularly part of daily life. This could indeed be a life giving action by reducing carbon, global warming gases, instead of promoting the destructive action of attacking a bus.




  2.  
    Mary Mallon Pavlica

    This is a great story of community spirit and positive teamwork! Congrats to all!




  3.  
    Jack

    Yeah they just maid it harder for me to get around town and harder for their maids and nannies to get to the neighborhood. The fight against this route was classist entitled and disgusting




  4.  

    Entitled residents triumph over the needs of people with disabilities, celebrate with huge party.





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