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.


'Christian Science Monitor" Touts Streetcars as "Development-Oriented Transit"

Urged by mayors and advocacy groups, US cities and towns are examining the possibility of returning the forgotten vehicles to their streets.

By Cristian Lupsa

Correspondent of "The Christian Science Monitor"

POSTED ONLINE at http://www.csmonitor.com on February 5, 2007

FEBRUARY 5, 2007 -- Columbus, Ohio, might not be your image of booming America, but Mayor Michael Coleman says an explosion of jobs and immigration have made it the second-fastest-growing city in the Midwest from 2000 to 2005 (after Indianapolis). Now in his second term, Mayor Coleman is determined to shape Ohio's largest urban area – once No. 3 behind Cleveland and Cincinnati – into a 21st-century city.

His plan includes a streetcar system that would connect Columbus's spread-out downtown attractions, and bring an estimated 6 to 1 return on the initial investment, according to a city-commissioned study. They are riding streetcars into the 21st century? Is this "Back to the Future"? Well, yes.

After Portland, Ore., launched the first modern streetcar system in 2001, cities and towns from coast to coast – impressed by the financial success of Portland's venture – have followed suit or examined the possibility of returning the forgotten vehicles to their streets. While not a solution to traffic congestion or pollution, streetcars have proved to be an attractive amenity to revitalized downtowns, encouraging street life and community, boosting development, and promoting energy-efficient transportation.

"Streetcars aren't going to change the world, but they'll do their part," says Jim Graebner, a Denver-based consultant and chairman of the streetcar subcommittee for the American Public Transportation Association in Washington.

Mr. Graebner was involved in plans for more than 30 streetcar systems in the past couple of decades – half a dozen of which came to be. He says the vehicles are sure to return as cities themselves come back. Streetcars, he adds, don't need dedicated tracks – the tracks are integrated into street traffic. And they're pedestrian friendly.

But this is not a retro-transit fashion fad; it's nostalgia with a grass-roots twist. Most projects are championed not by transit authorities, but by mayors and advocacy groups. They are paid for by public/private partnerships, with little money from the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA continues to fund mostly larger people-moving enterprises, such as commuter rails. Streetcars, advocates say, are for people in growing downtowns, not commuters.

"The streetcar is not a toy or a gimmick," says Charles Hales, a senior vice president of HDR Engineering, a consulting firm in Omaha, Neb. "It's a necessary response to people's return to the cities."

Mr. Hales, who was instrumental in developing Portland's system, says the city wanted to create "development-oriented transit" as opposed to the traditional "transit-oriented development." The former aims to encourage developers to build high-density areas, where driving a car becomes an inconvenience. Couldn't buses, which are cheaper, do the same? They might, advocates say, but "have you seen developers write checks for buses?" Tracks, Hales says, show the city's commitment.

Streetcars fueled urban growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but as cars took over after World War II and fueled urban sprawl, most cities uprooted tracks.

Columbus is not a mass-transit city – it's car territory, but Coleman says he is persuaded a streetcar will make a difference to jobs, connectivity, and development. Still, he'll take it one step at a time – having most recently appointed a committee to examine how to pay for an initial two-mile route without raising taxes.

The average price for a mile of track ranges from $8 million to $25 million, one-third to one-fifth the cost of commuter rails and subways, Graebner says. The reason more than 40 cities are exploring streetcars today, he says, is that all systems opened recently have produced handsome returns. According to figures from local officials and data advocacy groups:

Tampa, Fla., spent more than $55 million on its system and attracted more than $1 billion in investments.

More than 100 projects, worth around $2.5 billion, were built along the $100-million Portland line.

The $20-million line in Little Rock, Ark., attracted about $200 million in development.

Kenosha, Wis., with a population just shy of 100,000, built the cheapest system ($5.2 million for two miles of track). It brought in about $150 million in development.

Advocates don't argue that streetcars are synonymous with development, but that's missing the point, according to "Street Smart," a recent report by Reconnecting America, a nonprofit that promotes urban development that integrates public transportation. "You want development to happen next to a streetcar so people won't get into a car and drive," says Gloria Ohland, a vice president of communications for Reconnecting America.

In other words, the streetcar helps build denser urban areas. Michael English, vice president of the board running the Tampa system, says the city planned its routes not to take cars off the Interstate, but to provide alternatives to driving short routes. The lines connect Tampa's historic district to a burgeoning downtown.

"We need to rethink sprawl," says Len Brandrup, director of transportation in Kenosha. "We believe in capitalism, but we have few tools to get people out of cars and into public transportation."

And that's the big question: Can streetcars be efficient means of transit? Robert Dunphy, an expert on transportation and infrastructure at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, is not entirely convinced. Mr. Dunphy likes streetcars, but views them as amenities. Most of those operating today – with the exception of those in larger cities such as Portland or San Francisco – fall into that category.

Lisa Gray, director of the nonprofit Charlotte Trolley, calls the local streetcar (currently closed while the city connects it to a new light rail line) an "attraction." It's not transit, she says, but a "moving museum" that happens to serve as transit. Ms. Gray says the vehicles are a great gathering point, and a way for local citizens to connect with the past. "When the trolley was the only mode of transportation, people met their neighbors on it, she says. "This notion of traveling is connected to community."

Streetcar advocates often talk about the trolley's power to create "place." That's exactly why they'll work in downtowns, Hales says. Graebner adds that they are more intimate transportation than buses.

Dunphy says streetcars have a hipper appeal. "People who are users of public transport are fine with buses," he says. "Streetcars are for people who don't use public transportation." Dunphy isn't arguing that streetcars should remain museum pieces, but wonders whether their resurgence can address the American transportation conundrum: "it's a lot easier to get people to support public transit than to get them on it."


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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