Subtle Media Bias on BRT

Remember when we wrote about a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project back in January 2017 and in October 2018? In the June 2019 issue of the Boulevard Sentinel (BS for short), the local Northeast LA newspaper, ran the following headline for an article, “The Battle over Buses on Colorado Boulevard.” The piece is about Metro’s planned “NoHo–Pasadena BRT,” which we previously covered and which proposes to develop a rapid bus line from North Hollywood to Pasadena by way of Burbank, Glendale, and Eagle Rock. The article published in the BS is misleading and one-sided in several ways, seemingly aimed at generating community opposition to the project.

Let’s begin with the headline– “The Battle over Buses on Colorado Boulevard.” While there are some differing views on the project, the combative war-like language certainly stirs emotions more than a phrase like “Local Debate.” The phrase “Battle” is advantageous to the author because it allows them to paint a ‘Metro vs Eagle Rock’ narrative that conveniently excludes mention of any local support for the project.

The opening line of the article states: “The Metro Board of Directors advanced a plan that would put bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock”. A more accurate description would be the Metro Board advanced a plan that could put BRT lanes on Colorado Boulevard, nothing is set in stone.

The BS proceeds to quote a spokesperson from Metro that clearly states “Although the Metro staff has made an initial recommendation to put the bus on Colorado Boulevard, this is far from being a done deal. Community feedback is a huge part of this, we want to make sure that what we do makes sense”. The BS follows the Metro quote by stating: “That flexibility will come in handy, because judging from the reaction on social media, Eagle Rockers don’t see much sense in putting a BRT line on Colorado Boulevard.”

The reference to social media is a reference a facebook group called the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group. In the exchanges on that group, opinions are more split, and some of the opposition stems from outright lies being spread about BRT from ill-informed people. A more accurate statement would be that some Eagle Rockers don’t see much sense. However, even such framing gives airtime to opposition when it would be just as easy to frame the project as having some supporters, or that the community is divided rather than implying wholesale opposition from the community.

Further, a facebook group dominated by affluent homeowners that don’t rely on transit isn’t exactly an objective indicator of public opinion. Taking a poll of Eagle Rockers waiting at the bus would likely paint a very different picture on the issue. Of course, the author did not look for opinions of actual transit dependent people. Instead the author was content observing social media which is notoriously divisive and non-representative.

Then the article dives into a subheading called “Here are some of the concerns”. In this sub-section, the author states a BRT line on Colorado Boulevard would require reconfigurations to allow for dedicated bus lanes. This is not true. Theoretically the BRT line could operate in mixed traffic but the author never once admits this. The author states that something has got to give to accommodate dedicated lanes for buses, whether it be modification to medians, travel lanes, bike lanes, parking or some combination. This is true, if the project proposes dedicated bus lanes which is not a certain thing yet.

The author then asks, somewhat rhetorically, ‘what is gained from sacrificing road space for BRT?’ The author states: “The vast majority of BRT riders would not be coming or going from Eagle Rock. The vast majority would just be passing through. Looked at that way, the disruption form the BRT in terms of driving, traffic, and parking on Colorado Boulevard seems far greater than the benefits to the town.”

The word “sacrifice” focuses on loss and assumes the perspective of motorists, who currently dominate the street. We do not know at this stage what, if anything, will be “sacrificed”. The project may be designed with very minimal “sacrifice”. The open ended question, however, allows one to conjure the worst before Metro has even studied specific options.

Also, so what if the vast majority of riders would not be coming and going from Eagle Rock? The vast majority of riders on the Metro Gold Line do not come or go to Highland Park, yet the neighborhood has still benefited from having a Gold Line station. Strictly speaking, it would be difficult for the “vast majority” of riders to come or go from any single station or neighborhood on any public transit line. The author then states that unspecified impacts to driving outweigh the benefits without ever sharing any facts about the benefits of public transit or benefits to non-drivers (pedestrians, bicyclists).

Next the author states that people opposed to the project are concerned that it would change zoning in the neighborhood. This is speculation and fear-mongering. Colorado Boulevard is protected by the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan, which regulates development along the boulevard. Any changes to the Specific Plan or to zoning more generally is a very open, transparent, and serious process that the neighborhood would most certainly have the opportunity to weigh in on. Nothing about the BRT proposal requires any zoning changes and the two can be approved independently. Also, should a zone change even occur, it doesn’t result in overnight development. For better or for worse, most existing light rail stops have had little impact on the built form of the communities they serve and seldom do such changes spill over to areas zoned for single family homes.

The author cites, seemingly to support claims of impending zoning changes, one of the goals of the project which is to “support…transit-oriented community goals” and transitions to explaining a City program, Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) that allows for greater housing density near transit. TOC was enacted after 64% of voters voted yes on Measure JJJ.  The author writes: “With proposed BRT stops at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Townsend Avenue, a swath of Eagle Rock would fall under TOC rules. More housing to east the housing shortage is badly needed. But putting a BRT line on Colorado Boulevard seems like an opaque and convoluted way to go about getting it.”

The author assumes that BRT on Colorado Boulevard will result in increased development. While this might occur, it isn’t a given. Nearby Highland Park and South Pasadena have been served by the Metro Gold Line for almost two decades with no significant changes to their neighborhood character. Further, as stated earlier, Colorado Boulevard is protected by the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan. The BRT isn’t a backdoor housing project, yet the author implies this and criticizes it for being an “opaque and convoluted way” of adding housing when this simply is not the case. Building housing near transit isn’t convoluted or opaque, it’s a fairly straight forward way of promoting transit and accommodating growth, and it is largely how Eagle Rock’s main street historically developed a hundred years ago. Also, 64% of Angelenos voted to support housing near transit in 2016. Clearly, this is not a far out or controversial idea.

The author states that Metro has made some good arguments for the BRT, including that the route is part of a heavily traveled corridor, but still displays bias by stating the majority of trips are by car and “only a tiny fraction by public transit, despite having Metro rail connections at both ends.”

Well, how does one get from one end to the other when there is no equivalent service in between? If anything, the current situation perfectly explains why so few trips are made by transit. The author eventually arrives at the conclusion that BRT would “provide an alternative to driving and connect Metro’s regional transit network to residential areas along the route.”

Of course, the author finds a way to spin this benefit of BRT into a negative– “But Metro has yet to make a good case for why the proposed BRT has to run the length of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock instead of catching the 134 freeway.” Actually, Metro has made a case for Colorado Boulevard– it would provide greater access and generate more riders than the freeway option. There is a whole Alternatives Analysis report that Metro compiled that goes completely unmentioned or referenced in the article.

The author then pivots to this sentence “One community meeting on the topic, at the Eagle Rock Plaza on October 18, 2018 was only sparsely attended.”

Sparsely attended? Relative to what? The meeting at the Plaza was just one of several attempts by Metro to engage the community. They also had a table at the Eagle Rock Music Festival, which is far from “sparsely attended” and Metro attended neighborhood council meetings as well. And this has all occurred prior to the official environmental review process begins, which will ensure additional opportunities for input. The author admits the scoping process has yet to even begin, so it’s puzzling to think how much outreach Metro was expected to provide to this point. Metro also hosted outreach opportunities in the neighboring communities affected by the proposed route– Eagle Rock is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

It should come as no surprise that a meeting hosted by the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council a couple weeks after the article was published resulted in dozens of angry people showing up claiming that Metro’s plans were rushed, ill-conceived, and developed without local input. People attended the meeting having just read a misleading and biased article that was presented as being impartial. Unfortunately, a fair amount of damage has been done as a result of this misrepresentation of the project. If you want Eagle Rock to get high-quality transit with Bus Rapid Transit running on Colorado Boulevard, here are 3 ways you can help:

1) Send an email:

To: nohopasbrt@metro.net, firstdistrict@bos.lacounty.gov

Bcc: walkeaglerock@gmail.com (optional)

Subject: I support NoHo-Pas BRT for Eagle Rock

Dear Metro and Supervisor Solis,

I support BRT on Colorado Boulevard through Eagle Rock because we need better public transit and running the BRT on the freeway provides zero stops in 90041. BRT will make Colorado Boulevard more accessible, more transit friendly.

Thank you,

2) Sign the petition Support a More Sustainable Colorado Boulevard for Eagle Rock!. While online petitions should not steer public transit planning efforts, the petition is a way to display visible support for a more sustainable future and to stay updated with opportunities for public input on the project.

3) Spread the word to family and friends. Did you already send an email and sign the petition? Then share them with your networks on social media and by word of mouth. The success of this project depends on you, dear reader, being a champion for positive change and sustainable transportation.

Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council Endorsements 2019

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Image via Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council

Local neighborhood council elections are underway throughout the region and this Saturday (April 13) the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council election will take place at the Eagle Rock Plaza from 10AM to 4PM.

 

There are not many competitive fields or controversial issues in this year’s election but for those curious, these are the Walk Eagle Rock endorsed candidates for the races where there are more candidates than seats available:

 

 

  • Sub-District 1 (two seats): Becky Newman AND Lindsay Kiesling
  • Sub-District 3 (two seats): Andrew Jacobs AND John Acevado
  • At-Large Director: Victor Sanchez
  • Social Justice Director: Chloe Renee Ziegler

The below races have no endorsements due to one of three reasons 1) No candidates 2) Not a contested race 3) Not enough information about candidates.

  • Arts Director: (Not Contested Race)
  • Youth Director: (No Candidates)
  • Sustainability Director: (No Candidates)
  • Business Director: (Not enough information about candidates)
  • Education Director: (Not Contested Race)
  • Public Safety Director: (Not Contested Race)
  • Sub-District 2: (Not Contested Race)
  • Sub-District 4: (Not Contested Race)
  • Boulevard Director: (Candidate Marcel Wittfeld has expressed opposition to proposed bus lanes on Colorado Blvd and we do not have enough information about the other candidate Juan Santana)
  • Elder Director: (Not Contested Race)

That’s all folks, get out there on Saturday and vote!

NELA Livable Streets Roundup – January 2019

A bit belated, here’s the January NELA Livable Streets Roundup:

New bike lanes on Riggin Street in Monterey Park: Approximately one year after the Monterey Park City Council voted to support protected bike lanes on Monterey Pass, the City kicked off 2019 by striping bike lanes on Riggin Street. Not only that, the City removed a center striped median/left turn lane to do so! Hey how about doing that on Yosemite Drive in Eagle Rock? Speaking of of the SGV, there will be an open streets festival coming to the area stretching from South Pasadena to Monterey Park in May.

Parks Parks Parks!: According to a City Council file, a new/expanded park in Lincoln Heights – Albion Park – is set to see construction wrap up by April 5, 2019. Head over to UrbanizeLA for some great photos showing how the park is coming along. Also via UrbanizeLA, it was announced that Civic Center Park, which will be adjacent to Grand Park, is set to break ground this summer! Finally, a new recreational path opened around Ivanhoe Reservoir in Silver Lake.

Speed Humps on Park View: According to a facebook post from Mitch O’Farrell, there are now speed humps on Park View Street between Council and Temple Street. Also in O’Farrell’s district, speed limit will be reduced on Bellevue Avenue from 30mph to 25mph (though it comes alongside several speed limit increases on other streets).

Arroyo Seco Bike Path Gap Closure in Sight?: The livable streets rockstar Councilmember Jose Huizar introduced a motion to close the last remaining gap in the Arroyo Seco Bike Path between South Pasadena and City of LA.

Verdugo Road Median Trees: Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Jose Huizar introduced a motion (actually in December) to plant trees in the median of Verdugo Road just west of Eagle Rock Boulevard. This involves removing asphalt and planting drought tolerant trees. Yay trees!

 

NELA Livable Streets Roundup – Best of 2018

In an attempt to track and measure progress in the on-going fight for a more livable Northeast LA, we introduced the monthly “NELA Livable Streets Roundup.” Now with a full year of posts in the books, it’s time to take the best of the best and see how 2018 fared overall. In general while there was forward momentum, the rate of progress must increase dramatically in order to transform Northeast LA into a sustainable, livable community. Let’s take a look…

Best Infrastructure Improvement

What remains most fascinating about this particular project is the urgency and smart coordination with which it was implemented. The first  community meeting for the project was hosted in March 2017. Just over a year later, the project was completed in tandem with routine street resurfacing, which means the bike lanes, crosswalk upgrades, and center turn lane all were achieved for free since the street gets re-striped when it is resurfaced anyway.

The only problem is that this project occurred in isolation. If we have any hope of creating a more sustainable future, we need at least half a dozen such cheap and effective street transformation in NELA every year. Other streets in NELA that would be ideal for converting vehicle lanes for bike lanes in 2019 would be Verdugo Road, Yosemite Drive, Townsend Avenue, Avenue 64, Griffin Avenue, and Eastern Avenue.

Runner up – 30MPH Speed Limt on York Boulevard: Another worthwhile livability enhancement that occurred in 2018 include the reduction in posted speed limit on York Boulevard between Eagle Rock Boulevard and San Pascual Avenue from 35mph to 30mph. The reduction in speed limit was legally allowed because the majority of drivers were going at about 30mph on York Boulevard (likely as a result of the road diet that took place some years ago). This arguably is not an infrastructure “improvement” but a byproduct of the positive traffic calming effect of York Boulevard’s road diet that was put in place 13 years ago.

Runner up – Avenue 26 and Humboldt Avenue Traffic Signal: Also worth mentioning is the new traffic signal and crossing that went up at the intersection of Humboldt Avenue and Avenue 26. Humboldt Avenue is used informally as a low-stress bike route between Northeast LA and Downtown that avoids the craziness of North Figueroa and Pasadena Avenue and freeway on/off ramps. Unfortunately, it’s ill-advised to use this bike route after dark as there are numerous potholes and can feel isolated.   The biggest issue with Humboldt has long been trying to cross the busy Avenue 26 but now one can safely do so thanks to the traffic signal.

Best Livability Campaign

  • Winner – Rock The Boulevard: The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) spearheaded a partnership with Council District 14 and Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council to develop a community-inspired blue print for a safer Eagle Rock Boulevard. Over the course of half a year, TERA worked to hold community meetings and workshops and get input from a wide range of stakeholders. The result was a compelling vision plan created by consultant Deborah Murphy incorporating protected bike lanes, expanded medians, and new crosswalks. Now all that is missing is the funding…

Runner Up – Walnut Canyon Preservation: We admittedly don’t know much about this effort led by the Glassell Park Improvement Association but they appear to have made enough progress to enter some negotiation with the developer that wanted to build dozens of hillside homes on Walnut Canyon. This was an admirable effort that skillfully used branding, powerful pictures, lawn signs, and a website to rally neighbors for this cause. Best of luck to the GPIA as they continue their fight.

Runner Up – NoHo to Pasadena BRT Coalition: Individual community activists in Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena gave dogged support for routing the planned NoHo to Pasadena Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)  line on surface streets instead of along the 134 Freeway. Although there was no formal coalition, people were activated for every public meeting and sent emails, resulting in approximately 75% of public feedback favoring the surface street route, according to Metro. Metro has yet to make an official decision, but all signs point toward the agency picking the surface street route.

Best Ground-Breaking

Runner Up – N/A

Best Politician

  • Winner – Jose Huizar: Unfortunately the councilmember is caught in some controversy at the moment, but for this segment we will reflect on his record of delivering livability improvements. Simply put, there is no councilmember that is more visionary and pro-active in supporting progressive transportation on the city council, certainly not in Northeast LA or any of the other areas covered in this segment. What Huizar does well is that he articulates a vision, and then actively pursues it through infrastructure and policy. Most councilmembers are content keeping their seat warm and not making any waves. The better ones talk a good game about their vision, but very few actually take action. Huizar, despite his flaws, has likely done the most to make Northeast LA, and arguably the whole city, a better place for walking and bicycling in a very long time.

Runner Up: Mitch O’Farrell: O’Farrell doesn’t like to be bold. He is good on talk, especially if advocating for pedestrians and bus riders (he seldom acknowledges the hardships of bicycling in the City or at his worst dismisses it as a fringe activity), but appears content with the status quo. O’Farrell has no apparent vision for a more sustainable built environment or transportation system. He does a decent job of getting transit shelters installed, sidewalks repaired, and new traffic signals, but none of this shakes up the unsustainable, car-centric status quo. He’s far too comfortable antagonizing people that call him out on his lack of leadership on safe streets, even though he killed plans for bike lanes and road diets on Hyperion Bridge, Fletcher Drive, and Temple Street. And yet, despite all that, he remains the runner up for this category simply because of his steady stream of marginal pedestrian improvements, which just tells you how low the bar is set for this category.

And with that, we conclude our “Best of 2018.” Did we miss a category? Disagree with our results? Let us know in the comments.

NELA Livable Streets Roundup – December 2018

As 2018 comes to a close we have the first full year of our monthly “NELA Livable Streets Roundup.” How does December stack up against the rest of the year? Well, not much official news to report for Northeast LA but still a sprinkling of news that may be of interest for the broader region covered in the segment (which generally includes areas east of the 101 Freeway and north of the 10 Freeway, such as Hollywood, Glendale, Downtown, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, and more). Look out for our “Best of 2018” coming soon!

NoHo to Pasadena BRT Input Favors Street Route

Ok so this isn’t officially December news but upon consulting with allies in Pasadena and Glendale it appears that through Metro’s series of meetings and community engagements earlier this year that the majority of public input favored having the planned NoHo to Pasadena BRT route alternative that operates along surface streets rather than freeway. The surface route was favored by the majority of residents in Eagle Rock (including this blog) since it would actually serve the community as opposed to the freeway route which would have had this multi-million dollar transit investment bypassed the neighborhood. The unofficially tally compiled by this blog estimates somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of public comments favored the surface street route. Of course, the official “Alternatives Assessment” (AA) will not be released until Spring 2019 according to Metro but the trends at public meetings seemed promising.

Silver Lake Master Plan Finalists Advance

In the past couple years there has been a renewed interest in developing an updated Silver Lake Reservoir Master Plan. Still in the consultant selection phase, the Master Plan update is moving ahead with three finalists advancing to a final round. In the Silver Lake neighborhood the reservoir is a prized, and contentious, neighborhood asset. Some groups envision redeveloping the reservoir as a massive, active public park, perhaps with some added residential and commercial use. Others want the reservoir to stay just as it is, with some activity around the periphery but largely a passive space to be enjoyed visually from afar. While we don’t know what the finalists have in mind, or who will be selected and what the final master plan will look like, the process reflects an opportunity, perhaps one that involves expanding access to park space and improving adjacent bicycle and pedestrian access.

Livability in Chinatown and Beyond

 

 

NELA Livable Streets Roundup – September/October/November Mash Up 2018

(Dear Readers: Apologies for the lack of content in recent months. At a minimum, we were hoping to maintain our “NELA Livable Streets Roundup” segment but it’s been a difficult time logistically behind the scenes. With that said, we continued to track the good news happening in the NELA area and adjacent neighborhoods so why not share a 3 month mash-up with the best of September, October, and November?)

SEPTEMBER:

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

Phew! There you have it, some of the best livability news to hit our neck of the woods these past 3 months. And with 2018 being the first full year of this recurring feature, we will be able to take on the best of the best in a “best of 2018” roundup in late December or early January.

Eagle Rock Should Support BRT on Colorado Boulevard

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Proposed Bus Rapid Transit Line between North Hollywood and Pasadena. Image via: Metro

Remember the great Colorado Boulevard bike lane debate of 2013? It is now five years later, and people are still divided on whether the reduction in lanes on Colorado Boulevard saved, or ruined, the neighborhood. Empirical data show that the street is safer and more people are out bicycling, but was the loss in traffic lanes worth gaining a safer street? That remains an open question among some Eagle Rockers.

As the bike lane bickering continues on local social media, there is another debate emerging about the future of Colorado Boulevard– should Metro’s proposed North Hollywood to Pasadena Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line run down Colorado? Or should it skip service to Eagle Rock by running along the 134 Freeway? We believe it should go along Colorado Boulevard for the following reasons:

  1. Improved Public Transit Connections To and From Eagle Rock: This one may seem obvious but if the BRT line serves Eagle Rock it will improve connectivity to and from neighboring jurisdictions of Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank,and North Hollywood. People always complain about a lack of quality public transportation and here we are being offered an opportunity to get some that would help connect us with our neighbors. And the BRT won’t just improve connections along the line, it will also improve transfers. Let’s say you need to take the Gold Line to Azusa; with the BRT you could hop on a stop at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard, and be whisked away to the Del Mar station in Pasadena to catch the Gold Line far faster than you could today relying on the local 180 line to get there.
  2. Reap Benefit of Sales Tax: In 2016, Angelenos overwhelmingly voted for Measure M, a sales tax that we all pay for. The proposed NoHo to Pasadena BRT line will be funded using Measure M dollars and Eagle Rockers will pay for it either way. So to those wishing to get their money’s worth, the only way to truly do so is by having the BRT line operate on Colorado Boulevard and providing stops in the neighborhood.
  3. Gateway to Better Bike Network: If the BRT line ends up serving Eagle Rock, it will unlock grant funding potential for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Typically bike and pedestrian infrastructure grants favor concepts that can help people connect to high quality transit, often referred to as the “first/last mile” connections. Transportation grants such as the State’s Active Transportation Program (ATP) will often give applications extra points if a proposed bike or pedestrian improvement can be demonstrated to enhance connectivity to major transit lines. Suppose there’s a desire for bike and pedestrian friendly transformation of Townsend Avenue, Ellenwood Drive, North Figueroa Street, or Hill Drive. Such improvements have a better chance of being funded through grants if they can list the benefit of improving access to a BRT stop.
  4. Accommodating Growth Without Adding Traffic: Most Eagle Rockers are sympathetic to the need for additional housing in the neighborhood in order to keep some degree of affordability and maintaining diversity. However, the most common knee-jerk reaction to proposals that add housing is that it will result in more traffic because new residents will need to drive for daily routines. Well, people only drive when they feel there is no other viable option. BRT provides a real viable alternative to driving, especially for commuting purposes to nearby job centers such as Old Town Pasadena, Glendale, and various studios in Burbank. Eagle Rock can add more housing along Colorado Boulevard without the consequence of more cars if there are more transit options like BRT.
  5. Bring Back Rail to Colorado Boulevard: Some people oppose the BRT line stating that they will only support a rail line. The good news is that the long-term plan is to upgrade the BRT line to rail. If we shut out BRT from the neighborhood, we may never see the rail so many yearn for.
  6. An Investment in Sustainable Transportation: Everybody wants environmentally sustainable transportation to be more widely used but can we fault people for driving when we fail to accommodate other more sustainable alternatives? BRT is not just an investment in public transit, it’s an investment in a more sustainable mode of travel.
  7. Street Route Endorsed by Transit Expert: People should not blindly support something just because someone else tells them to. However, we feel  it is worth highlighting a particularly notable endorsement of the BRT’s street route. Ethan Elkind is the Director of the Climate Program at CLEE and leads the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative on behalf of the UC Berkeley and UCLA Schools of Law. That’s one heck of a respectable title. Elkind also is the author of Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles metro Rail and the Future of the City. In an op-ed published last year Elkind chimed in on the issue of the freeway vs street route for the NoHo-Pasadena BRT line and had this to say: “A street-level line offers more promise. It would be slower, but it would attract more riders than the freeway route by serving more neighborhoods. This option, too, is more expensive, but planning compact new development around transit stops could help defray costs and guarantee wider ridership.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement but a pragmatic assessment by a respected professional in the field of sustainability.

So there you have it, 7 reasons to support the street level BRT route. Care to speak up on the issue? There’s a public meeting on Saturday, October 13 from 1pm to 3pm at the Eagle Rock Plaza (Suite 248) where you can provide input, ideas, and feedback. While there are valid concerns about BRT running along Colorado Boulevard, the overall positives of BRT outweigh the negatives, and most potential issues can be mitigated or avoided altogether. We urge readers to support Metro’s Colorado Boulevard BRT route alternative.