Public Comment

Commentary: Bus Rapid Transit Plan is Bad Idea

By Peter Allen
Friday June 08, 2007

AC Transit’s proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) is just a bad idea. Here is why:  

First, the project provides no real benefits. According to AC Transit’s own environmental impact report (EIR), the project will only cause a small reduction in automobile usage (p. 4-28), provide no reduction in energy consumption (p. 4-152), and it will poach riders from BART (p. 3-31). 

Second, because it turns traffic lanes into bus-only lanes, it will cause more traffic congestion, especially on nearby streets. Just in south Berkeley and north Oakland, AC Transit admits that the project will make traffic worse on Telegraph near Dwight, College near Dwight, Adeline near Alcatraz, and Telegraph near Alcatraz, and at the intersections of Adeline and Ashby, Adeline and Alcatraz, College and Ashby, College and Claremont, and Telegraph and Alcatraz (EIR pp. 3-53, 3-61 and 62). 

The EIR does not even consider the impacts of this additional traffic on the Hillegass Bicycle Boulevard or pedestrians in areas such as Elmwood and Rockridge. 

Third, because of the bus-only lanes and fancy bus “stations,” lots of parking disappears. Just between Dwight Way and Woolsey, the project would result in the removal of approximately 142-146 spaces on Telegraph. This is about 73-75 percent of the parking on Telegraph in this area, and 25 percent of parking in the area when you include Telegraph-accessible cross streets. (p. 3-112). AC Transit proposes to reduce the impact of this by converting 65-70 spaces on cross streets near Telegraph to metered parking. (p. 3-127) In other words, the parking for businesses on Telegraph has been shifted to nearby residential areas. 

Finally, there are better alternatives. It was back in August of 2001 that AC Transit decided to go with bus rapid transit instead of light rail. (But AC Transit did keep light rail as a “long-term objective,” and refers to the buses and stations as “rail-like,” probably because it knows that many people simply like riding trains better than they like riding buses.) The EIR fails to compare the greenhouse gas impacts of adding 46-51 new fossil fuel-burning buses with the impacts of renewable electric-powered light rail. In a carbon capped or taxed world (not considered by AC Transit in 2001), light rail starts looking a lot better. 

Or, if service to the community is the primary goal, AC Transit would do better to reduce fares (the current $1.75 for a basic fare, plus $0.25 for a transfer, is pretty pricey), and hire more drivers to run more (and smaller, more fuel efficient) buses more frequently. This would provide more economic benefit to the community, and help low-income transit users far more than big fancy buses and stations. 

If AC Transit wants to provide environmental benefits and a “rail-like” experience for riders, then it should go with light rail. If AC Transit wants to benefit the community and its most vulnerable customers, it should reduce its fares and provide more frequent service. The bus rapid transit proposal is an expensive compromise that provides neither environmental nor community benefits, and it should be rejected. 

Call or write or e-mail AC Transit, or show up at the meeting at 5:30 p.m. on June 14 at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and tell AC Transit to kill the bus rapid transit project. 


Peter Allen is a Berkeley resident.