Monday, November 05, 2007

Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph Avenue?

This is the kind of dialogue that we should be having in San Francisco about what so-called planning experts want to do to Geary Boulevard, where they are pushing for BRT, a $200 million boondoggle-in-the-making: from the Berkeley Planet.

Interesting to note too that the Berkeley BRT is being priced at $400 million, while the Geary Blvd. BRT is supposedly going to cost a mere $200 million!


Editors, Daily Planet:

I found Bob Piper’s Oct. 26 letter on Bus Rapid Transit nothing short of amazing. Nothing could more clearly show how our so-called transit “experts” are completely clueless, and one of the major reasons the transit systems in the Bay Area are not as good as they could be. His statement about traffic spillover should BRT be installed on Telegraph: “The allegation that such spillover with BRT would be worse than without it lacks analytical or logical support” is at such variance with reality I had to read it twice to make sure I read it correctly!

Let's look at this logically: You take a heavily traveled street such as Telegraph Avenue and take out two of the four lanes for BRT. You have halved the capacity of that street, so logically the traffic load will double on the remaining lanes. Let’s be extremely generous and say that 25 percent of the drivers originally on Telegraph decide to take the BRT (I don’t think any sane person thinks that ALL the displaced drivers will take the BRT). Therefore you have increased by 75 percent the traffic load on an already heavily traveled street! The gridlock this will create will be stunning, and remember that local bus service will be stuck in that gridlock as well. Drivers will look for alternate routes and this will obviously be through neighborhoods. This is not rocket science!

As an AC Transit Bus operator I love the idea of BRT, I would enjoy working such a route. But by taking lanes away from thousands of cars (and local bus service) you would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. It will destroy reliable local bus service, and, most importantly, anger thousands of taxpayers who will be asked to pay for further transit projects.

Editors, Daily Planet:

Like so many disputes in Berkeley, the arguments over Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) make me want to hit the mute button. The AC Transit proposal would not convert Berkeley into a mini-Curitiba as some proponents imply. What it would be is a significant improvement over the existing Rapid Bus and its predecessor services. It would attract some people who would otherwise drive. As is always the case in transit, much depends on how land is developed adjacent to the stops. BRT would not compete with BART. Anyone who pretends that it would is either woefully ignorant or deliberately deceiving. BART and BRT are intended for different markets. BRT would have many more stops than BART. Few of them would even be within walking distance of BART stations. BRT would also run more frequently.

Some opponents argue that the money could be better spent on different projects. This is a bogus argument. AC Transit needs state or federal money to implement the project. They either get it or they don’t. If they do get outside funding, it will be for the BRT project. They will not be able to divert it to another project. If their BRT project materializes, it will bring benefits to Berkeley at no additional local cost.

There are also fears that automobile traffic would spill over on to neighborhood streets. The allegation that such spillover with BRT would be worse than without it lacks analytical or logical support. The BRT program lays a good foundation for future, higher capacity and less petroleum-dependent alternatives like trolley buses and/or Light Rail. That is the right direction for Berkeley to go if we believe that human activity is responsible for global warming.

Some would rather see BRT replace the notoriously unpredictable Route 51 service along University Avenue. In AC Transit’s long range plan, that would be the next step after the current proposal is implemented.

We should all encourage the Council to do what they can to realize the AC Transit BRT project.

Bob Piper
Former Berkeley Director of Transportation

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