Residents, Businesses Seek Alternate Route For Rapid Transit Plan

Photo: The Bus Rapid Transit project proposes the creation of bus-only lanes to help increase the speed of public transportation, drawing opposition from residents who believe it is detrimental to the city and its businesses.
Nathan Yan/File
The Bus Rapid Transit project proposes the creation of bus-only lanes to help increase the speed of public transportation, drawing opposition from residents who believe it is detrimental to the city and its businesses.

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Proposed BRT project

Local business owner and street vendors talk about the potential impact of a bus-only lane on Telegraph Avenue, as proposed BRT project.

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Telegraph Avenue, with its daily tide of students, pedestrians, delivery trucks and 1/1R bus lines, is what Sheila Farrall calls the "perfect buffer" between the campus and the city.

Farrall, a UC Berkeley graduate and street vendor, said the avenue's flow-which has long established Telegraph as a tourist destination-is at stake with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a project that has faced community opposition.

AC Transit has proposed the project as part of its East Bay BRT plan, which would upgrade transit service in Downtown Berkeley and Southside. The project would construct bus-only lanes and light rail-like stations spanning an 18-mile stretch from the campus to San Leandro.

The entire project will have a projected corridor-wide ridership of 49,000 by 2025-nearly double the current number of 24,000. Travel speeds are also projected to be 38 percent faster than those of the current system and 18 percent faster for the rapid lines.

The project could cost anywhere from $260 million to $400 million, according to Doug Buckwald, a founding member of Berkeleyans for Better Transportation Options, who added that the funds would be wasted on an unnecessary project.

"It's a project that has no demand," said Berkeley resident Scott Tolmie. "The buses are largely empty. You have cars flowing fine, you have buses flowing fine."

In September, city staff members released a plan to present the controversial project to the public as part of AC Transit's request that each of the three cities involved­-Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro-provide its own version of the project.

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday to move forward with the proposals it submitted to AC Transit, and the San Leandro City Council will decide in May.

Last Tuesday's Berkeley City Council meeting discussions regarding BRT were limited to a city staff presentation and a public comment period. The council plans to vote Thursday on which options to forward to AC Transit for consideration in the final Environmental Impact Report.

Some local businesses and community members have asked the council to consider the Rapid Bus Plus and a no-build option-both of which do not include dedicated bus lanes-in addition to the Locally Preferred Alternative and the BRT Build Alternative, which are city-sanctioned options­.

"What we're trying to do is to get most of the benefits (of BRT) ... but without any of the detriments, meaning mostly without the dedicated lanes," said Berkeley resident Michael Katz, a founding member of the Rapid Bus Plus Coalition. "We wanted to propose a cost-effective alternative that would be easy to scale up to cover AC Transit's whole bus network."

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said at last week's meeting that he would work on a compromise to address community and business concerns and that he hopes to present such a plan on Thursday.

Despite varying opinions regarding which option would best serve the city, some community members are concerned BRT would be detrimental to the health of neighborhoods and businesses.

"Why do we want everyone to blow through Berkeley as fast as they can?" Buckwald said. "We would rather have the local bus system improved here rather than have AC Transit spend so much money and so many resources on a BRT system that we don't need or want."

Some business owners are concerned city-sanctioned options that include dedicated bus lanes would potentially hurt businesses because of the loss of parking, greater gridlock and reduced sidewalk space.

Ultimately, though, opposition to BRT stems from the fear of losing a vital part of the city's allure.

"When I bring people to Telegraph, they say, 'Wow, now I understand what Berkeley's about,'" said Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph and vice president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. "This is the real heart of Berkeley."


Denise Poon covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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