Workshop Examines South, West Transportation Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 20, 2007

A community workshop on the South and West Berkeley transportation plan was held at the North Berkeley Senior Center Thursday. 

The Transportation Commission, along with city staff, project consultants and members of the community discussed proposed solutions and strategies to address the transportation needs identified by the South and West Berkeley community and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). 

Lila Hussain, associate transportation planner for Berkeley’s Public Works Department, said that the outreach program to the community had taken place through surveys, community meetings and focus groups. 

“We want to go over the existing transit networks and identify the gaps in the transit networks,” said Ian Moore, a senior associate from Design, Community, and Environment (DC&E). “We have identified the cost of the project as the major issue.” 

Discussions about the reliability and availability of para-transit services were discussed at great lengths during the course of the meeting. Conditions of some of the bus stops, lack of lighting and shelters and the need for solar power lighting were also brought up, as was the lack of information, such as maps and bus schedules. 

The issue that was raised by a large number of people both in the survey as well as at the meeting was the Route 9 frequency and span improvements. 

“Currently, the headway is 20 to 30 minutes. We want to reduce the headway to 20 minutes which will cost us $660,000. If we take it down to 15 minutes, it will cost $1.5 million. We also want to increase the service to midnight seven days a week.” said Richard Weiner, one of the planners. 

The survey also identified the need for more frequent service to the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations. The “next bus display” that is being installed at the Downtown Berkeley BART station was recommended for both these stations. The cost for these displays were estimated at $100,000 to $200,000.  

“You have your projects well delineated. My concern is the cost. Do you have the funding laid out as well?” asked Deborah Weber, a Berkeley resident. 

A representative of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (ACCMA) told community members that the solutions were not just a wish list.  

“The Lifeline Transportation Program gives out funds for improvements for a period of three years. Alameda County, the City of Berkeley as well as the MTC will apply for funds depending on what kind of project they are responsible for. But before that happens, we have to find out from you what your priorities are,” the representative said. 

Weber also said that the team should prioritize coordinating the schedules of the different service providers instead of increasing the frequencies. 

Moore talked about pedestrian suggestions and ideas. 

“Elementary school children and seniors often find it difficult to cross at signalized intersections, especially at places such as 6th and Hearst, 6th and University, Sacramento at Ashby and King at Ashby,” he said.  

Red curbs and high-visibility crosswalks were offered as some of the solutions to this problem. 

Moore said that solutions to improving bicycle storing conditions at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations were limited. 

“We are thinking of coming up with e-lockers (electronic lockers) which use smart cards to lock the bikes electronically. Retrofitting the existing metal lockers is also a good idea. The total cost for this is estimated to be $115,000,” he said. 

Plans to promote bicycle boulevards were discussed.  

Betsy Morris, chair of the West Berkeley Development Corporation, emphasized the need of implementing bus shelters. 

“Dozens of disabled people walk out of the BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency) office on Kittredge Street and wait for the No. 9 bus. It’s only humane to get a shelter there. Bus stops should be treated like public amenities,” Morris said. “There are students who have stopped going to the Berkeley Adult School because the closest bus stop is located two blocks down and the lighting there is poor. We need to improve the lighting there and move the bus stop closer.” 

Planning Commissioner Rob Wrenn praised the ideas but said that it was important to secure funding for the improvements. 

“AC Transit is grossly underfunded,” he said. “We need big pots of money for major improvements. Bus drivers here need to get unionized just like the bus drivers in Los Angeles. Only then will things improve.” 

At the end of the workshop, the team decided to work on a draft plan which would include suggestions from the workshop and a more detailed funding plan. They will also be holding a few more community meetings in the future.