Looking south on Lincoln Blvd., near Bay St. (Google Maps)

A small stretch of Lincoln Boulevard is about to get a bit better for bus commuters. According to the city’s website, starting in August, peak-hour bus-only lanes are coming to the north-south thoroughfare that connects Santa Monica to Venice, Marina Del Rey, and LAX.

The plan will turn the parking lane on one side of the street or the other, depending on the time of day, into a dedicated bus lane during rush hours. From 7-9 a.m., the northbound parking lane on Lincoln will become a bus-only lane, and from 4-6 p.m., the southbound parking lane will become a bus-only lane.

Los Angeles has implemented several similar peak-hour bus-only lanes, though there have been some issues with drivers not abiding by the rules. And, unlike bus-only lanes in Los Angeles where people on bikes are specifically allowed to share the lane with buses, the bus-only lanes in Santa Monica won’t allow any other mode, including bikes, in them during their operating hours.

“Current city policy is to not permit bikes in the bus-only lane during operational hours,” according to city officials.

When the lanes revert to parking lanes, cyclists will be allowed to share the lane with parked cars.

Next Sponsor

The bus-only lanes are part of the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor (LiNC) project, a plan by Santa Monica to overhaul this stretch of Lincoln for improved safety and overall street design, but there are concerns that the plan doesn’t go far enough with regards to safety.

When the project went before the City Council in May, Councilmember Terry O’Day cast the lone opposition vote, citing his concerns that the plan was more about landscaping than about safety. The supporters of the project also said that safety was a concern, but that the project was the best shot of making those improvements sooner rather than later.

“What I’m concerned with is that the plan that I see today is making value decisions that I don’t think reflect how I’ve been trying to make those decisions in a planning context in this city,” O’Day said at the May City Council meeting.

“And, in particular, it looks to me that it prioritizes beautification over safety of bikes in particular. I think there is a real lack of thoughtfulness related to bikes in this plan,” he said.

Joe Linton, editor of Streetsblog LA, was one of the advocates that got Los Angeles to install signs that explicitly stated bikes could use the bus-only lanes. When told about Santa Monica’s policy, Linton asked, “Where does Santa Monica expect cyclists to ride on Lincoln?”

“Bikes share bus-only lanes in L.A. and other cities. It’s not a perfect solution — some cyclists aren’t all that comfortable with big loud buses passing nearby, and some bus operators occasionally see cyclists as impediments to bus speed,” Linton said. “Given the frequency of buses and the numbers of cyclists, it works OK. In the Wilshire peak-hour bus-only lanes, the conflict between buses and bikes is much less than that between buses and cars illegally using the restricted lanes.”

Safety was a major concern at the May City Council meeting, which had followed on the heels of a rash of deaths and major injuries in the city caused by traffic crashes, including one in which a woman was killed walking across Lincoln at one of the intersections targeted for improvements by the LiNC plan.

At the Council meeting, Mayor Ted Winterer cited the incident as a reason why he wanted the proposed safety improvements to move forward without further delay.

The Santa Monica Daily Press reported in its coverage of the May meeting that Santa Monica city officials were in touch

Among other elements in the first phase of the plan to improve Lincoln Boulevard are:

  • Crosswalk striping at 20 locations on side streets facing Lincoln Boulevard
  • ADA compliant curb ramps at 52 locations
  • 24 new street trees this year
  • Curb extensions at nine side street locations and four along Lincoln
  • Banner poles at each end of the street
  • Bicycle connector improvements at Pearl and Ashland