The Daily Californian Online

Residents Oppose Bus Rapid Transit Plans

By Sarah Springfield
Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Category: News > City > City Council

Telegraph Avenue merchants have voiced their disapproval of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit-only lane, saying it may harm business.

After hours of, at times, emotionally charged testimony from more than 40 members of the community, the

Berkeley City Council remained undecided Tuesday night on how to move forward with plans for a Bus Rapid Transit project that residents said could change the face of the city.

City officials and AC Transit representatives said the project would augment public transportation efforts in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro by retrofitting buses, readjusting traffic signals and creating raised platforms for easier boarding, among other measures. Opponents of the proposal say a BRT line-especially one with dedicated lanes for buses, most notably along Telegraph Avenue-is unnecessary and would harm business in the area.

Though commentary from community members was varied, only three residents at the meeting spoke in support of the project.

Council members, who limited Tuesday's discussion to a city staff presentation and public comment, will examine the proposals again on April 27 when they plan to vote on whether or not to submit their preferences to AC Transit for inclusion in the Final Environmental Impact Report.

Many community members took issue with the presentation of only the Planning Commission and city staff proposals for the project, which differ slightly. Both proposals include dedicated lanes for buses and would turn Telegraph Avenue into a two-way street. The community members asked that the Rapid Bus Plus option-which developed out of community opposition to the city-sanctioned alternatives and does not include dedicated lanes or a no-build option-be forwarded to AC Transit.

At least 10 business owners and street vendors from Telegraph Avenue spoke at the meeting, all of who said the city's official proposals-both the Planning Commission's BRT Build Alternative and the slightly different Locally Preferred Alternative as developed by city staff-would hurt businesses by narrowing sidewalks and jeopardizing the unique aesthetic of the street.

"It's not only the history of Berkeley, the culture of Berkeley that you're talking about destroying; it's the future of the city, our future," said Tyler Florence, a street vendor on Telegraph Avenue.

Residents and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak also voiced concern that the line could cause traffic gridlock, which might spill over into neighboring residential areas.

"I do not like the idea of more cars being diverted into the neighborhoods as my kids are walking to school or playing on the sidewalk," Berkeley resident John Slater said at the meeting.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates emphasized many times during the meeting that the discussion, and even the council's vote next week, are far from calls for implementation of a BRT. Bates said forwarding proposals to AC Transit to study would improve, rather than limit, transit options for the city.

AC Transit has also solicited proposals from the cities of Oakland and San Leandro to round out the East Bay BRT project. The Oakland City Council voted unanimously last night to forward its preferences, which include dedicated lanes. The San Leandro City Council will continue discussion through May.

City staff also said at the meeting that the Final EIR, as compiled by AC Transit, will come back to council for city approval before plans for the line are further solidified.

But some community members, including Doug Buckwald, a member of Berkeleyans for Better Transportation Options, questioned the proposals' ability to change and develop as the process continues.

"This is not just a step in the process, this is a crucial decision," he said.

Bates said he hopes to develop a compromise proposal that would benefit business owners, residents and bus riders for consideration during next week's meeting and added that the council will continue to evaluate all the proposals-the LPA, Build Alternative, Rapid Bus Plus and no-build options-until then.

"We don't need to be so afraid of looking at the alternatives," he said. "I'm still willing to consider some options."


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