08 July, 2008


Amazing JTA-Like photos of Telegraph Avenue in the East Bay. The top photo is the real avenue, and the bottom photo is computer enhanced to show the same road with BRT. Note that parking is gone, and as if by magic, so is the traffic.

Opponents Hope Bus Rapid Transit Plan Will Come to Stop on Berkeley Ballot

Carolyn Jones, staff writer
The San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley may be among the greenest cities in the nation, but it's also home to a budding backlash against public transit.

Opponents of AC Transit's plan for dedicated bus lanes on busy Telegraph Avenue south of the UC campus have gathered enough signatures to qualify the issue for the Nov. 4 ballot. The initiative, if approved by voters, would require voter approval to create any high-occupancy-vehicle lanes in the city, except on Interstate 80.

On Tuesday, the City Council could decide to adopt the measure outright but probably will put it before voters. Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of bus rapid transit are gearing up for a fight.

"Spending all this money to save one or two minutes on a bus trip is completely insane," said Ken Sarachan, owner of Rasputin's record shop on Telegraph. "It'll be the final nail in the coffin for Telegraph Avenue."

Merchants and residents along the famed avenue say dedicated bus lanes would force traffic onto side streets and make parking even more scarce. They say the $400 million AC Transit plans to spend on bus rapid transit would be better spent on cleaner buses, express buses that don't use dedicated lanes, or a bus rapid transit route that is not so close to BART.

AC Transit's plan calls for an 18-mile bus rapid transit route from San Leandro through downtown Oakland and on Telegraph Avenue to Berkeley.

The route would feature dedicated bus lanes and elevated passenger stops in the middle of the street. Buses would run every few minutes and have the technology to turn traffic signals green, creating a system the transit agency describes as light rail without tracks. (*1)

Proponents of bus rapid transit say it would encourage bus ridership and therefore improve parking and traffic along Telegraph.

"Berkeley was just proclaimed the second-greenest city in the state, and it would be ridiculous if we turned down a public transit project in favor of the automobile," said Alan Tobey, a member of Friends of BRT. A UCLA study recently named Berkeley as the second-greenest city in California, behind Albany, based on voting records, number of hybrid cars and other data.

Proponents add that taking every decision on high-occupancy-vehicle lanes to voters is an expensive, time-consuming process, Tobey said. "In a representative form of government, it's sabotage," he said. "Second-guessing the city council on ordinary land-use issues is simply bad government. In Berkeley, everything already gets talked about to death."(*2)

But merchants on Telegraph say eliminating parking would be a death knell for their businesses.

"If customers can't park, it's yet another incentive for them to buy online or at a big-box store," said Bruce Kaplan, former owner of Looking Glass Photo on Telegraph. "We're not against bus ridership, but we think they should look at alternatives. This whole thing is a bad piece of land use."

Bus rapid transit has been successful in Europe, South America and Australia and is gaining support in the United States, AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said. "It's clearly the wave of the future," he said. "It's faster and much less expensive to build than light rail (*3), and the most practical way to move large groups of people in an urban setting."

The bus rapid transit plan for the East Bay is still being studied, but it could face serious hurdles if Berkeley's initiative passes.

"It's clearly their right to put this on the ballot. It's democracy at work," Johnson said. "Although we obviously want people to weigh the issue carefully when they vote."


(*1) At $20 Million a mile BRT is reaching the cost of Modern Streetcars, Heritage Trolleys which operate much the same way, with at least equal benefits, have been built for as little as $3 Million a mile. So depending on the source, who says BRT is Just like rail only cheaper? Locally only JTA believes a bus is a train.

(*2.) Studied to death? Just like Jacksonville. The difference here is the people care enough to put a stop to BRT's multi-million dollar - 2 minute time savings. For that they are as much as called "Bad citizens". PLEASE label me as Jacksonville's Number ONE BAD CITIZEN!

(*3) Faster and more practical? Hardly. What they leave out is BRT comes in two forms, "QUICKWAY" and "LIGHT RAIL LITE". In QW form, it is built just as high speed rail or subway. No crossings, no pedestrians, no crosswalks, overpasses and massive station centers. This is the international model, and has results similar to Light Rail in costs, but in practice, would cost even more in the USA then the Light Rail. The LRL form, which is what JTA has shifted to, is a "cheap" copy with a minute saved here and there with Que jumping, signal priority and a bit of private lane usage. The end result is Millions spent, a couple of minutes saved, and when all is said and done, we have a few more miles of road, and a few more buses.

As a postscript, you blogger must point out that either model to really operate up to expectations, must be a mature transit corridor, with bus services headway's of every 5-10 minutes. Can you think of a single place in Jacksonville's system where JTA offers that type of service? They haven't even tested the usage with express buses on 10 minute headway's on routes such as Gateway, Regency, 103Rd, or Baymeadows. Let's take it to the ballot. "50,000 passengers a day will ride the Skyway," they told us. Same JTA, different day.

Yeah, bad citizen, NUMBER ONE.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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