Imagine a bus route so fast that it’s like a vehicle free of tracks. It would be 10 times cheaper and ride along a 15-mile stretch from Bay Fair BART station in San Leandro to Downtown Berkeley. Each stop would be about half mile apart and bus drivers would have the ability to turn stoplights green using GPS technology and have an electronic sign informing riders when the next bus was scheduled to arrive. This $400 million budgeted project would provide elevated stops in the middle of the street and dedicated lanes free of cars. While the city of Berkeley does have a toned down version of rapid transit systems, they still have to drive alongside the traffic of regular cars.
Does this sound too good to be true?
I’m afraid it does.
While the city of Berkeley has proposed and shown interest this multi-million-dollar investment, the residents of Berkeley have vocally expressed dislike for it. However, I, also a Berkeley resident and a UC Berkeley student, am representing one of few proponents for this plan.
I felt much opposition for the BRT at the Feb. 13 planning meeting in North Berkeley. Scott Coleman, a Berkeley resident had conducted a mini-survey about the BRT asking ten residents if they’ve even heard of the BRT plan. They all replied no. His concern was that if so few residents who would be directly affected by the plan even knew about the BRT, there wouldn’t be enough voices to oppose it. Bruce Caplin, an owner of a small store on Telegraph and Delaware street resident in Berkeley was concerned about the green house gases emitted by the buses and the possibility of the transit system in mitigating merchant activity along Telegraph. I feel that although these claims made at the meeting were valid, they do not override the progressive action this plan will eventually bring. While facing much opposition, the meeting has given the BRT planners an opportunity to fix the issues that were being raised. Further notification of the plan to the local residents will ensure greater proponents for the Rapid Transit System. As for the issue of greenhouse gases, driving less and taking the transit more occasionally will eventually reduce transportations’ effect on the environment. In addition, I feel that this high speed pathway alongside Telegraph will promote, rather than mitigate, merchant activity. More people will be encouraged to travel along the long stretch of Telegraph Avenue.
For a green-minded, progressive city such as Berkeley, it was surprising to learn much opposition for this project. In an article called “Comprehensive Planning” by Altshuler, p. 112, he says “the planner may learn which issues are the relevant ones so far as the people are concerned, what terms are meaningful to them, and which alternatives make sense as they view them. The education of the planning board and staff is crucial for any plan to survive.” Looking at past examples of successful planning agendas can help us see the good in this project. Wachs reports in an article called “Transportation,” p. 206, that in recent years, the public in large cities and metropolitan areas has generally been more favorably disposed to transit improvements than to the building of new high ways. They say that improving transit tends to decongest the streets by reducing automobile travel.
While technologies that improve the speed, safety, and fuel efficiency of the automobile are desirable, obviously not everyone will be happy about it. In a past example in Berkeley, Carolyn Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle reports in her article “Bus rapid transit project could hit roadblock in Berkeley” that 95% of motorists opposed dedicated bike lanes when they were first unveiled, but now the lanes are accepted as part of the streetscape. Remembering this will help us move forward and foresee the positive outcomes that BRT could bring.
Erina Hong is a UC Berkeley student. This commentary was part of a class assignment for City Planning 110 and is one of several student submissions received by the Daily Planet.