Downtown Planners Tackle Transportation, UC Polices

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 09, 2006

Berkeley Transportation Commissioner Rob Wrenn charged Wednesday night that “UC Berkeley uses the programs least likely to succeed” to reduce car use by students, faculty and staff. 

The occasion was a joint meeting of the commission with the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), the group formulating a new plan for an expanded city center. 

Mandated by the settlement of a city’s lawsuit against the university, DAPAC was created to find a way the city can live with the university’s planned expansion into the downtown. It has been meeting with established city commissions to seek information and policies to incorporate into the new plan. 

Bus Rapid Transit 

While the agenda ranged across a variety of topics, most of the interest Wednesday focused on the issues of plans for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), parking and the university’s role in the city’s traffic congestion. 

Jim Cunradi, manager of AC Transit’s BRT program, described plans for the system that is planned to run from the downtown BART station in Berkeley, then along Telegraph Avenue into Oakland, and then along International Boulevard to the Bayfair BART Station in San Leandro. 

The system would provide for faster, more reliable bus service—shortening travel times and increasing ridership by a combination of dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal controls and a new rapid boarding fare payment system.  

If all goes as planned, the system could be up and running in later 2009. 

“It’s the best combination of technologies you can do for the bus” and would eliminate about 10,000 car trips a day, he said. 

BRT, conceived by officials in Curitiba, Brazil, who couldn’t afford to build a subway system, is catching on around the world, with systems planned or in operation in cities Tehran to Paris and San Francisco, where a BRT route is planned along Van Ness Avenue. 

Cunradi said specifics are still under discussion, including the precise routing as it loops through downtown Berkeley—with a hub at the BART plaza. 

“I’m in complete agreement,” said Wrenn. “We need BRT.” 

Transportation Commission Chair Sarah Syed said ACT transit should expand BRT service to University Avenue to connect with the 72 Rapid line on San Pablo Avenue and perhaps on to the marina, where a ferry terminal is planned. The 72 Rapid service uses the same traffic signal controls planned for the BRT line. 

While she said she liked the concept of BRT, DAPAC member Lisa Stephens feared that creation of the dedicated lanes would eliminate some of the street trees on Shattuck—a concerned shared by DAPAC member Linda Jewell. 

“I think it will come down to pitting trees against the bus,” Jewell said.  

Another concern was the closure of the two-lane stretch of Telegraph south of the university to through traffic, Cunradi said. 

Because of their concerns about crime, merchants “want eyes on the street,” he said. The possibility of allowing through traffic after 6 p.m. is one option under consideration. 


UC policies  

UC Berkeley “has an excellent transportation demand management (TDM) policy, but it gets grief anyway,” said university planner Jennifer McDougall. 

But Wrenn charged that the university consistently downplays the positive effects of programs designed to encourage mass transit use “to make it look like transportation incentives do no good.” 

McDougall acknowledged that on any given weekday, about 4,100 university employee and student cars are parked on city streets or in private or city garages and lots. 

The university is now planning to add 2,300 spaces in its Long Range Development Plan for 2020. That number would be cut by 500 if BRT is implemented by 2010, she said. 

Jesse Arreguin, a transportation commissioner and a student, said the existing Class Pass and Bear Pass programs were deplorably inadequate. 

“The University of California needs to be a leader in alternative transportation,” he said. 

One solution would be to raise campus parking rates, using the funds to bankroll transit programs. New building programs should also include funds to provide traffic mitigations, he said. 

“The whole network of bus service for downtown and the university needs to be upgraded,” said Transportation Commissioner Nathan Landau. 


Parking, other issues 

According to the experts, the solution to everyone’s favorite gripe, downtown parking, is to build less of it, while increasing population density. 

John Holtzclaw, chair of the Sierra Club Transportation Committee, cited figures showing that residents of dense urban neighborhoods use their cars far less that residents of “urban sprawl” suburbs such as San Ramon.  

“I recommend higher density housing,” he said, citing the Gaia Building as a good example. 

“Don’t be afraid of narrowing streets and widening sidewalks,” he said. 

Greg Tung, an urban designer from San Francisco, focused on streetscape design, and Dave Campbell of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition briefly addressed bicycle planning. 

The public will be able to join in the planning process during a special Downtown Visioning Workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, at the Berkeley High School Library, near the corner of Allston Way and Milvia Street.