This is the second in a two-part series of guest posts about Berkeley’s vote on BRT. Today’s post, by Joel Ramos, focuses on what happened and what’s next, particularly as it relates to Oakland. Yesterday’s post, by Reuben Duarte, looked at BRT through an environmental and planning lens.
This guest post was written by Joel Ramos, who grew up riding AC Transit and is now a Community Planner at TransForm. He began working in Oakland in 1998 when he worked on getting community input for planning projects in the Fruitvale. He has been conducting outreach to community groups along the proposed BRT corridor for the past four years.
April 29th was an unfortunate day for “Green” Berkeley, and East Bay transit riders as a whole.
Despite support from the Sierra Club, the Alameda County Building Trades Council, UNITE-HERE Local 2850, TransForm, Livable Berkeley, the UC Berkeley Graduate Student Union, the East Bay Young Democrats and others to study a Full-Build BRT alternative with dedicated lanes, Berkeley City Council members Jesse Arreguin, Gordon Wozniak, Susan Wengraff, and Kriss Worthington would only vote to study an alternative that had not yet been considered. The alternative that was approved would be similar to existing 1R service, but with bulb-outs, proof-of-payment systems, and traffic signal priority – but no dedicated lanes – as the build alternative.
The outcome of this vote and the comments made by the councilmembers made it clear that logic lost and mob-rule reigns in Berkeley. The public comments made just before the vote made it clear that a majority of the opponents had been mis-informed, and were led to be convinced that the project would “kill Telegraph” and had “no environmental benefits”, despite any legitimate sources or studies, and in denial of the success of every other BRT project that has been built in the U.S.
While most transit advocates expected nothing less from Councilmember Kriss Worthington, it was Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Gordon Wozniak that were most surprising.
Wozniak (who often claims to be a “scientist”) openly stated that even if studied, he wouldn’t vote for the build alternative on account of (unfounded) fears of traffic impacts to his district. Jesse Arreguin (who won the Sierra Club’s endorsement in his election campaign) abstained from the vote for a study of dedicated lanes, despite the Sierra Club’s consistent support of the study of dedicated lanes for BRT. Councilmember Susan Wengraff was the least informed (and apparently most ignorant of the thousands of riders who opt for the 1/1R everyday and DON’T ride BART), and said she was against the project because she thought it duplicated BART. She then abstained from the vote for a study of the Full-Build Alternative with dedicated lanes. Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak were the only two who voted “No” for the motion made by Daryl Moore to study the dedicated lanes as part of a BRT system, but the motion failed anyway.
It was an eye-opening Public Hearing for BRT in “Transit First” Berkeley. The transit advocates in the meeting were validated by one speaker’s efforts who asked every opponent of BRT to raise their hand. When the opponents did, he then asked them to keep their hand up if they voted for Measure G (Berkeley’s recent ballot measure to commit to reduce greenhouse gases). Nearly every opponent’s hand was lowered again. The speaker then pointed out that 80% of Berkeley’s voters had voted for Measure G, and that clearly, the BRT opponents were not a representation of Berkeley overall.
Nevertheless, the City Council voted to validate the radical skepticism of the car-centric opponents, and their rude, uninformed resistance to change of the fossil-fueled status quo in Berkeley.
What This Means For BRT in North Oakland
Unfortunately, the approved alternative is not expected to deliver the same amount of reliability that dedicated lanes would give, and to run BRT outside of dedicated lanes for long stretches in Berkeley could cause a delay in the overall system, reducing the overall capacity for shorter headways. It remains unclear if what Berkeley did vote for would even be worthwhile for AC Transit to pursue, as opposed to simply leaving Berkeley out of the future project altogether. If Oakland (upon study of the impacts of a full-build BRT system in a Final Environmental Impact Report) decides to move forward with a full-build BRT system, AC Transit could decide to have BRT “turn around” before going to downtown Berkeley (i.e. at the Uptown Transit Center or Macarthur BART).
As such, BRT supporters who live in North Oakland should see this as a “call to arms” for BRT in the Temescal, which may now be left out of the scope of the project if AC Transit decides not to build anything in Berkeley, and instead opt to turn BRT around at either Macarthur BART or at the Uptown Transit center.
To help in that fight, join a group of North Oakland BRT supporters by contacting Joel Ramos of TransForm at joel@TransFormCa.org or contact Councilmember Brunner yourself (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let her know of your continued support for BRT with bike lanes and dedicated lanes in the Temescal.