An enjoyable and informative morning at Jane Brunner’s BRT forum

11 Oct

As I mentioned yesterday, this morning I went to Jane Brunner’s forum on Bus Rapid Transit. You probably know by now that I’m pretty much in love with this project. In fact, I care so much about it that I’m part of the No on Measure KK campaign committee – though KK is a Berkeley initiative, if passed, it would threaten the entire BRT project.

The forum began with a presentation from Jim Cunradi from AC Transit, who did an excellent job providing an overview of the project. He started off by saying that to most people the bus is the last resort because it is slow and unreliable so BRT aims to make buses competitive with cars in these areas. This will happen through several mechanisms: dedicated lanes for buses, traffic signal priority (which already exists with the 1R), rail like stations that make bus stops distinctive, level boarding to help with quicker and easier boarding, and ticket machines that would provide proof of payment so bus riders could board through any bus door.

Jim talked a bit about BRT projects around the world and in the US. He highlighted that if it can work in LA, it can work here. Then, he showed us some pictures of before and after simulations of intersections, like this one of Temescal:

I love looking at these photos! It makes me so excited to think about areas like Temescal becoming so pedestrian, bike and bus friendly. And I just love how prominent the bus stops are. But the photos aren’t nearly as exciting as the video simulation that Jim showed us. If you haven’t seen it yet, go check it out now.

So far, nothing new to me, until Jim showed us a neat map of the BRT route with a half mile radius highlighted. Apparently, 40% of Oakland residents live within a half mile of the proposed BRT route! So it’s pretty clear that this route is an excellent choice for maximum reach. Jim then shared some more new info (at least new to me), the ridership projections for various parts of Oakland. Here they are:

Current 1/1R Ridership

2025 Ridership Projection for BRT

North Oakland

2,900

7,600

Downtown Oakland

5,200

8,700

East Oakland

11,600

18,900

Oakland Cumulative

19,700

35,200

Jim concluded by stating that BRT will make Oakland more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and will help the environment. BRT is projected to reduce auto trips by 9,000 per day, which translates to 21,000 reduced miles per day. That in turn saves us from 1,900 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Next, Bruce Kaplan from Berkeleyans for Better Transit Options (BBTOP) spoke. Bruce is the former owner of Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley and despite the sound of BBTOP’s name, has been leading the fight against BRT in Berkeley. (I do think it’s interesting that Brunner had to go to Berkeley to find a strong opponent of BRT.)

Bruce admitted right off the bat that his point of view is a bit “Berkeley-centric.” He then said that all of us want better transit options, but we should just implement all of the BRT components, except for dedicated bus lanes. Bruce complained that no study has ever been done on a no-build option (BRT without the lanes or stations). He painted a grim picture of cars, bikes and trucks being forced into one lane and traffic all but stopping. Bruce then said he wanted a supplemental EIR to be completed with the new info that Jim had just presented. No, he was not referring to the final EIR, which AC Transit is working on. He wanted a new EIR now because he said we can’t base decisions off of Jim’s powerpoint presentation. (Though I’m tempted, I’m not going to get into why this is such a ludicrous proposition, but it’s clear to me that Bruce just wants to stall this project as much as possible.)

Bruce went on to then refute pretty much everything Jim said in his presentation. Bruce claimed that his info was coming directly from the DEIR. His read of the DEIR led him to believe that BRT would only lead to modest transit ridership growth, get rid of local service, barely increase bus speed, be redundant to BART, increase traffic, reduce parking, prevent left turns, and make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get through. Many of these claims are laughable, especially the one about emergency vehicles, since they too would use the dedicated lanes. As for the other claims, Jim had already provided information that was in opposition to these claims.

But the most outlandish comment Bruce made was that since this BRT proposal is redundant to BART (I’ll get to that later), we should not build it there. Instead, we should build a BRT route somewhere more underserved by transit, like in Walnut Creek! This is totally ludicrous! Why would we spend millions of dollars on BRT in a place where we cannot be assured there will be significant ridership? Also, Bruce, AC Transit does not have jurisdiction over Walnut Creek so that’s not an option.

Me and Eric from Transbay Blog were pretty riled up by this point. But it was ok, the proponet of BRT was about to speak. So we settled ourselves down to listen to Roy from the Temescal Telegraph Business District (sorry, I couldn’t catch his last name but I’m pretty sure it was not Rick Raffanti, who initially was slotted to speak). Roy started off by saying that the Temescal Business Improvement District (BID) had commented on BRT way back in 2004. They supported the project but had concerns. Now, the BID has a special committee on BRT. Though most of them support BRT with qualifications, a minority of them think that the capital investment is too large and unwarranted. (Do they not know that the federal money that’s being allocated for this project cannot just be allocated to another project? Those funds are only for this BRT project.)

I started getting a bit worried at this point. This was our advocate for BRT? But I kept listening. The BID is especially concerned about losing 65% of street parking in Temescal. But instead of just throwing up their hands like some of the Berkeley merchants have done, they are working with AC Transit to try to mitigate this with replacement parking. Roy also expressed concerns about delivery trucks being able to park, and though he liked the proposed removal of some left turn lanes, he thought some needed to be preserved (and some of them will be). He proposed that dedicated bus lanes be featured on most of the BRT route but that we shouldn’t have dedicated lanes in certain business districts. He ended by saying he supported this project, as “it’s the future.”

So not the most ringing endorsement of BRT, but I’m glad to hear that Oakland merchants are proactively involved in the BRT project. Ultimately, this effort will make the project better for merchants and residents.

After the presentations were over, Brunner opened up the floor to comments, which there were plenty of. The speakers can be grouped into four main groupings: firmly opposed, somewhat opposed but with hope, mostly supportive with concerns, and completely supportive.

I’m happy to report that most of the firm opponents were Berkeley residents (there were 3 or 4 firm opponents from Oakland). They repeated many of Bruce Kaplan’s arguments, and then a few of them wasted half their time ranting about how terrible Van Hool buses are. One Berkeley resident said that 90% of trips are done in private vehicles and the BRT project will squeeze cars onto residential streets and other corridors, slowing down the 51 and other buses. Joyce Roy, who’s running for the at large seat on the AC Transit Board of Directors presented her proposal for “BRT light” which involves bulb outs for buses to pull into but no dedicated lanes. She then ranted about Van Hools which she called BST (Bus Slow Transit) and said that we should have electronic trolley buses, which wouldn’t cost anymore than we currently spend!

There were some legitimate concerns expressed by Oakland residents who either supported the project or were on the fence. One mother expressed the need to provide traffic calming measures on neighboring residential streets, as she is concerned about the safety of kids playing in the street. Advocates from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) expressed concern for the safety of bicyclists, as Telegraph right now is a scary place to bike, but ultimately the WOBO reps support the project. Others echoed the concerns of the Telegraph BID, worrying that BRT would have a detrimental effect on businesses.

Though I’m clearly not an objective observer, I think all of the BRT proponents who spoke did an excellent job of explaining why this project is important to us. Jennifer Stanley, who works for the City of Oakland, [UPDATE: Jennifer contacted me to ask to make it more clear that she was not speaking for the City, which she clearly wasn’t – she was speaking as an 18 year resident of District 1] made one of the most poignant points of the day, quoting from Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, when he says “we have to take steps we’ve never even imagined before.” Clearly, BRT will be a really big change, but she’s right that we need to get ready to make some serious changes to address climate change. She also said that our expectations of parking are “suburban”, and that in San Francisco it’s common to have to park 6 blocks away from your destination. She ended by saying that College Avenue only has one lane in each direction, and somehow that works.

I wanted to say a lot (like maybe refuting every point Bruce Kaplan and Joyce Roy made), but I limited my comments to three points. First, I explained that reliability is the biggest problem on the 1/1R line, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of my regular readers. Next, I refuted the claim that this BRT proposal duplicates BART service. It does not! It’s a 15 minute walk for me to Rockridge BART and I cannot do this at night – it’s just not safe to walk through the neighborhoods. So BART’s not an option – if I’m out at night, it’s a bus or taxi for me so BRT would be a huge help. I ended by explaining the problem with the Temescal BID’s proposal to not have dedicated lanes in certain business areas. The reason the 1/1R is so unreliable is because buses get caught in traffic and then bunch up. If we forced buses into traffic in the busiest areas, that would make the rest of the bus only lanes almost entirely ineffective because bunching would still occur.

Other proponents argued that a slow down in car traffic would be good for bicyclists and pedestrians. One speaker made the great point that right now 99.9% of our roads give cars priorities so it is entirely appropriate to convert some of these roads to give buses priorities. He also expressed embarrassment that Los Angeles is years ahead of us on BRT. And another speaker argued that BRT is visionary – it would shift us from focusing on moving individual cars to moving people.

(If I missed your comment, I’m sorry, but I didn’t want this blog post to be 10 pages long. Feel free to add anything I missed in the comments section here.)

The forum concluded with Roy, Bruce & Jim giving closing remarks. In these remarks, Roy gave a much more ringing endorsement of the BRT project, saying that we need to make choices of how long we’re going to remain auto centric. He agreed with me that it is a mistake to say that BRT duplicates BART, especially for Temescal. He also said that the figures opponents were using were “fast and loose” and mentioned that reducing traffic lanes has worked on Marin in Berkeley. Still, he argued that we shouldn’t have dedicated lanes in commercial districts.

Bruce retorted that the “fast and loose” figures were from the DEIR. He also said that we can’t compare our BRT project to LA’s Orange Line, as the Orange Line is not on a major street (that’s correct). He also said we hadn’t yet implemented proof of payment, but I want to know, how arre we going to do this without building those special stations?

Jim closed by admitting that though BRT might seem like a radical concept, lanes have successfully been removed on Market Street and Foothill Boulevard to accommodate bike lanes. Also, Marin in Berkeley has more traffic than Telegraph and they’ve done fine with reduced lanes. He echoed the WOBO speakers, saying that slower car speeds make the streets safer and that slower traffic is a trade off for this safety. He also expressed AC’s commitment to working with the biking community to accommodate bike lanes and to possibly allow bikes on the buses.

(As a bonus, Jane Brunner spent the last 20 minutes of the meeting talking about the budget deficit and the council’s plans to close it. She answered several questions from the audience as well. I’ll write a brief blog post about this tomorrow or Monday.)

Overall, the forum was extremely postive and informative. I’m really grateful to Jane Brunner for organizing this, and I hope we’ll see some more forums like this held in other parts of Oakland. I could go on and on about this meeting forever, but I’m not sure I’m capable of typing any more so go ahead and have at it in the comments section and I’ll join you there.

14 Responses to “An enjoyable and informative morning at Jane Brunner’s BRT forum”

  1. Eric October 11, 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    This is a very thorough report! Nice to see you today.

  2. Charles Siegel October 11, 2008 at 8:15 pm #

    It is relief to hear that Oakland people are more reasonable than Berkeley people. I am thinking about the person from the BID who sees problems that have to be worked out but still supports the project with some reservations, and the person who was worried about traffic on her neighborhood street and wanted traffic calming. As you know, Berkeley people in similar situations (like Bruce Kaplan) tend to say they are totally against the project and invent excuses to kill it totally.

    I am also glad you emphasized the increased safety and pedestrian friendliness of Telegraph with BRT. That is one of the major reasons I support BRT, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.

  3. Joel Ramos (TALC) October 12, 2008 at 7:14 pm #

    Actually, LA did have BRT with dedicated lanes along Wilshire Blvd. for awhile, as it was a long hard fight by the Bus Riders Union, to make service faster and more reliable. The initial implementation was only a test, which proved that bus service was improved with the lanes.

    The council has moved to put in permanent dedicated lanes and are looking for funding, see: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/bottleneck/2007/08/wilshire-bus-la.html

  4. Becks October 12, 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    Oh yeah, I forgot about the Wilshire experiment. I’m glad to hear that they’re planning a more permanent solution as Wilshire is awful for buses right now – it can take over an hour to get a couple miles.

  5. Peter October 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm #

    i’m starting to get a better idea of why i dislike BRTs. they allow for private cars to remain their presence on the streets, and that is unacceptable to me.

    what we should do is open up the car lane to bicycle traffic, which means closing down that lane to car traffic.

    simple. elegant. inexpensive. will make transit run faster. will decrease pollution. will promote sustainability. will promote transit. will increase livability. etc.

    if we’re gonna do BRT, we should care enough to do it right. get rid of the cars.

  6. Hank October 13, 2008 at 7:16 pm #

    Excellent report! Thanks for taking the time to get it all down. I agree with Chuck Siegel that it’s encouraging to know people in Oakland are being reasonable and thoughtful about BRT. What is it with Berkeley, anyway? A lot of people there seem to think they have some kind of entitlement–mainly, to support and uphold the rights of people who drive ’til death do us part. Radical Berkeley indeed!

  7. Joyce Roy October 15, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    For more complete info on my BRT-lite proposal go to my website
    http://www.joyceroy4actransit.net and click on BRT-lite.

    Joyce Roy

  8. OaklandSpaceAcademy October 17, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    […] eliminating street parking is a huge psychological change…sitting outside having a chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty or eggs at The Mixing Bowl will become a significantly worse experience […]

  9. bikerider October 21, 2008 at 8:47 pm #

    Ok Joyce, I read your “BRT-lite” proposal, and quite frankly it reads like “BRT-stupid”.

    Your plan would have buses running every 3-12 minutes, and stopping directly in the right lane (because of the “bus” bulb-out). Because the left-lane of Telegraph is frequently used by cars doing left-turns, the end result is: lots of dangerous passing, if not total gridlock due to both lanes being blocked to automobile through-traffic.

  10. Berkel Berkel Californicus October 22, 2008 at 4:40 am #

    Just say no to Geek Fascism. Just cause your right on somethings doesn’t mean its wrong for others to question. BRT will have huge impacts for telegraph ave, in allot of different ways. And the People of Berkeley have been demanding opportunities to speak and be heard in the decision making process for decades. Just cause the sheople of Oakland are used to being out of the loop doesn’t make the people of Berkeley wrong fro questioning the logics.

    A lil’ history for you green geek fascists. Berkeley delayed the implementation of Bart by about 5 years to come up with a better plan. And they did. They raised a ballot measure to pay for the undergrounding of BART. The undergrounding of BART prevented the environmental rascism of putting more noise, shadows, and obstructrutions in poor communities. And most of the BART line at that time was on the other side of the color line. I don’t see how you can speak with so much sass when you have a transit structure that in West Oakland that is deafening at four blocks away. That’s real hearing damage along the entire length of the West Oakland BART run. BART doesn’t do that to any other community in its entire Bay Area Map, and That is real old fashion negro law.

    So if Berkeley wants to hold up the process of implementing a dedicated lane at the final length of the BRT system, back the hell off you cracker ass idiots. Most of the ridership along the span is not in Berkeley, so not having dedicated lanes in Berkeley would not effect most rides and riders. And we could explore options like just ending the dedicated lanes for the final leg, north of Dwight Ave.

    And I am actually personally interested in having bus only lanes on the final length of telegraph, but I will fight you authoritarians to the end if it comes to more “green” scam being pushed down Berkeley’s throats.

    If you want more real data and analysis check out this dudes blog. He’s running for Berkeley City Council,
    he green & not mean
    http://asadodsworth.blogspot.com/

  11. Jerkle Jerkle Snuffleupagus October 22, 2008 at 2:08 pm #

    Asa Dodsworth?!

    Come on man, that guy hasn’t got a prayer. He’s incoherent, has no organization, and he’s got this blurry eyed, dopey presence that makes you wonder what exactly he’s on. About the only assets he has for Berkeley politicking are youthful good looks and dreds.

    Vote no on KK.

    Just because Becks and her blogger friends have the facts on their side… means they have the goddamn FACTS on their side. BRT will be a huge asset to the east bay.

  12. Berkel Berkel Californicus October 25, 2008 at 1:39 am #

    what facts snuffly,
    really obvious surface level facts,
    there are many other facts suckafish, even facts below the surface.
    berkeley rads own you greenscam idiots.
    Most of the resistance to BRT would be resolved if the zoning change that BRT would produce were removed. When you develop new transit systems, you change the zoning, and allow for developers to place towers of nice communities,

    Part of the reason Berkeley is such a nice place to live, is its human scale. And tower building is only good for congestion, air pollution and expensive property. So unless your invested in real estate, beanhead you dont want that to happen. Berkeley has 130% more density then dumple headded oaktown, so why dont you put the big buildings in you Knuckleheaded bongtown.

    And for the record snuffly, every one but the random uninformed folk that come along with every public process, know the simple straightforward and relevant facts the beck has been so helpful to state. Beck is cool, becks facts are appreciated, but they do not relate to the real problems that carry water in this town. Berkeley is in a fight for its heart an soul with the developers, and the developers have devised a shiney new greenscam skinn that makes the seems so sincere. But density doesnt produce green ness, think about it bunnyrabbit. When you think of green? do you think of sky scrappers??? no bongledor you think of solar panels, alti transit, bikes, insulation, ennergy efficient light bulbs, farmers markets, etc.

    Well well pumpkin head green scam, ties BRT to increased density, and Berkeley doesn’t want it. Berkeley wants real open process, so we can get the issues out on the table, and address them, cause then we get the sweet cool future, and happy city we deserve.
    You my Grasshoper would do well to listen closely, and learn.

    And for Dodsworth, well you just dont know nutthin,
    He speaks clear to the issue, not just spinning politricks,
    and people like him. As fer KK, dodsworth has never endorsed it bc KK doesnt place these same restrictions on parking and roadway construction.

    Snuffly suckabongs, yer the incoherent one.
    “theres apples in the trees, we’ve got all that we need.
    You don’t have to wait until you die,
    you don’t have to waait until you die”

    good evening and good night.

  13. Becks October 25, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    You have this one very, very wrong Berkel. BRT does not automatically change zoning. That doesn’t even make sense, since AC Transit has no control over zoning – that’s within the preview of the city.

    If your real concern is about zoning, then address that issue directly. Though zoning is clearly related to transit improvement, there’s no automatic correlation. So if it’s high rises you don’t want, take that to the council. Don’t kill BRT just because you don’t want to see tall buildings.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Three important transportation meetings « FutureOakland - October 13, 2008

    […] UPDATE: Becks reports on the BRT meeting at Living in the O. […]

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