I want to weigh in on behalf of the vast majority of Berkeley citizens who voted a resounding yes on Measure G this past election. Voters said we want the city and its businesses and residents to comprehensively and effectively address the issue of climate change and energy policy. That means addressing this extremely important issue in many different ways, from the efficiency of individual buildings, to how we power, heat, and cool our homes, to how we get from place to place within Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. When it comes to transportation, this means viable alternatives to the private automobile, including bikes, walking, and transit.
Cities across this country and across the world are making major investments in rapid transit systems, bucking the primacy of the car and building rail and bus transit systems that attract new riders, and provide real and efficient options for residents and workers. Berkeley has a chance to embrace and foster such transit by supporting AC Transit’s new East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, which would connect Downtown Berkeley to Oakland and San Leandro with fast, efficient, and clean hi-tech buses on dedicated lanes. This system is like rail with rubber tires, and similar systems are up and running in Los Angeles, Eugene (Ore.), across South America and Canada, and more are planned and under construction across the United States. Unlike regular bus systems, BRT buses do not sit in traffic, and BRT stations are spaced further apart and are designed like rail stations so that they move people faster and thus can compete with and even out-compete cars. We need these kinds of systems if we are to take a real bite out of our carbon emissions and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
The East Bay BRT line is an essential component in the fight against global warming. Opponents of the system, which are few in number but particularly vocal, point out that the buses will remove valuable auto lanes and impact parking. These are exaggerated claims, but even if the new system does take away a few parking spaces or impact the efficiency of car travel, is that not something that we can accept to take on such an important issue as global climate change and oil dependency?
Of all places, Berkeley should be a leader in this challenge, not a place where single-issues like parking and driving take primacy over transit, bikes, pedestrians, and the environment. Let’s live up to our progressive reputation and support innovative new travel options for Berkeley and the East Bay. We can’t win the battle against climate change with solar panels and Prius’ alone. We need to invest in and support transit, and advance plans and projects that put more housing and jobs within walking distance of major transit investments like BRT stations and BART. Only then can we say we are really addressing the mandate laid out by the voters when they passed Measure G.
Joe DiStefano is a Berkeley resident.