Tag Archives: Bus Rapid Transit

Help Make BRT a Reality

25 Mar

I’ve explained here before why I support BRT, and if you support it, here’s how you can help:

1. Attend the joint meeting of the Berkeley Planning Commission and Transportation Commission to urge them to choose a preferred alternative corridor for BRT in Berkeley, and not to kill the project before the Final Environmental Impact Report is completed. (If this is confusing, read the details here (PDF).) Here’s the meeting info courtesy of Friends of BRT:

Critically important Berkeley meeting on Bus Rapid Transit!
Opponents are trying to kill BRT.
We need your support for studying local alternatives.

What: Joint meeting of Planning Commission and Transportation Commission
When: Wednesday, April 9, 7 p.m.
Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK Jr. Way & Hearst Ave.

2. Pass out this flyer (PDF) about the meeting to anyone you know who supports BRT.

3. Volunteer to phone bank to get supporters to the meeting:

The Sierra Club and Friends of BRT are jointly sponsoring a phone bank on Monday, March 31st from 6 – 8:30 PM. Helen Burke is coordinating it and needs to know if you can come at helenburke@earthlink.net or (510) 527-0176. To be effective we’ll need about 6-8 phone bankers. We will be calling Sierra Club members who responded positively to a card in the Bay Chapter newsletter the Yodeler and asking them to speak in support of BRT at the Joint Meeting of the City of Berkeley’s Transportation and Planning Commission on April 9th. The phone bank will be held at the Sierra Club office, 2530 San Pablo Avenue (near Dwight Way) in Berkeley. No experience necessary. Pizza and soft drinks will be provided. Please RSVP to Helen ASAP!

I’ll be phone banking on Monday and hopefully will make it to the hearing (if I’m back from Sacramento in time from another hearing I need to attend), and I hope you will join me.
Though the hearing’s in Berkeley, this meeting could greatly impact the entire BRT project, effecting bus riders in Oakland, San Leandro, and Berkeley. On a bigger level, this project has the potential to effect the entire world’s environment by helping to nudge people out of their cars and onto the bus.

Carless in the O

18 Feb

Last weekend, I finally gave up my car. My sister drove it down to LA, where she needs it a lot more than I ever did.

I’m not sure I can explain how much of a relief it is to no longer be a car owner. I don’t have to worry about flat tires, parking tickets, car insurance, or engine malfunctions. I no longer have to obsessively pay attention to rising gas prices. The best part is that I’m forced to drive less, which really makes me a happier person. I do still have access to my girlfriend’s car most of the time, but I’m trying to become less dependent on driving.

I already take the bus to and from work everyday, but besides that commute, I’m trying to walk more. For some errands, that’s easy. I already walk to the farmer’s market nearly every Sunday. But I’m quickly realizing that walking isn’t always realistic.

Yesterday I walked down to Whole Foods on Telegraph and Ashby and tried to be careful not to buy too many heavy items, but I guess I didn’t try hard enough. As soon as I picked up my bags, I realized I’d have to take the bus to get home. So I waited ten minutes for the 1, lugged my bags to the only open seat at the back of the double bus, and then had the doors close on my bag as I tried to get out.

A part of me thought about how convenient it would have been if I had driven to the store, but another part of me just became more determined to improve our transit system. Crowded buses on Saturdays make no sense. Running just one more 1 bus per hour would make a huge impact on the speed and quality of bus rides. BRT would be even better.

I’m still confident that letting go of my car was a good decision, but I’m guessing yesterday’s experience won’t be the only one that leaves me longing for my car.

Random Oakland Thoughts

11 Feb

I’ve been ridiculously busy lately and also caught up in election madness so I’ve been neglecting my Oakland musings lately. Luckily, others haven’t, and somehow I’ve managed to keep up with what they’re writing:

  • I was a bit appalled when I read the Grand Lake Guardian’s views on Out of the Closet, a thrift store, opening up on Lakeshore. I was even more appalled when Council Member Pat Kernighan joined the NIMBY neighbors in calling for a more upscale store, which they think would be a better fit for the neighborhood. Luckily though, Dogtown Commoner picked through these arguments before I could get a chance to, asking if poor people are not welcome on Lakeshore Avenue? Please read this piece, as it brings up many important questions about who’s determining the direction of Oakland neighborhoods. I don’t know about you, but most of the people I know who live near Lakeshore are renters who don’t have tons of disposable income and would appreciate a reasonably priced place to shop.
  • On a lighter note, the DTO is back, with a post about the modern apartment complexes that are being completed in downtown Oakland. The pictures and descriptions are quite alluring to anyone thinking about moving downtown, but I’m left to wonder, who can afford these rents?
  • Discussions about BRT on the 1 line are still alive and well. Eric at Transbay Blog proposes an alternate route around Lake Merritt, while V Smoothe explains why BRT isn’t redundant to BART.
  • And while most of us are fixated on the presidential primaries, Oaklanders are revving up for council elections. At Future Oakland, dto510 discusses the slew of candidates entering the races and brings up the question of whether we’ll have June elections or be using instant run-off voting in November. V Smoothe later confirmed that elections will be held in June, so get ready for another round of political ads and lawn signs.

Hopefully I’ll be giving more attention to this blog in coming weeks, since I still have Oakland on my mind…

Rain, NextBus, and the not so rapid 1R

10 Jan

Normally, when I write about riding the bus, I’m pretty positive. Honestly, sometimes I sound like a cheerleader for AC Transit, especially for the 1R rapid bus. And my cheeriness about riding the bus is not a front – I really do generally enjoy it. I don’t mind waiting a few minutes (even in the rain). I enjoy random transit encounters. And most of all, I love not having to drive, or to focus on anything as I ride around town.

But something’s changed this year. Sure, I have a lot of stresses in my life right now, so maybe I’m just being less patient, but it really does seem like bus reliability and speed has decreased greatly in 2008.

I could probably write pages about my complaints of my transit experiences during the past two weeks, but I’ll spare you the pain I put my girlfriend and co-workers through by narrowing the complaints down to three simple thoughts…

1. The bus is never there when I’m waiting for it.

2. NextBus stopped working.

3. The “rapid” bus has slowed down, to the point that taking the regular 1 is sometimes as fast or faster than taking the 1R.

OK… I lied, I can’t just leave it at that… I have to explain…

1. Since the rapid bus line started on Telegraph in mid-2007, I remember few times when I waited more than 15 minutes for a bus. Even when the buses got bunched up, there were 8 buses per hour on the line (5 rapids and 3 regular) so you were bound to catch a bus pretty quickly. But during the past two weeks, I’ve waited more than 20 minutes (and sometimes more than a half hour) for a bus on at least 4 occasions. Luckily, I sometimes have avoided waiting in the rain by hanging out in my apartment and checking NextBus every couple minutes, but that brings me to my next point…

2. NextBus is broken! Of course, last year there were a few times when it failed me, but this year it’s failed me nearly every day. It says a bus will be there in 8 minutes so I book it out my front door and onto Telegraph, run to the 1R stop, and proceed to wait for 20 minutes. Or it tells me a bus isn’t coming for more than a half hour so I hang around in my office for a while, wait until the time drops down to 10 minutes, and walk to 14th and Broadway and there’s nobody waiting at the stop! Something tells me a bus did arrive sometime in that last half hour, unless everybody decided to stay home from work that day. To top it off, the NextBus status signal at the 14th and Broadway bus stop stopped working a few days ago, so I have to gamble by taking the 1, since I can’t tell when a 1R is coming…

3. Lately though, that’s not a gamble because the 1R no longer goes fast. Sure, it makes less stops, but the drivers rarely hit the speed limit and they’re in no hurry to move away from a stop. I’m wondering if riders complained about how fast they were in 2007 (I used to make it to work in 10-12 minutes) – maybe the fast driving scared them? I’m not sure, but the drivers have changed and it’s really frustrating. Today was the worst though. After passing up a 1 because I saw a 1R right behind it (usually a good choice), the 1R drives off fairly slowly, stops at a regular 1 stop for no good reason to pick someone up, proceeds on slowly, and then stops at another 1 stop and turns off the engine. She proceeds to just sit there for 10 minutes! She didn’t get out to use the bathroom or get something to eat. She didn’t make a phone call. She just sat. And yes, on regular buses this is normal behavior because they have to stay on schedule, but that’s why those of us in a hurry ride the “rapid” bus. And when people went up to ask what was happening, she just screamed at them and told them to mind their own business. Needless to say, I arrived to work late when I had aimed to get in early.

Woo! That was exhausting. But really, I’m not interested in complaining just for the sake of complaining. The truth is that no matter how much I love AC Transit and my particular bus line, it’s just not equipped to deal with inclement weather, bad traffic, or the varying behaviors of bus drivers.

So what’s the fix? Let’s start building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) already. I don’t know about other bus riders, but I’m so ready for it. I really dream of the day when I don’t have to rely on NextBus because buses will arrive every 5 minutes. And the bus will travel almost as fast as a car because boarding will be streamlined. And you know what I look forward to most? Writing loving notes about my bus rides, instead of complaining tirades.

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.

Telegraph is Ready to Grow

21 Aug

Yesterday, I read a great post by dto510 about zoning on Telegraph in North Oakland. The planning commission will soon be considering updating zoning in Temescal, including raising height limits on buildings:

To fulfill the goals of the General Plan, it is absolutely imperative that the city bring its zoning in line with what private-sector developers want and need. Currently, every single project in the area requires a Conditional Use Permit to be feasible, primarily because developers need at least five stories to make money. A Conditional Use Permit requires at least one public hearing, and every such permit can appealed to the city council at a minimal cost to the appealing party. That creates huge uncertainties for developers, massively increasing delays and other “soft costs” that are then passed on to the condo-buyers…

The solution to this problem is to raise the allowed building heights at least up to what is already been approved, which is 57 feet. Ideally, the heights would be increased to 75 to 100 feet in at least some areas, which the market might build and would be appropriate for the 100-foot-wide streets throughout the area.

This got me thinking, and last night, as I walked down Telegraph from the bus stop, I realized just how odd the 1-2 story buildings looked. The disproportionality of the building heights to the size of the street is astounding.

Beyond aesthetics, Temescal’s businesses are rapidly growing, and Telegraph has become a major transit corridor, thanks to the new rapid bus line. This is only going to increase, once Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is developed. If Oakland wants to become a more environmentally sustainable city, it makes so much sense to build dense housing in neighborhoods with established services and transit.

The real question is, why are groups like STAND fighting against smart growth, when it seems so clear that the neighborhood I’ve lived in for years is more than ready denser housing and more mixed use buildings?