Sharon Hudson’s 12/28 commentary (“AC Transit Will Not Replace Parking Loss”) is exceedingly unhelpful in shedding any light on our proposed Bus Rapid Transit project. She’s complaining prematurely: the concerns she raises will be much more definitively addressed as the ongoing environmental review process moves to its conclusion in 2008.
She quotes extensively from the 2006 draft environmental impact report from 2006 (DEIR) as presumptively conclusive evidence that AC Transit will not replace any parking lost as a result of BRT implementation without taking it from the neighborhoods. Ms. Hudson—who publicly proclaims her expertise on the environmental review process—surely knows better. Responses received on the DEIR have certainly raised the salience of the parking issue, and AC Transit is preparing a much more thorough discussion of potential mitigations for any lost parking and other potential “adverse impacts” that the final EIR will describe in detail. It’s the final EIR (FEIR) that matters. Raising concerns about issues in the DEIR as if they were unchangeable commitments set in concrete is disingenuous and seriously misleading.
Such issues as Ms. Hudson raises are not yet formally addressed by AC Transit because the next phase of the environmental review process is still incomplete, awaiting action by the City of Berkeley. That required action is the selection of the “preferred local alternative” (PLA) for the project, which will serve as the central organizing scenario for the FEIR. In this phase, the forthcoming commission and city council process will define the best “what-if” case we can make for BRT: If we were to build BRT in Berkeley, what’s the best net-positive plan we can define? That best-case may not prove good enough to actually build; but the decision on whether to go ahead follows the delivery of the FEIR and does not anticipate it.
It’s important to make this distinction again for absolute clarity: the selection of a preferred local alternative is not a vote to approve the eventual project. The PLA will only help AC Transit write the complete FEIR—dealing with all concerns and objections raised to date—so that the City Council can have the most complete information available. The final Council decision will be based on the FEIR, not on the less fully analyzed preferred local alternative by itself. And that final EIR isn’t now expected before the latter part of 2008.
If Ms. Hudson really wants to know what AC Transit is currently thinking about some of these issues—instead of clinging to the obsolescent DEIR as if it’s holy scripture—all she needs to do is give Jim Cunradi a call. While Cunradi can’t anticipate or announce any decisions that haven’t yet been made, at several public meetings I’ve attended, Mr. Cunradi has certainly been forthcoming about the process AC Transit has been following and about the nature of the major issues that are still unresolved. It’s certainly unfair to blame AC Transit for any lack of current information—until the City makes its PLA choice, AC Transit does not know what the central scenario in the FEIR will be that it has to analyze. For that reason it can certainly not yet make any promises about what the actual completed project would or would not do.
Public debates about BRT may be helpful in the future, but only when we know exactly what BRT project we’re looking at, when we know what the potential negative impacts of that actual project would likely be, and when we know what potential mitigations for any negative impacts we could adopt. Until then, there’s simply no point in debating about speculations. That can only inflame people’s worst fears (or feed their unrealistic hopes).
Let’s put aside the premature posturing about what we assume the worst will be, and join others in making a helpful contribution about what BRT could be. Choices about the PLA will be important: routes through south campus and downtown, the extent to which dedicated lanes are desirable on some or all of these segments, station locations and configurations, and the like. We now have a chance to work together to craft our best case for going ahead—so we can later decide, in the full light of all information we can bring to bear, whether or not we really want BRT to happen.