Clueless in LA: Streets and Bus Riders Jammed without Notice

HITS FROM HETZ--An e-mail notice from Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin arrived a little over one day before Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester would have lanes closed for construction. I use Sepulveda Boulevard to ride the Culver City Bus No. 6. The day before the construction, the bus stop I use had no notice that it would be closed due to construction, so I thought I would use this stop like usual. I just knew I should try to catch an earlier bus at that stop to compensate for the upcoming road project. 

The next day, as I walked earlier than usual towards Sepulveda Boulevard I could see the traffic was not moving. When I got to Sepulveda I looked down the block and saw the two traffic lanes in front of my bus stop were closed. This meant my bus stop was closed. I had the choice of walking north to the next stop, almost a mile, or to the bus stop about one-quarter mile south. I quickly walked south in the bike lane on Sepulveda to the next bus stop. I would not use the sidewalk which is a jumble of broken, jagged and titled concrete slabs.  

This was a fortuitous choice. The next two bus stops to the north were also closed due to the construction. My bus came, I boarded, it merged into the single open lane, down from the usual three lanes, to begin an agonizingly slow craw north on Sepulveda Blvd.  

In my seat, slowly crawling in the gridlock, I became more furious by the minute. I could see the numerous heavy equipment trucks starting the construction of ripping up and then repaving this section of Sepulveda Blvd. There was also a large number pickup trucks. A number of workers were on the boulevard already working. Obviously this was a major construction job, and one which had to have some preplanning and foresight on how to quickly repave over a weekend the six lane highway of Sepulveda Boulevard.  

As I sat in the bus watching this large scale construction project, once again, as a bus rider I felt that disregard and disrespect from the City of Los Angeles and the Bureau of Street Maintenance when for road repairs bus stops are closed without warning. The day before I was at the same bus stop I should have used, and there was no notice, no warning, nothing.  

As a bus rider, a closed bus stop is a serious issue. I then have to walk to the nearest bus stop. If I’m using a certain bus at a certain time which I’ve been used for years to get to work, and then I find without notice that my stop is closed, and I have to walk to the next stop, I will be late for work or appointment or event.  

For non-bus riders, a closed bus stop is not like a closed road. When driving, it is much easier to just drive around to find the detour or new route. When walking to a bus stop, this becomes a major issue, close to a crisis. This is not the first time bus stops have been closed without notice by street work in the City of Los Angeles. And I have raised this issue before with city officials. And nothing gets done to give us advance notice. 

Who is responsible for this? Why does this keep repeating? Why does the Bureau of Street Services, in charge of street repair, constantly ignore the closing bus stops due to their projects? Bus stops are important parts of any street, and vitally necessary daily to hundreds of thousands of bus riders. 

Why did the Bureau not notify Culver City Bus that its construction project would close their bus stops? But their ineptness does not stop there. This should not be to the surprise of anyone working for the City of Los Angeles involved with streets and transportation: Sepulveda Boulevard is a major entry and exit for LAX. Here again, it appears the Bureau of Street Maintenance couldn’t figure out that closing Sepulveda Boulevard would severely and negatively impact LAX traffic. Did they not send memos to other city departments which may be impacted?  

And sure enough, as the bus slowly inched towards Howard Hughes Parkway, which is a freeway on and off ramp for the 405, it was gridlock. The parkway is the major connector between the 405 and Sepulveda Boulevard for LAX traffic. I could not see the end of the lines of vehicles going down the hill on the parkway, waiting to turn on to Sepulveda to get to LAX.  

I could, however, imagine how many of those vehicles were filled with anxious people hoping that this Bureau of Street Services induced gridlock would not make them late for their flights at LAX. Does the Bureau of Street Services find it difficult to anticipate that closing six lanes of traffic into two on a major boulevard feeding LAX would cause problems? Does the Bureau not know that their construction jobs close bus stops? Do they care? From my experiences I would say they do not. And this is wrong.    

Did the Bureau not send any notice to anyone else in Los Angeles in a timely manner that they were about to undertake a hugely disruptive road repair project? If they did send memos, it would strongly appear they were not timely as Councilman Bonin sent his notice within a day before the construction. Councilman Bonin, to my perspective, is proactive and works for his district, and would have posted notices earlier if he had received them in a timely manner. 

Did the Bureau not notify the City Transportation Department? Gauging from the agonized comments of other bus riders along with the agony in the faces of the drivers in the gridlock which I saw, I would say either no, or it was sent far too late. There was not one Traffic Cop at one intersection to move traffic along this very important boulevard.  

Is this callousness towards bus riders on the closing of bus stops without notice, and the lack of basic foresight that they were severely impacting a major traffic artery for LAX just the doings of the Bureau of Street Services, or are these symptomatic of a hugely dysfunctional city government? Is Los Angeles a city government which does not communicate between departments and bureaus? Is Los Angeles a city government which could not figure out that one bureau closing lanes on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester would greatly and negatively affect one of the financial driving engines of the city: LAX?  

As I returned home on another Culver City Bus, Sepulveda was still in gridlock, the construction was still taking place, the bus stops were still closed, and there was not one traffic cop. My questions were answered. The City of Los Angeles is dysfunctional, callous towards bus riders, and there is a very serious lack of communication within the city and its department and bureau. This is not good, at all, but very, very bad. 


(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra)