AC Transit Evaluates Telegraph Avenue Alternatives

Friday June 25, 2004

Virtually everyone agrees on the goal of getting more people to take public transit. And this past March voters passed Regional Measure 2 to fund more mass transit projects. However, when it comes to how and where there are some differences of opinion. 

AC Transit has been working for years on the concept of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to enhance public transit in the East Bay, and recently settled on Route 41 Telegraph Avenue-International Boulevard as the optimal route. Additionally, AC Transit recently implemented Rapid Bus Service (RBS) service along San Pablo Avenue speeding transit times 30 percent, and boosting ridership 66 percent during peak periods. 

At a February public hearing, neighbors and merchants expressed to AC Transit serious concerns regarding the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) that would evaluate BRT as the only enhanced transit alternative for Telegraph Avenue. One month later the community was relieved to see their pleas were heeded, and the EIR scope had been revised to evaluate both BRT and RBS alternatives for Telegraph Avenue. 

RBS improves bus service by synchronizing traffic lights with transponders on buses, reducing number of bus stops, and providing real-time electronic time of arrival information at each bus stop. BRT further enhances bus service by dedicating a lane of traffic to exclusive use of buses in each direction, and new elevated bus stop stations.  

Concerns regarding BRT are several. For neighbors the greatest concern is the reduction of Telegraph to one lane of traffic in each direction thus adversely affecting drive times, parking, and congestion, and diversion of traffic into neighborhoods. Merchants are additionally concerned regarding BRT plans to turn Telegraph Avenue commercial area into a dedicated transit mall (private vehicle traffic would be diverted to alternative routes), and the impact of less eyes and ears on an already fragile economic and social situation on the Avenue. There are also concerns regarding how BRT would be routed and terminated in downtown Berkeley. 

The EIR will now include cost/benefit analysis of both the BRT and RBS alternatives, so the community and City of Berkeley can make an informed decision regarding the best alternative. Benefit analysis should include improved transit commute times, increased ridership, and quality of service. Cost analysis should include dollars, drive times, traffic diversion, parking impacts, and economic and social impact on commercial areas.  

AC Transit is currently in the process of building a computer model to analyze the two alternatives. The EIR is expected to be completed around year-end, and then must be submitted to the federal government for review before it is released to the public sometime early next year. At that time it will be important for neighbors, merchants, UC, City of Berkeley, and other interested parties to weigh in on the analysis, and decide on what is the best path forward for our community. 


John Caner is president of Willard Neighborhood Association, and a board member of the Telegraph Area Association.›