Public Comment

Commentary: Bus Rapid Transit Won’t Be Rapid, But It Will Be a Bus...t

By Gale Garcia
Tuesday June 19, 2007

“Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) is AC Transit’s plan to take over two lanes of Telegraph Avenue and eliminate up to 315 Berkeley parking spaces for humongous buses traveling from downtown San Leandro to downtown Berkeley. The draft environmental impact report (EIR) for this project, available at the library or from AC Transit, is a real eye-opener and an amusing read. 

BART, the only truly rapid local transportation, runs underground or on elevated tracks, and encounters no cross traffic. Its trains can therefore go up to 80 miles per hour, without endangering lives. Telegraph Avenue has a speed limit of 25 miles per hour in Berkeley. People live on this avenue, unlike the BART tunnel where no humans reside.  

I think I finally understand why traffic lights appeared on Telegraph Avenue at Russell and Stuart streets about a year ago, against the wishes of neighbors. Intersections with no traffic lights would be a problem for BRT’s monster buses. Pesky pedestrians think they have the right to cross the street in crosswalks. But traffic lights will be magically programmed to turn green, or stay green longer, when a bus approaches. 

Known as “transit signal priority,” this manipulation of stoplights is already in effect on San Pablo Avenue, reportedly with great success. However, the buses seem to be going about 40 miles per hour. Cars travel at similar speeds whenever a bus is nearby. Have police been told to ignore speeding vehicles on San Pablo Avenue to make this program seem like a good idea? 

If BRT buses are required to obey traffic safety laws on Telegraph, I doubt they will be much faster than the existing buses—and with way fewer stops than current service provides, they are most unlikely to attract drivers into buses. 

Riding AC Transit is costly. Lowering the prices, or providing eco-passes would do much more to persuade people to ride than a top-down “build it and they will come” (unless of course they don’t) source of unintended consequences. 

And who are the teaming hoards who wish to commute from downtown San Leandro to Berkeley? If they existed, why wouldn’t they just take BART, and travel rapidly on trains that are way more comfortable than the huge and hated VanHool buses? 

When I first heard about the plan to close two lanes of Telegraph Avenue (and parts of Shattuck), it sounded so loony that I thought this plan couldn’t really be in the works. During the 1970s and 1980s when traffic diverters were placed on residential streets, Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues were designated as arteries to keep cross-town traffic out of neighborhoods. Closing any portion of either street makes no sense at all. 

The plans for BRT have been chugging along behind the scenes for quite a while. Over the last year, strange alterations to Telegraph Avenue have appeared that were inexplicable until I read the EIR for this project.  

The EIR makes it very clear what BRT is all about. Here is a sample from page S-18, “Project would support intensified corridor development that is consistent with regional Smart Growth and transit-oriented development policies….” and from page 2-49, “Moreover, Telegraph Avenue has more opportunities for redevelopment that would meet the project need as described in Chapter 1.” There are scores of other similar statements in the EIR. 

In fact, the words “development” or “redevelopment” are used at least 179 times in the EIR, all in the context that increasing density along this route is a laudable goal. This project is a ruse, using transit “improvements” to encourage and enable yet more of the massive development so loved by our Mayor (and the money behind him), and so hated by an increasingly large segment of the Berkeley population. 

If BRT sounds like a bad idea to you, call, write or e-mail our City Council members and let them know how you feel. If you want more information, sign up to the “BRT E-mail Alert list” at: Believe it or not, BRT is not a done deal (although it certainly would be a dumb deal). 


Gale Garcia is a long-term Berkeley  

resident who travels to work by bicycle.