Opponents of Bus Rapid Transit complain about parking and traffic problems, but they ignore the fact that parking and traffic problems will increase whether BRT is built or not. They also ignore an issue that Berkeleyans overwhelmingly agree that we need to address: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies overwhelmingly show that, if we do not reduce GHG emissions, the consequences will be unimaginable and dire. Yet some people look at how BRT will affect the parking and congestion they deal with only in the present or status quo, and they do not consider how it will affect our children and future generations.
These people should acknowledge that transportation generates more than half the GHG emissions in our region. Legislation and industry efforts to reduce GHG emissions will not accomplish the 20-30 percent reduction needed in the next 20 years. Reaching that goal will also require individual efforts to change how we live and travel.
BRT will reduce emissions far more than current buses operating in mixed flow traffic. BRT will provide faster more convenient and reliable service, attract more riders, and having more passengers per bus will further reduce emissions. Some say we already have BART, but to access BART is generally beyond walking distances and to ride a feeder bus and transfer will take up more time than the trip time on BART, so it will not be faster or as convenient for local trips up to 10-12 miles.
Berkeley’s recent Downtown Plan calls for coordinating development with transit and essentially accepts BRT on dense transit corridors. With this sort of coordinated planning, BRT can provide frequent, reliable service that lets people reach their destinations in about the same time that it takes to drive and park their cars.
In the last 20 years even without much development while Berkeley lost population, Berkeley’s traffic and parking has gotten worse. In the near future because of increasing population, jobs and development, traffic will increase along with congestion and parking problems and without a good transit alternative, we will be worse off in congestion and parking.
Congestion and parking problems are inevitable, so we must focus on transit and non-motorized modes of transportation and provide better transit that is convenient, more reliable and faster to attract riders to reduce GHG emissions.
Parking is a universal problem, and cities in other countries are taking much stricter measures than we are. Tokyo, Japan, requires car buyers to prove they have a guaranteed off-street parking space before they can purchase a car. In Sweden, there are pedestrian-oriented Transit Villages with communal parking lots, where drivers may have to walk a block or more to use their cars.
In addition, in most Western European countries, fuel taxes alone exceed the $3 per gallon that we pay as the total cost of gasoline. Their total gasoline cost is $6 to $8 per gallon, and they rarely provide free parking for they still have problems of increased traffic congestion and parking.
Also since auto use affects livability, costs and parking needs, other countries have imposed many forms of pricing on the use of the auto to pay for roadway and parking infrastructure and maintenance as compared to California where the general public pays a substantial cost through sales tax and bonds. Other countries are imposing tolls on the use of the expressways, higher auto registration and license fees and taxes and permit fees on parking. Some countries are using pricing to reduce congestion and parking needs by imposing tolls to enter central business district, and the revenues collected are used to improve transit, which improves their environment and quality of life. One country even limits the number of auto registration.
Because they have better transit and denser urban areas, these countries produce only about half the per capita GHG emissions than we do in America. Yet, their cities are more livable and more convenient than in America.
Therefore, In the discussions of BRT, rather than complaining about congestion and parking problems, which will always be with us no matter what we do, we should focus on our overall quality of life and on the urgent imperative to protect the global environment that will affect us locally by controlling global warming caused by excessive emission of GHG.
Roy Nakadegawa P.E. is a retired traffic engineer, a member of Friends of BRT, and served as an elected transit director 32 years (20 years with AC Transit and 12 with BART). He also serves on Transportation Research Board (a branch of the Academy of Science) on their Standing Committee on Public Transportation and Development.