First published in the April 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Burbank officials are asking the agency overseeing county transportation projects to prevent a proposed bus rapid transit, or BRT, route from eliminating Olive Avenue lanes until it has enough riders.
The Burbank City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority reaffirming its concerns regarding the potential 18-mile BRT corridor, which would span from North Hollywood to Pasadena.
The most significant concern expressed by city officials has been the proposed conversion of travel lanes, one in each direction, on the often-busy Olive Avenue into dedicated bus lanes, a move officials said will worsen traffic conditions.
Burbank council members and transportation officials emphasized that they support the overall BRT project, which Metro officials said will greatly quicken travel between cities. Proponents have also argued that electric buses will improve traffic conditions and improve air quality. However, Burbank representatives maintained that having a “mixed-flow” route, in which buses would share Olive’s two travel lanes in each direction with other vehicles, is the only viable option.
David Kriske, Burbank’s assistant community development director of transportation, said the city is proposing that the Olive Avenue section be mixed flow until the BRT reaches 17,500 riders a day — 50% of Metro’s 2042 estimate for the service.
“What we don’t want to have happen is the … bus project open [and] it’s not carrying as many riders as predicted, and we have massive congestion and potential cut-through traffic impacts,” Kriske told council members.
The project will go before Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee on Wednesday, with the board of directors meeting planned for April 28. If approved, Metro aims to have the BRT completed by the end of 2024.
In Burbank, the BRT path would stretch from the 134 Freeway near Alameda Avenue, then move up Buena Vista Street and Olive before turning east on Glenoaks Boulevard toward Glendale.
Besides Olive, the other Burbank portions are a mix of curb-running, center-running and mixed-flow bus lanes.
Kriske acknowledged that it’s uncertain if the Metro board of directors will heed Burbank’s concerns, but noted that since the agency needs to obtain permits from the city, local officials have some leverage.
Metro has pointed to its study indicating the BRT won’t significantly impact traffic conditions on and around Olive, but Burbank representatives have disagreed with that analysis’ methodology.
Though local transportation officials haven’t conducted their own traffic study, they argue intersections will be more congested and some traffic will cut through nearby residential neighborhoods.
In their responses to previous comments from Burbank, Metro officials have maintained that converting the Olive Avenue section to a mixed-flow configuration could slow the entire corridor.
They’ve also claimed that the route will transport more people than the travel lanes do, alleviating traffic on the street.
“The side-running bus lanes would generally maintain the existing street right-of-way width and provide a high degree of person [movement] along Olive Avenue compared to the existing general purpose vehicle lanes,” Metro officials said in a report. “Therefore, the side-running bus lanes would not result in a significant impact.”
Metro previously proposed to have BRT travel through the street’s parking lanes, a plan city officials adamantly opposed, citing potential impacts to local businesses.
Burbank’s letter also includes a request that Metro pay an additional $5 million to the city for infrastructure projects, addressing potential cut-through traffic. It additionally notes frustration that, after local officials told Metro that the Olive bridge needed widening and other improvements before the agency could build a bus station there, Metro moved the proposed stop one-third of a mile away.
Though Metro has offered to relocate the station if another agency improves the bridge, which is connected to a Metrolink station, Burbank representatives are instead asking Metro itself to renovate the bridge.
Some local groups, including the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, have consistently encouraged the city to push for a mixed-flow route. A few hours before the council previewed the letter, some community members attended a rally organized by local advocacy group Vision Burbank, calling on the council to stick to its position.
“We are not against public transit at all,” said Barry Sarna, vice chair of Vision Burbank. “Bring the bus. Make it a trial. Let’s see what’s happening — and if it proves that it’s needed, we can talk about restriping lanes.”
However, a few people who called the City Council on Tuesday said they supported the BRT’s side-running layout.
Rebecca Kalauskas, who serves on Burbank’s Transportation Commission, said she agreed that some design components needed improvement. But she implored council members not to hold up the rest of the project.
“The dedicated lanes must be included as part of the initial construction if this is to be a true bus rapid-transit project and the full benefits to Burbank realized,” she said.