I hope I’m wrong, but I left the Berkeley City Council meeting last night feeling like BRT with dedicated lanes had little chance of being approved by the city. The council did unanimously vote to pass the project to the Planning Commission “to hold a public scoping session on the proposed BRT to identify any issues that have not yet surfaced…” The Transportation Committee will also provide input, and then a plan will come before the full council.
That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, and it is the compromise that proponents and opponents of BRT had arrived at well before the meeting last night. It’s not the vote that worries me though. It’s the comments made by the public and the council last night that scare me.
To start off the night, Council Member Dona Spring pulled the item off the consent calendar. This opened up the floor for anyone from the public to speak about the issue, and about a dozen of us did. The opponents shared the same arguments they’ve been using for the past several months:
“BART already serves that corridor.”
“Nobody rides the bus now… If you build it, they won’t come.”
“There is no evidence that BRT will reduce emissions… Berkeley residents are tolerant of traffic and will sit there idling. BRT could even raise emissions.”
“BRT will hurt businesses on Telegraph.”
Several of us talked about the inadequacies of the 1 and 1R, how BART does NOT serve us, and how full the buses are when we ride them. Some of us spoke about global warming and how Berkeley is usually committed to this issue (at the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates announced that Berkeley had been rated as having the third most solar panels out of any Northern California city). I won’t go on too much about the arguments in favor, as I’ve tackled some of that in a post earlier this week.
Echoing the comments of Berkeley residents, the council talked about approving the plan without the dedicated bus lanes. Spring also proposed that there be trial period and that the lanes only be shifted to dedicated lanes once there was a critical mass of riders. Council Member Kriss Worthington focused on non BRT needs for transit, like a free Eco Pass program (I’m still unsure how that would work) and creating a rapid line for University. I think these are both great ideas, but I’m worried that they will just create a diversion from the BRT proposal at hand.
Though there are still many hearings left to go on this issue, I am not hopeful. The council does not seem to realize that without the dedicated lanes, this isn’t BRT – it’s just the rapid bus line that we already have and is still deficient. The majority of Berkeley residents who spoke seem unwilling to give up parking and get out of their cars. They are also delusional about bus ridership. One resident talked about how few would ride BRT from San Leandro to Berkeley. Well, yeah. How many people ride BART from Pleasanton to Daily City? The point isn’t for people to ride the entire line, but to ride to where they need to or want to go, which usually means riding a small portion of the line.
As I rode the 1 bus home from the hearing, I looked around at the 20+ riders on the bus at 9 p.m. and thought about how much work we’ll have to do to change the minds of the council members. And as I ran after the 1R bus this morning (another one wasn’t due to arrive for nearly a half hour), I realized that I’ll continue to be frustrated with the bus system until we have BRT. It’s scary to think that Berkeley might kill this project, when it could benefit so many current and potential transit riders throughout the East Bay.