The Wilshire BRT: LA Metro's Achilles Tendon

Given the mobility challenge older and disabled riders face, they should be the city's fiercest supporters of the rapid public transit solutions like the Wilshire BRT will provide.
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A few months ago an injury changed the way I see the need for more bus rapid transit (BRT) in Los Angeles. I'm 50 now and hardly the picture of fitness I was or wasn't when I was younger. And what is it they say? "Exercise will kill you." Well not quite, but it did contribute to my tearing my Achilles tendon. I knew it the minute the real athlete at the front desk of the rec center told me what I'd done. Unmistakable, the telltale "pop" of another middle-aged weekend warrior's brittle tendon tearing.

Thanks to a great surgeon at UCLA and a better-than-average health plan I am on the mend and should be fine. It hasn't been without its inconveniences of course, but in the scheme of things it hasn't been too bad. In two weeks I will have spent over two months in a cast, during which I learned how to "run" for the bus on crutches, and discovered the joys of carrying stuff around without a free hand.

But what the experience really taught me has nothing to do with my age-related vulnerability to a routine sports injury. The lesson of this annoyance has been about the daily lives lived by the thousands of elderly and disabled Angelenos, many of them veterans, who can't run for the bus with or without crutches and won't get to take off their cast and return to a normal life in the next couple of weeks. If you ride Metro you see them every day, struggling to bridge the gap between the curb and the bus or find an open seat near the driver when the designated seats have all been taken up by inconsiderate riders who aren't supposed to sit there.

Being temporarily disabled has helped me appreciate the importance of the kneeling buses that drop down to make it easier to board and the automatic ramps that unfold so that a rider in a wheelchair can more easily access the bus.

I don't know how many of those who rely on Metro and the other local bus operators are elderly or disabled but on many routes the numbers are no doubt considerable. And until we find the fountain of youth we can only expect more Angelenos to become dependent on public transit in the years to come.

Given the mobility challenge older and disabled riders face, they should be the city's fiercest supporters of the rapid public transit solutions like the Wilshire BRT will provide. Which is why it is such a mystery that transit riders throughout the city but particularly in districts with large numbers of older and disabled people don't get the respect they deserve from certain members of the City Council and Metro Board. Maybe it is the silent dignity of older and disabled transit riders that leaves these public officials thinking there is nothing wrong with their seeking special exemptions from the Wilshire BRT project for their districts? Maybe these elected and appointed officials think they are only hurting the city's bus-dependent poor and working class when putting the interests of car commuters ahead of Metro's customers? As if doing so was an acceptable excuse for dissing the region's transit riders.

Like all transit battles in this town there are two sides to every story and the fight over the BRT is no exception. At the end of the day though, there is the story that holds water, and the one that is all wet. Guess which side is which.

With the City Council and Metro Board again revisiting the merits of a true BRT along Wilshire, including Brentwood and the Condo Canyon, the time has come to stop ignoring the transit needs of the tens of thousands of Angelenos who rely on the Wilshire bus on a daily basis.

A Wilshire Blvd without dedicated bus lanes is no longer an acceptable way to treat commuters including our most vulnerable. It's time for the Council and Metro Board members who have been fighting for the Condo Canyon and Brentwood cutouts to stop dissing the riding public.

Yours in transit,

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