Tag Archives: Bus Rapid Transit

Dreaming of an Oakland bus rapid transit line… in Vegas

19 Apr

A couple weeks ago I was in Las Vegas for a conference. Las Vegas brings plenty of images to mind for most people – gambling, bright lights, crowded streets, over the top architecture, drunken bachelor and bachelorette parties, and so much excess. But something you might not associate with Vegas is bus rapid transit (BRT), and even a transit wonk like me had never had that association until a couple weeks ago.

For the first time I stayed in downtown Las Vegas, which still has plenty of tourist-attracting hotels and casinos but also is filled with office buildings and some housing. It also has buses, lots and lots of buses. And on my second day in Vegas, as I was walking to an event, I was overjoyed to run into not one but two bus rapid transit lines!

Here are some of the photos I took: Continue reading

Newsom & Garamendi might be the high speed rail governor and BRT congressman

5 May

At the California Democratic Convention a couple weeks ago, Gavin Newsom met with a couple dozen bloggers to talk about his campaign for governor. I was excited going into this meeting, especially since I knew exactly what question I was going to ask. It was the same question that AC Transit Director Joel Young asked at a Newsom town hall in March: what are you going to do about the fact that the state has entirely stripped funding from local transit agencies? You might remember that Newsom basically dodged the question and launched into a speech about how great high speed rail is. So this time, I was determined to get a better answer.

And surprisingly, I was somewhat impressed with his answer. He explained that coming from a city and county, he understands the needs of public transit agencies. While stimulus funds are available for capital projects, none are available to run buses, which is problematic. (Of course, this isn’t entirely true – some funds are being used for operating expenses – but it was nice to hear that he understands the need for operations funding.)

Newsom then said that California is a prosperous state and that it’s all about priorities. Except somehow he managed to skirt by without saying what his priorities are! His comments suggested that he would prioritize public transit, but he never actually committed to this. This was a theme throughout the blogger meeting – Newsom displayed a firm understanding of the issues at hand but managed to not make many specific policy promises.

My favorite line from Newsom about transit issues came not in response to my question but in an answer to Calitics’ David Dayen’s question about prison issues. Newsom said (among other things), “Building prisons is like building highways; within a few years, they’re 90% filled up.” Yes, a major candidate for governor understands that building highways is fruitless because they only generate demand and never fulfill it. Of course, he didn’t promise that he would place a moratorium on new highway construction or do anything else to stop highway expansion.

I left feeling pretty good about Newsom’s answer. Though he didn’t make specific policy promises (except on high speed rail), he at least didn’t entirely dodge my question.

But I became a bit less impressed yesterday, after reading Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi’s post on Calitics about High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Up until a few weeks ago, Garamendi was running for governor, and if he had stayed in the race, he would have blown Newsom out of the water on transit issues:

While some have raised concerns that HOT lanes give wealthy commuters special access – and this is a criticism I take very seriously – I would argue that broad access and equity in services are best achieved with a package of transportation solutions that includes the expansion of longer distance rapid transit bus service throughout key corridors in East Bay and South Bay counties. The most effective and profitable rapid transit routes reaching more inland regions of the Bay Area will have to be implemented along the proposed HOT lane network to provide a reliable enough commute to convince riders to leave their cars at home. There is nothing rapid about gridlock.

Rapid transit buses, which along city streets allow bus commuters to avoid most traffic lights, have been shown to be popular and effective in the Bay Area and should be considered a low-cost solution in areas where a more speedy public transit commute is desired but rail is impractical. A study of a busy seven-city 14-mile Bay Area route by the Federal Transit Administration determined that the rapid transit line reduced end-to-end travel time by an average of 12 minutes, leading to a 21 percent reduction in time previously spent on local service non-rapid bus lines. Ridership across all areas of the corridor increased by 8.5 percent as a result of the rapid transit line, and most significantly, around 19 percent of rapid transit riders previously used a car for their commute along the corridor, a reduction of around 1,100 auto trips per day.

Garamendi touched on two issues that are near and dear to my heart: taxing drivers to pay for public transit and BRT expansion. If he was still in the race for governor, I’m pretty sure I would have signed up for his campaign immediately after reading this. Though Newsom gets larger public transit issues, it’s clear from this blog post that Garamendi understands the nuances of public transit issues.

But transit advocates don’t have to decide between Garamendi and Newsom. Garamendi has jumped into the race for Ellen Tauscher’s congressional seat in CA-10 and is the fruntrunner in the race. Which means that East Bay residents might soon have a high speed rail governor and BRT congressman.

For an excellent and comprehensive write up of the Newsom bloggers meeting, check out Robert Cruickshank’s post at Calitics.

Advocates secure temporary win on the Oakland Airport Connector

27 Apr

Last week I attended the BART Board meeting to weigh in on their brilliant plan to fully finance the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) through borrowing up to $150 million. The meeting was frustrating at times (and incredibly long), but in the end, Director Bob Franklin negotiated a compromise to bring the loan resolution back in two weeks, after they could get further information from staff. Though this win is temporary, it’s incredibly important because it gives advocates two more weeks to share our ideas with BART directors and to organize our community to call for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative.

Most of the more than two hour discussion on the OAC consisted of BART directors, staff, union members, and business interests talking about how great this project was and patting themselves on the back for finally getting the funding in place for this project that has been in the works for two decades. They also repeatedly called this a “legacy project”, just what Obama was thinking of when creating the stimulus bill.

But I’m not going to relive those moments here – they were just too maddening. Instead, I wanted to share the real highlights of the meeting, the speeches that kept me from exploding and rekindled my hope for sensible transit.

Though transit advocates, including me, only learned about this hearing two days ahead of time, eleven of us spoke out against the OAC and in favor of a cheaper alternative, like BRT. Every one of the advocates was compelling, but Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, was especially convincing. Cohen presented the possibility of how BART could use existing committed funds to build a BRT airport connector and could use some of these funds for operating costs down the road. Based on his calculations, this would allow the BRT connector to be free, while the current OAC would cost $6 each way!

My favorite part of the meeting came after the public speakers weighed in, when Director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco, my new transit hero, spoke up. He was incredible! He asked all of the important questions and echoed the concerns of transit advocates.

Radulovich grilled staff about the wisdom of borrowing $150 million for this project, since that would take away borrowing capacity for other priorities, like replacing rail cars. He also questioned their ridership estimates (as I have), saying they clearly are not conservative, especially since they do not estimate any ridership drop once high speed rail is in service.

Radulovich was very concerned that BRT had not been explored recently, even though it seemed like a good fit. He told a story that I have told so many times about BRT. Radulovich, like me, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where no one rode the bus (or any transit) unless they absolutely had to. But then the BRT Orange Line was built, and they met their 2020 ridership projections in just a couple of years. That success sold Radulovich on the BRT concept. As I often argue, if BRT will pull LA drivers out of their cars, it can do the same in the East Bay.

The biggest complaint from Radulovich was about the proposed fair for the rail OAC. He argued that the $6 fare would be more expensive than traveling to SFO and would be unfair to airport workers. Though some of his colleagues have argued that those who can’t afford it could just ride the bus, he said that it wasn’t right to have a two tiered system. Besides the social justice aspects, the two tiered system would negate any environmental impacts since the buses would still have to run.

At the end of his speech, Radulovich presented a perfect analogy. He said that in a house, you fix the foundation before adding a master suite or a jacuzzi. He then retracted that and said the BART system was closer to being a house on fire. Can you imagine upgrading a house as it burned to the ground? That’s basically what the BART Board would be doing if they borrow $150 million and allow the OAC project to move forward as is.

Several of Radulovich’s colleagues echoed his concerns but ultimately almost all of them sounded like they would vote to take out the loan. Luckily, Director Franklin saved the issue by proposing to delay the vote on the loan until the next meetin, and all the directors voted for this, except for Carol Ward-Allen, who abstained.

BART will be considering this issue again on Thursday, May 14th. I have no delusions that it will be easy to convince the directors that the right move is to scrap the current proposal in favor of a much cheaper and more effective BRT project. After all, we’re going up against BART staff, construction unions, business interests, and Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid. But BRT would be the right move – for Oakland, for BART, and for the greater Bay Area – and transit advocates are going to do our best to convince the directors of that.

Check back later this week for more info and for ways to get involved.

Protect Bay Area Transit: Stop MTC from Wasting Stimulus Funds

23 Feb

As I mentioned yesterday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will be voting this Wednesday on how to use federal stimulus funds. While they’ve scrapped one of their initial wasteful proposals, the Transbay Terminal train box, they are still proposing to use $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector. V Smoothe summarized the proposed project and its history last week at OakBook:

BART’s Oakland Airport Connector is a proposed 3.2-mile elevated tramway that would ferry passengers from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. Since the agency did not have enough funding to finance the project in full, they began seeking private partners to help build the rail line. All three interested parties dropped out of the project last year, citing concerns about profitability. At the time, BART officials said they would drop plans for the elevated train and begin exploring more affordable ways of providing a reliable connection between the station and the airport, such as dedicated bus lanes.

But then of course Congress passed the stimulus package, and MTC staff proposed to use $70 million of the funds to revive the Oakland Airport Connector project.

Now, I can understand why the Oakland Airport Connector is such a tempting project. I’m going to be taking BART to the airport this Friday evening, and a quicker and more reliable connection would save me a lot of time. The problem with the project as currently proposed is that it’s incredibly expensive, and like so many of BART’s projects, relies on ridership statistics that are entirely unrealistic. (They’re predicting that more people would use this connection than take BART to SFO!)

Another problem, as TransForm explains, is that the Airport Connector is not “shovel ready.” Meanwhile, transit agencies around the Bay Area are struggling, especially since the state has pulled all funding from public transit statewide. These local agencies, including AC Transit, desperately need these funds to continue providing an adequate level of service and to avoid raising fares. Even spread out among the regional transit operators, $70 million would have a huge impact.

The best part is that even if MTC decides not to provide this $70 million to the Oakland Airport Connector, BART already has sufficient funds to solve the problem of slow bus travel from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. That solution is Bus Rapid Transit. BRT would take buses out of traffic and shuttle riders quickly and reliably to and from the Oakland Airport. And BRT could be completed in much less time and with far less money than the current proposed connector, shifting the $70 million to where it could make an impact now.

MTC staff seem pretty stuck on this idea so it’s up to us to convince the MTC that the needs of local transit agencies should take precedence over another pie in the sky BART proposal. Here’s what you can do, via TransForm:

Join us on Weds., Feb. 25th at 10am at MTC (101 8th St., across from Lake Merritt BART) in telling the Commissioners to direct new funding to critical public transit needs, not the costly Oakland Airport Connector. It’s important that we coordinate our message for maximum impact. Please let us know if you’re coming and get a copy of talking points by contacting Joel Ramos.

If you can’t make the meeting, email your comments opposing the use of recovery funds for the OAC to John Goodwin at MTC now at jgoodwin@mtc.ca.gov.

Eric at Transbay Blog agrees about the Oakland Airport Connector and provides more background on this project and the MTC’s funding proposal.

Covering November’s transit measures & candidates

20 Oct

There are several local and state transit issues that Californians will vote on this November, and each of them have been generating a lot of discussion in the blogosphere.

With the vote on Measure KK in Berkeley just a couple weeks away, it seems like everyone’s talking about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). V Smoothe wrote two must read posts over the past week, making strong arguments for BRT. First, she explained that the main advantage of BRT is not speed, it’s reliability. Today, she followed up by debunking the myth that the proposed BRT line is redundant to BART. Raymond at Oakland Space Academy is open to the idea of BRT but is a bit more skeptical than most of Oakland’s bloggers.

Shockingly, the Berkeley Daily Planet distorted what happened at Jane Brunner’s recent BRT meeting in North Oakland. I attended the meeting and wrote here that the overwhelming sentiment of the Oakland community was in support of BRT. Yet Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor claimed that Oaklanders at the meeting were as divided as Berkeley is on the issue (which couldn’t be much further for the truth). Luckily, in the same issue, dto510’s excellent opinion piece on BRT was published, along with a letter to the editor from me contesting Allen-Taylor’s claims about the meeting.

BRT is not all that’s at stake for transit on this November’s ballot. Prop 1A would authorize the sale of bonds to finance a high speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco. While I agree with V Smoothe’s assessment early this year that the Altamont alignment of the rail line would have been much more favorable for the line as a whole and for Oakland in particular, I think this project is still worthwhile under the chosen Pacheco alignment. Robert’s been following this initiative closely for months now over at his California High Speed Rail Blog, making several convincing arguments about why we need high speed rail now. I especially appreciated his recent post explaining that the high speed rail project will provide needed economic stimulus to our state, much like bridges and dams did during the Great Depression.

Though at first thought it might not seem relevant to Oaklanders, Santa Clara County will be voting on Measure B, which would increase the county’s sales tax rate to fund the extension of BART to San Jose. Eric at Transbay Blog has embarked on an in-depth series of posts dedicated to explaining the history of this project and to making a clear argument about why BART to San Jose is a bad idea for the Bay Area’s regional transit system. 295bus agrees, arguing that the local transit agency’s obsession with the BART extension has gotten in the way of other opportunities to improve transit in the county.

And while we’ve all been distracted by the presidential race and the at-large city council race, there’s another important race happening in Oakland. At-large AC Transit Director Chris Peeples is being challenged by Joyce Roy, an Oakland resident who has staked her campaign on complaining about Van Hool buses and opposing BRT (PDF). Needless to say, I’m voting for Peeples, and Jeff Hobson from the Transportation and Land Use Coalition is too.

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



Downtown Oakland



East Oakland



Oakland Cumulative



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.

Transit & Arts on Saturday

10 Oct

Tomorrow’s a busy day for me, and I thought some of you might be interested in the two events I’m attending. To start off the day, I’m going to walk down the street to Peralta Elementary School to attend Jane Brunner’s community meeting on bus rapid transit. Though there’s been a lot of talk about bus rapid transit in Berkeley, the Oakland community’s been relatively quiet on the topic so I’m excited to see what my neighbors think about this essential transit improvement. If you don’t know much about BRT or aren’t quite convinced yet, this would be a great meeting to attend, as you’ll hear from proponents, opponents, and AC Transit.

Then at night I’ll hop on the bus to downtown to go to the 3rd Annual Oakland Arts Clash. Hosted by the Electric Vandals (with support from several other groups), the Oakland Arts Clash is, well, exactly what its name implies, a night of arts clashing. Dance groups of various styles will dance to music from somewhat disparate genres. Apparently, the promoters are secretive about exactly which dance groups will dance to which music, but from what I’ve heard about past events, this will not be a boring evening. I’m especially excited to see Damon and the Heathens, an Oakland group who’s music dto510 recently introduced me to. But no matter what kind of music or dance you’re into, it will probably be represented at the Arts Clash – from Hawaiian to jazz, African to hip hop.

The info for both events can be found below or on my events listing. A day of transit and music in Oakland – what more could a girl ask for?

Saturday, October 11th: Jane Brunner’s Community Meeting on Bus Rapid Transit

Speakers:             Jim Cunradi, AC Transit
Rick Raffanti, Temescal Telegraph Business District
Bruce Kaplan, Berkeleyans for Better Transit Options

When: Sunday , October 11, 2008 from 10:00 am-12:00 pm
Where: Peralta Elementary School, 460 63rd Street
More Info: http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/council/coun_mem/brunner/BrunnerNewsletterOctober2008FINAL.pdf

Use AC Transit lines 1/1R or 51.

Saturday, October 11th: 3rd Annual Oakland Arts Clash

The Electric Vandals, in cooperation with Attic Light Productions and the City of Oakland’s Parks and Recreation department, and with promotional support from Oaklandish, Big Family Movers and the East Bay Rats, are presenting their yearly mixed arts festival at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts on October 11th 2008. Tickets will be $15, with the lobby reception beginning at 7 p.m. Peformers include: Axis Dance Company, Dimensions Extensions Performance Ensemble, Hyim, Halau O Keikiali’i, Dub Esquire, and more.

When: Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 7:00pm
Where: Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St
How Much: $15
More Info: http://electricvandals.com/

Bunching, Overcrowding & the Need for BRT

6 Aug

Yesterday morning, I was headed to downtown Berkeley for, somewhat ironically, a transit meeting before going to work. I looked at NextBus and saw that I was just about to miss a 1 and a 1R down Telegraph and the next bus (a 1R) wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes.

Sometimes NextBus is wrong (I don’t think all the GPS devices on the buses work), but when I wandered down to the stop on Alcatraz and Telegraph 15 minutes later, it became apparent that there had been a 20 minute gap. There were about 15 people waiting for the bus! Even for the morning commute, that is a lot, considering a bus should arrive at least every 12 minutes.

We all boarded the bus (which took quite some time), and it was packed – I mean 51 bus packed or for those who don’t ride the bus, BART morning commute packed. Once I got on the bus, it was a fairly quick ride to downtown Berkeley – probably about 12 minutes. So I had no problem making it to my meeting on time, but I’m sure some of my fellow bus riders ended up being late because they hadn’t prepared to wait for the bus for 20 minutes.

This brings me to the real problem with the current 1 lines. The problem is not speed – it’s reliability. Once you get on the 1R it’s always fast, but you’re going to have to wait an unknown amount of time to catch it. You might wait 30 seconds or you might wait 20 minutes so your 15 minute bus ride can end up taking you anywhere from 15 minutes to 35 minutes, which is unacceptable for most people.

The main cause of this unreliable schedule is traffic, which effects buses in several ways:

  1. Buses get stuck in traffic, just like cars do.
  2. After pulling over to a bus stop, buses often have to wait several seconds to safely merge back into traffic.
  3. Once a bus gets behind schedule because of traffic, the effect snowballs – it is late to pick up the next set of passengers so there are more passengers to pick up which takes more time. So as it travels down its route it gets further and further behind schedule.

All of this leads to one of the most annoying realities of bus riding – bunching of buses! After the 20 minute delay yesterday, another 1R pulled up 2 minutes later and a 1 pulled up a minute after that. So while the bus I was riding was packed, I’m guessing the buses behind us were close to empty, which certainly isn’t a good use of resources.

Luckily, there’s a solution to these problems, and it’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). With dedicated lanes, buses won’t have to compete with traffic and will avoid delays associated with pulling over. And bunching will hopefully be a thing of the past, which means fewer overcrowded buses and fewer nearly empty buses. Unfortunately, we still have a few years to wait before BRT becomes a reality, and a ballot initiative to defeat before that. Still, I can’t help but dream about how different my transit life will be once there are lanes dedicated to buses.

(I wrote this post before leaving my office and on the way home, I had almost the same experience. A long time in between buses, hopped on a 1, a 1R passed a few minutes later, and then another 1R, and by the time we reached my house all of the buses were within a couple blocks of eachother.)

Berkeley City Council May Try to Halt Anti-BRT Ballot Initiative

8 Jul

UPDATE: As Eric explains here and here, the council voted to place the initiative on the ballot and not to challenge it legally. However, if the initiative passes, I think they are likely to challenge it.

A few months ago, I explained why the Berkeley anti-BRT initiative is bad news. Well, it looks like the Berkeley City Council and City Attorney may prevent the initiative from making it to the ballot. In fact, they’re discussing this as I type.

From the city’s press release (not posted online yet):

At a special closed-door session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council, on the advice of its attorney, could vote to go to court to stop a proposed ballot measure that would “require voter approval before dedicating Berkeley streets or lanes for transit-only or HOV/bus-only use.”

The executive session begins with public comment in open session in the City Council Chambers…

The city attorney’s report states that the measure could be unlawful, conflicting with the vehicle code that delegates to the transit agency the authority to create HOV lanes on city streets to the City Council.

I’m not well versed on this part of the law, but I’m assuming Berkeley’s city attorney did his research before bringing this before the council. While I ultimately think that we can defeat this ballot initiative and help move the AC Transit BRT project along, it’d be really nice not to have to sink so much energy into this fight when there are so many other important issues on the state ballot this year (like Yes on Prop 1 for high speed rail and No on Prop 8 that would end same-sex marriage).

Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan echoes some of my arguments against this initiative in a report he wrote about it (again from the unlinkable press release):

According to the city attorney, the measure would:

  • place time-sensitive outside funding sources for transit at risk or prevent the city or other agencies from applying for available funding;
  • increase costs to prepare the required plan, place it on the ballot and potentially hold a special election if necessary;
  • increase the uncertainty in the BRT planning process and reduce flexibility in project implementation should the voters approve a designation plan;
  • impede implementing General Plan goals relating to promoting alternatives to automobiles.

I’m not sure what will happen at the meeting tonight, but when I find out, I’ll share the news. No matter what happens, I’m committed to seeing BRT become a reality (and reaping the benefits of it).

Berkeley Initiative Could Endanger Future Transit Projects

2 Apr

I’ve written here before about why Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a great transit and environmental solution. AC Transit’s BRT project may be being held up by the Berkeley City Council and Planning Commission, but we’re making headway on that front, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the City will ultimately vote to move BRT forward.

Unfortunately, there’s a very vocal minority of Berkeley neighborhood activists and merchants that want to prevent bus riders from San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley from benefiting from faster transit. They must be worried that the City will soon recognize the environmental and community benefits of this project, so some of the opponents have decided to circumvent the council and go straight to the voters.

On March 19th, Dean Metzger and Bruce Kaplan of Berkeley filed a request for a ballot title and initiative summary for an anti-BRT initiative (PDF) that they presumably hope to get on the November ballot. This is just a first step, and who knows if they’ll be able to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot, but the initiative is bad news for the East Bay. It’s also just bad policy.

From the Findings and Purpose section:

The purpose of this measure is to enable the people of the City of Berkeley, by majority vote, to decide whether City streets or portions thereof shall be converted to transit-only or HOV/bus-only lanes, prior to dedication of such lanes.

Regardless of any issues one may have with AC Transit’s current BRT proposal, this is just bad planning. This initiative would mean that anytime the City wanted to convert lanes to transit-only lanes, the decision would have to be made by the Berkeley electorate. Even if the dedicated bus lane only extended one block into Berkeley from Oakland or another neighboring city, Berkeley residents would have the final say. Projects could be held up for months or even years if an election wasn’t approaching (I don’t see the city holding special elections for this issue).

But it gets worse…

When a change [in land use or transportation] is modest or uncontroversial, it is appropriate to rely on elected representatives to make these decisions, but if the change is significant or potentially harmful, the citizens should have the opportunity to decide their own future directly through the ballot.

This is just ludicrous. To me, this reads that the filers believe that deciding on dedicated bus lanes is the only land use decision that is “significant or potentially harmful” to the city. Does this mean that building permitting decisions are insignificant? How about zoning decisions? If Metzger and Kaplan have so little trust in their elected officials to make good planning decisions, why not strip the Planning Commission of all of its rights and duties and conduct all planning decisions by ballot initiative?

Normally, I’d just shrug something like this off – after all, the vocal minority of NIMBYs that controls much of Berkeley politics is one of the main reasons I moved to Oakland (well, that and the exorbitant rents). But this initiative would effect the entire East Bay, holding up transportation upgrades that are sorely needed. If we’re ever going to lure a significant portion of the population out of their cars, we need to invest in transportation and ultimately accept significant changes to our lifestyles. One might think that this environmentally friendly issue is something that “liberal” Berkeley would support, but that remains to be seen. Whether this initiative makes it to the ballot and whether it passes has the potential to show the true colors of Berkeley residents.