The Big Blue 80th Birthday Cake from 2008 — Photo: Damien Newton

Each year, the American Planning Association’s Los Angeles Chapter holds an award banquet to honor best practices, progressive projects and planning heroes. Santa Monica is often well represented at these banquets: past winners include Pam O’Connor, the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element and even Santa Monica Next.

So it is fitting that this year’s banquet will be held next week in Santa Monica. The city will be represented in the winner’s circle again as the Big Blue Bus will be honored for “Implementation” for its “Evolution of Blue.” Evolution of Blue is the city’s effort to alter its bus service to account for the opening of the Expo Line.

Evolution of Blue was an unprecedented effort requiring staff to plan, train, and communicate with the public and stakeholders, and finally to implement an 18-month comprehensive set of service changes to the BBB system,”said Ed King, Director of Transit Services for the Big Blue Bus.

“It was all hands on deck during the project with every BBB employee serving as a customer experience ambassador. The high levels of customer engagement and employee participation were integral in re-designing and re-envisioning the future of our bus system.”

Evolution of Blue began with an outreach process, where the city gathered thousands of comments before making changes to the service to provide connection to Expo Stations, adding new signage, construction of over 200 new ADA compliant bus stops, a half dozen new bus routes and the launch of Blue at Night, an on-demand service providing first/last mile connections on nights and weekends.

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Which is not to say that implementation has always been smooth.

The opening of the Expo Line and a nationwide trend of decreased transit ridership have combined to cause a precipitous drop in ridership for the Big Blue Bus, best planning practices or not. While “Evolution of Blue” was meant to help combat ridership, King explained to the Lookout earlier this year that the new routes are in neighborhoods that haven’t had transit service before and are somewhat slow to attract riders at the level of routes that had been established but were replaced by light rail service.

The Planning Association’s Awards Presentation will be held next Thursday, June 7, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica beginning with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. For more details and to order tickets, click here.