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.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Subtle Media Bias on BRT

  1. Pingback: Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog Los Angeles

  2. Pingback: NoHo-Pasadena Bus Rapid Transit Project Faces Misleading Eagle Rock NIMBYs – Streetsblog Los Angeles

  3. Pingback: NoHo-Pasadena Bus Rapid Transit Project Faces Misleading Eagle Rock NIMBYs – Streetsblog Los Angeles

  4. Pingback: Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog Los Angeles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s