Here’s part two of my posts about the 51 open houses and planning process. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend first reading the previous post on the reasons the 51 is so slow. These recommendations probably won’t make much sense otherwise. Also, if you’d like to learn more, read the entire AC Transit 51 report.
ROUTE LEVEL RECOMMENDATIONS
Stop removals and re-spacing: As explained in the previous post, the stops on the 51 are too close together in most places. To fix this, AC Transit proposes to remove 22 bus stops (15% of the total stops) along the line. The estimated time savings would be more than four minutes in each direction. This estimate sounds conservative to me, but, regardless, I think this plan makes a lot of sense. The only problem? “AC Transit does not own or maintain bus stops, and so the local jurisdiction controls the final placement of the stops and works with AC Transit to determine the best location.” So ACT needs to go through the planning processes in Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda to get these stops removed. And at the Berkeley open house, Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin raised concerns about removing the stop at Milvia on University. I’m concerned that community members will rally around saving several specific stops, and without removing a significant number of stops, there will be no significant time savings.
Make boarding and alighting faster: ACT recommends several ways to do this. One is lengthening bus stops – right now, many bus stops are too short so buses have difficulty pulling in and out and passengers sometimes have to board and alight in the street, which is not only dangerous, but also slow. A related idea is to clear the areas around bus stops. Street furniture, trash cans, and newspaper racks can get in the way of boarding and alighting so anything that’s close to a door should be removed. To make boarding faster, ACT recommends encouraging Translink use, which is much faster than fare passes or cash. Translink is also SO much more conenient, but I’ll get into that in another post. And lastly, ACT wants to encourage rear door alighting. Yes! I can’t tell you how much time I see wasted as riders alight through the front door. Unless you have difficulties moving, there’s not good excuse to alight from the front door when others are boarding there.
Supplemental Service: Currently, ACT provides supplemental service at Oakland Technical High School and Claremont Middle School. The report recommends using articulated (double) buses at Oakland Tech and to create supplemental service for Berkeley and Alameda High Schools. Similarly, ACT wants to work with UC Berkeley to determine if its bus service is sufficient, particularly on the perimeter line that travels around campus. They also recommend creating better wayfinding signs around campus so students know they can use the perimeter buses to travel short distances. I’ve often seen UC Berkeley students often hop on AC Transit buses just for a few stops, when they easily could walk or use the permiter bus so hopefully this can be addressed.
- Schedule Refinements: Optimize schedules so that there isn’t too much nor too little run time (this sounds a bit optimistic).
- Signal Coordination/Signal Actuation: Coordinate signals so the buses can make it through several green lights in a row.
- Real-Time Passenger Information Systems/Passenger Amenities: There’s no money to put NextBus electronic signs at 51 bus stops so instead they recommend putting up signs explaining how you can access NextBus online or via PDA. Too bad for those who don’t have internet access.
- Scheduled Dwell Point: Staff recommends using Rockridge BART as a dwell point, where a few minutes padding would be added to the schedule. This might cause some buses to sit at Rockridge for several minutes but it will help others make up lag time.
- Active Line Management: Supervisors on the route have been shown to improve on-time performance so ACT would like to have more active line management on the 51 line. Of course, this costs money.
SEGMENT LEVEL PROPOSALS
At various segments along the route, AC Transit has proposed specific improvements that would save time. I won’t cover each of the specific segment recommendations here, but these are the types of recommendations that were made:
Queue Jump Lanes: These are lanes that are short distances approaching an intersection, often taken from parking lanes or right turn lanes, where a bus can pass a line of cars as it heads to a bus stop across the street.
Peak Hour Parking Restriction: Parking would not be allowed during peak hours so that there would be additional travel lanes in heavily traveled areas (like University near the freeway) that could be used both by buses and other vehicles.
Restrict Turns into Driveways: I’m sure many of you can imagine where this is a problem – on College near Safeway. Restricting turns in this area would not only help speed up buses but would also speed up all traffic.
SERVICE DESIGN OPTIONS
And now to the part you’ve been waiting for. After looking at all of the 51 data, ACT staff came up with three proposals for changing the route service design. They kind of took the easy way out by not telling us which one they recommend, and I find it almost impossible to believe that they don’t have a favorite (though maybe they couldn’t agree). At this point, no decisions have been made in implementing these changes – they’re going to have lots of public hearings at the city and regional levels. Here are their recommendations:
Split Route: This would consist of splitting the 51 into two separate lines. These two lines would continue to serve all of the stops on the 51 route and would together cover the entire distance of the 51 route, but each would only transverse about half of the route. A split route has a couple of advantages. First, shorter lines could isolate the delays so that a traffic jam in Alameda didn’t effect riders in Berkeley, for example. Second, dividing the route provides flexibility in that the two lines could have different levels of service (ie 10 minute and 8 minute headways) or use different length buses.
However there are some huge problems with this proposal. An important one, especially in the face of ACT’s budget crisis, is that the two lines would be more expensive to operate than one line. And then of course a split route would be detrimental to those who would need to use both lines. That would involve a transfer (which may cost money) and extra waiting time, though ACT staff say this would be mitigated by having well timed schedules. To that I say, yeah right – I’d be more likely to just avoid the 51 or walk to my destination rather than deal with transferring.
The report discusses three possible points for breaking the line but staff only focused on two at the open house: breaking the line at Downtown Oakland or at Rockridge BART. A DTO split would effect 1639 riders daily who take the 51 through that point and a Rockrige split would effect 2439 riders. The report kind of brushes off this effect, since it’s only about 10% of the ridership, but that attitude bothers me. I can’t help but think that a lot of these riders will figure out some other way to get to their destination, especially if they already transfer to or from the 51 from another line. I’m not so hot on this option, and maybe it’s because either of the proposed splits would effect me on some of my 51 rides, but most of the attendees at the Berkeley open house preferred this option.
Limited Service/Local Service: This option consists of maintain current 51 service that stops at every bus stop but adding in “limited” service that would only serve the major stops along the route. I’m going to admit that this is my favorite design plan, but I wish they would stop calling it limited and start calling it rapid! I remember the 40 before the 1/1R existed and that it had many of the same problems that the 51 has. Buses would get bunched, rides would take forever because we stopped at every stop, and buses would get so crowded that sometimes a bus would pass up riders because it was too full. The 1R hasn’t eliminated all these problems (especially reliability and bunching, which is why we need BRT), but at least now buses aren’t uncomfortably full and once you board a 1R, you’ll probably get to your destination quickly.
Now the 51 line is of course not the same as the 1 line. For starters, College Avenue will never have rapid service because it’s difficult for buses to pass each other and there’s often near stopped traffic for several blocks. But for the rest of the line, particularly along Broadway and University, which have several traffic lanes, rapid buses could move very quickly. Really, this is the type of service I dream of. Unfortunately, this option got just three paragraphs of attention in the report, which makes me concerned that ACT isn’t taking this option seriously. I hope that changes.
A/B Stops: The concept of this is that there would be two 51 – 51A and 51B – that both ran the entire length of the 51 route. Most stops would be labeled either A or B, except major stops that would be labeled both A and B. The 51A would only stop at A stops and the 51B would stop at B stops. Confused yet? You’re not the only one. When staff presented this at the open house, the whole room looked perplexed. This plan seems crazy and I wonder if staff came up with it just for the purpose of having a plan that could be easily taken out of the mix and that could be used later in arguments – “At least we didn’t implement the A/B option.” Seriously though, nobody at the open house liked this idea and I’m guessing it’s not going to go anywhere so I’m not going to worry about it.
No Change: There’s of course the option to not change the service design. ACT could leave the design as it is and just make the other improvements listed above.
Whew. That’s it, I promise. Now that I’ve taken hours of my time to pore over this report and dissect it, I’d love to hear what you think. Will any of these suggestions work or is the 51 doomed to slow, unreliable service? I’d especially be interested in hearing what you think about the route level service design options or if there are improvement suggestions you have that were not covered in the report.