Public Comment

Commentary: An Attempt at BRT Shepherding

By Mary Oram
Friday August 03, 2007

Tuesday night, July 23rd, I witnessed an exercise in mind control in the disguise of a meeting of a transit subcommittee of the Transportation Commis-sion. The subject of the meeting was to discuss the proposed BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) as it affects the South Side area. The meeting was run by the Chair of the Transportation Commission. Most of the attendees have attended more than one meeting about BRT so that the Chair knew many of the attendees by name and their position on this issue.  

From the outset it was clear that the vast majority of the attendees—mostly Tele-graph area business owners and residents of the neighborhoods on either side of Telegraph Avenue—were opposed to the major component of the BRT plan—converting two lanes on Telegraph into high speed bus-only lanes. But the Chair controlled the agenda, which she said was to see what we could do working together to improve BRT implementation. 

When attendees were recognized and made comments questioning the feasibility of this portion of BRT plan, the Chair badgered and cut the speakers off and at two points threatened to have the speakers removed from the meeting. The business owners and neighbors raised concerns on such issues as how many parking spaces will be removed from Telegraph, where the replacement spaces will be located, how the two lanes of Telegraph will be turned over to AC Transit, who will maintain these lanes once the BRT starts, what entity will be responsible for policing violations in the exclusive bus lanes, how cross traffic on Telegraph will be handled, how BRT will be evaluated if it is implemented, and if it does not generate the volume of ridership that AC Transit predicts if it can be scaled back or undone, etc. None of these questions were answered.  

After the brief public session, the Chair counted off the attendees and assigned each by number to one of six groups, each headed by a City of Berkeley staff member. The small groups were directed to review specific BRT route alternatives and make a list of issues that BRT needs to address to facilitate its implementation.  

The group I joined had six people. A straw poll at the start showed that five of the six—business owners and neighbors—were in favor of the Rapid Bus plan that was implemented but opposed to the BRT. The sixth person, a member of Friends of BRT who lives near the North Berkeley Senior Center, far away from the BRT project, was in favor of it. But we are all well-socialized people and we did what we were told to do. We set to work pouring over the maps of the BRT route south of campus and considered which streets BRT should follow. Should Telegraph between Dwight and Bancroft be two-way for buses only? Should the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph be closed to all non-bus traffic? Should Bancroft be one way or two way? It was classic divide and conquer.  

The leader of each small group reported to the whole the issues that had been identified. What had started as a mostly cohesive anti-BRT audience had dissolved into tame individuals. After the presentations, one of the attendees asked if the transit subcommittee was going to schedule another meeting where people could express their concerns to the BRT proposal. The Chair said, no, that this meeting had covered that subject. At the end I don’t think that anyone had changed their position, and we certainly hadn’t chosen a route for BRT through the south side. 

You can listen to the audio of the meeting at www.berkeleypublictransit.blogspot. com. 

Is this how they do it in totalitarian countries? Here in Berkeley we expect our elected officials and their representatives to take the views of the people into account when making decisions that will affect life in our city. On the contrary, what I see at virtually every meeting to consider BRT is a closed loop between AC Transit and its consultants and the Berkeley Trans-portation Department and Commission. Neighbors and business owners are becoming increasingly frustrated that their views and concerns are not being considered. Massive change needs to be developed from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down.  

There are so many bad things happening right now—BRT and the Wright’s Garage situation come to mind. What can we citizens do to get our city back on track? 



Mary Oram is an Elmwood resident.