Claiming space for buses on corridors where transit users outnumber drivers

Photo from

Streetsblog NYC


Short of

congestion pricing

, there's really nothing you can do to make driving a more pleasant experience in dense city centers. There's not enough space to accommodate the incredible demand there, and there's no way to expand supply short of paving over the sidewalks and buildings, which would defeat the whole purpose of having a city in the first place.

What you


do is make transit better

—buses, in this case—by turning over certain high-traffic lanes to bus-only use.

Of course, it's never that simple. The reallocation of road space can be a rancorous process, and proposals to convert any road space to a specialized use (bus, bike, pedestrian plaza) are inevitably met with cries of "War on Cars!," complaints about "moochers" who "don't pay their fair share," etc. The shift toward multi-modal travel is still a relatively recent phenomenon in many parts of the country, and there's a great deal of convincing left to be done. We should start where the job is easiest: corridors on which transit users already outnumber drivers.

Two examples that come to mind are Fanshawe Street, in Auckland, New Zealand, and Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles.

From the

New Zealand Herald


Auckland's Fanshawe Street is a pretty dramatic success story. I don't know the date the bus lane was installed (though there's

evidence it's over ten years old

), but today

it carries two-thirds of all peak traffic

 on the road. That's a number any transit service would be proud of, and it's all the more impressive for the fact that the bus lane only accounts for one of three total lanes—cars, despite having twice as much space, only make up about 17% of total commuters per lane. The efficiency of buses really shines here, and if the image to the right is any indication, the heavily-used bus lane still manages to stay less congested than the lower capacity car lanes.

Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles is a much more recent case. It carries 53,000 bus riders a day, and

they just finished the first 1.8 mile segment

of 7.7 miles of bus-only lanes planned between downtown LA to Santa Monica. The actual length of this corridor is 12.5 miles, but Beverly Hills and Westwood in their infinite wisdom opted out, so transit users will still be mired in car congestion through this stretch of Wilshire. Despite this shortcoming, the 7.7 mile conversion is expected to reduce travel times by 12-15 minutes for bus riders, and has the added benefit of providing a safe route for bicyclists. Importantly, more people travel by bus than by car on Wilshire Boulevard during peak hours. And just like on Fanshawe, this rechannelization still leaves two lanes in each direction for cars.

This bus lane will carry more people than both car lanes combined, photo from



Projects like these, besides improving service for transit users and safety for all road users, can build support for further expansions of transit infrastructure and service as well as increase ridership. They elevate the standing of local residents relative to residents of other cities and suburbs, or at least put them on equal footing—a worthy goal for any municipality. I know there are hundreds of other corridors around the country that are ready for the same treatment as Fanshawe and Wilshire; unless local and regional transit organizations prioritize studies to identify them, progress will be unnecessarily slow. We need data. Nothing in the world of transportation reform is ever easy, but this should be a no-brainer.