Tag Archives: Berkeley City Council

BRT Project in Danger?

24 Oct

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.

Why I’m Ready for BRT & Why Berkeley Should be Too

22 Oct

So far, I’ve been quiet on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project being proposed to replace the 1R that travels through San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley along International and Telegraph. V Smoothe has done a fantastic job explaining the project over at Novometro and responding to complaints about BRT at A Better Oakland. Robert in Monterey also did a great job honing in on liberalism gone bad in Berkeley’s efforts to halt the BRT project. And of course the Friends of BRT have been sharing their side of the story.

I guess I felt like I was off the hook, and maybe even that I had nothing additional to add. But the more I read these blogs in support of BRT and the print media’s opposition to BRT, I realized this was too important of an issue not to write about. I’m not going to debunk every myth about BRT (for that, check out V Smoothe’s most recent post on the subject), but I do want to offer my perspective, as a driver, bus rider, avid walker, and as someone who’s lived on both the Oakland and Berkeley sides of the 1 AC Transit line.

When the the 40 was retired and replaced by the 1 and the 1R, I was ecstatic. The 1R was fast, buses came more frequently, and it seemed like my previous public transit concerns had all been met. Of course, that was too good to be true.

A few months later, I still ride the 1R or 1 about ten times a week, but the experience is rarely perfect. Even when I check NextBus, I sometimes barely miss the bus or am left waiting for 15 minutes, as several buses bunch up behind each other and arrive at the same time. Though I have a car and could easily drive it to work, I’ve remained committed to dealing with the inconveniences of riding the bus (along with the benefits), but I know many others aren’t so patient or committed.

A BRT system on Telegraph would make my daily commute to and from work a lot more dependable and enjoyable, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is not what I’m most looking forward to. I’m looking forward to riding the bus to Whole Foods, hopping on the bus to take a walk around Lake Merritt, and riding the bus instead of BART to get my hair cut in North Berkeley. And what I’m really looking forward to is a quick bus ride to stores and restaurants on Telegraph and in Downtown Berkeley.

Yes, as Berkeley Telegraph merchants and residents are busy freaking out about the loss of parking, loss of traffic lanes, and the lack of business this would cause, they’re forgetting something very important. One of the reasons many of us in the East Bay avoid that area like the plague is because of the already terrible problems with parking and traffic. I would love to shop at Moe’s Books more often, but it’s a horribly long walk, and on the weekends it can take upwards of 40 minutes to get there by bus (waiting for and riding the 1). Past the UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley’s just unwalkable for me, at least when I’m walking from home. So I rarely eat at some of my favorite restaurants and rarely frequent some of my favorite bars. All of this would change for me with BRT.

Sure, I’d get to ride quickly to fun spots in Oakland and Berkeley, but what would I do with my car? Though I drive seldomly, when I do drive, I frequently park my car on Telegraph in North Oakland. Losing my parking spot would be worth it though, and with BRT, I’d move closer towards getting rid of my car altogether (if I don’t do it before then). I like to think that I’m not the only one who would make that decision, especially considering that even in LA, the introduction of BRT has gotten thousands of commuters out of their cars and onto the bus.

Unfortunately, I’m not just writing all of this for fun. The entire BRT project is in danger, partially because of the complaining merchants and residents in Berkeley who just don’t understand this project. The Berkeley City Council has an item about the BRT (PDF) on their consent calendar this Tuesday so it’s time to tell Berkeley that we want BRT to move forward, NOW.

According to an email from Friends of BRT, attendance by BRT supporters at past Berkeley hearings has been low so if you can make it, please join me on Tuesday:

Berkeley City Council Meeting
Tuesday, OCTOBER 23, 2007
7:00 P.M.
Council Chambers – 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

If you’d like to speak, you should arrive at 6:45 p.m. to fill out a speaker’s card. If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can express your concern by faxing or emailing the council and mayor. Here’s a sample letter from Friends of BRT:

Send a letter, fax, or e-mail to the mayor and city council. A sample letter and contact information is provided below. Please feel free to modify and personalize the letter. Or you can just cut-and-paste, signing your name.

Send to:
Mayor Tom Bates and Members of the City Council
City of Berkeley
c/o of City Clerk
2180 Milvia St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel. (510) 981-6900
Fax: (510) 981-6901
E-mail: clerk@ci.berkeley. ca.us

Dear Mayor Bates and Members of the City Council:

I am writing to support AC Transit’s proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit Project. I urge you to move as quickly as possible to do the following:

At your meeting of Oct. 23, 2007, create an open process focused on choosing locally preferred alternatives for the Southside/Telegraph, Bancroft Way, and Downtown parts of the proposed BRT route in Berkeley, which AC Transit will consider in preparing its Final EIR on the project.

Emphasize that considering the “no build” option will be appropriate only after the release of the Final EIR, and the Final EIR cannot be prepared until Berkeley provides AC Transit with its presentation of locally preferred alternatives.

Ensure that the process of developing the locally preferred alternatives will involve the Transportation Commission in a leading collaborative role. The Transportation Commission is the primary body responsible for advising the city council on transportation-related matters. It has already given a great deal of consideration to BRT and solicited public input at many different meetings of the full commission and subcommittees. This is not a time to exclude that commission from the process.

Ensure that the process will have a clearly defined deadline, preferably no later than March 30, 2008.

Thank you for your consideration.