Public Comment

Commentary: Bus Rapid Transit Will Destroy Telegraph Avenue

By George Oram, Mary Oram, Arlene Giordano, Thomas Cooper, Carol Lipnick and
Friday June 29, 2007

AC Transit proposes to eliminate two auto lanes on Telegraph Avenue and have curbed, restricted, and exclusive fast bus lanes in the middle two lanes for the new BRT service. Their thinking and the environmental impact report do not address the problems this will cause. Telegraph today is attractive, clean, and traffic flows. 

Local bus and all auto and truck traffic would be confined to one lane in each direction. Emergency vehicles would run with the fast buses in the center lane, and be restricted by the buses and congestion. No one could pass other vehicles. Police and fire vehicles would be considerably hampered. Much, but not all parking would be eliminated. Local buses stopping and cars parallel parking would stop all traffic. Getting across Telegraph would be restricted. Left turns limited. People will leave rather than use businesses. 

Telegraph is the main route for entering and exiting South Berkeley especially. 

Entering: Berkeley events, theater, sports, UCB events, downtown, for giant trucks with food for Andronico’s and Whole Foods, and many trucks with supplies for stores and restaurants.  

Exiting: after events and games, after work, and in an emergency such as fire or earthquake. It is an important feeder for freeways and the Temescal Shopping Center at 51st Street. Some neighborhoods could be isolated. Stores would lose customers by the droves.  

Alternative routes are not readily available; they are jammed already. Both South Berkeley and North Oakland neighborhoods have many blocked streets; as it has been longtime policy to divert traffic to main streets. These mazes will become a traffic mess. 

At peak hours exits from the UC campus to Claremont and/or Route 13 are slowed to a stop. Claremont can handle more traffic, but it is very hard to get to it. Much traffic has been diverted over the years from neighborhoods and other routes to Telegraph Avenue. 

At most hours College Avenue is very slow, restricted by the light at Ashby. College cannot handle more autos and trucks. Ashby, our exit to east and west, has jammed traffic at many hours and can handle no more. Broadway can handle Oakland traffic but it does not solve the problem of getting to South Berkeley, including UC Berkeley or Alta Bates Hospital. Routes such as Martin Luther King are too far away and made hard to access by traffic restrictions. 

Telegraph Avenue functions extraordinarily well in 2007. It is clean. Neighborhoods are improving. Many new businesses are established from 20th Street in Oakland through Stuart Street in Berkeley. Temescal is reborn. Condos have been built. The buses work; trucks deliver vital food and merchandise. Auto traffic flows easily. All this will be brought to an end by the unnecessary construction of restricted lanes. Traffic not being able to sort itself out by passing will clog the avenue. There will be great pain and bankruptcies as a result of blocking Telegraph. The businesses will be killed by the congestion and lack of parking. Growing tax revenues for the cities will shrink. In any emergency there is the risk of lost lives when emergency vehicles cannot get through. Emergency vehicles will be blocked by traffic. 

The opinion survey on this development was only mailed to people within 300 feet of Telegraph. Very few people know what is happening. The meetings chaired by AC Transit were stacked with transit people with local people objecting. Berkeley’s own traffic commission is filing the most modest objection to the EIR, and not representing the motorists, most of the residents of the town. Does the City Council know what is happening here? Does Oakland know? Do fire, police, and ambulance operators know? 

Today, the big fast double buses are running on Telegraph, mixed with other traffic, and this, and restriping and cleaning up the avenue has resulted in less congestion and faster both bus and auto service. AC Transit should stand pat with what has already been accomplished and not go too far and destroy commerce and neighborhoods.  

This is an open letter to Berkeley residents, Berkeley government, Oakland government and above all the Board of AC Transit who are requested to not proceed on this project.  

We suggest that residents and business people call your Oakland or Berkeley Council person and AC Transit and write to newspapers and AC Transit Board, 1600 Franklin St, Oakland Ca., 94612 with your point of view. People pressure can avert this disaster. EIR comments are due by July 3. Google AC Transit EIR for much more information. Berkeley government may tend to favor this proposal as a way to invigorate downtown. Oakland hardly knows it is happening. 


Mary and George Oram are Hillegass Avenue residents; Arlene Giordano and Thomas Cooper own Le Bateau Ivre; Carol Lipnick and Ed Dougherty own Berkeley Hat Company on Telegraph Avenue.