Public Comment

Commentary: A Planning Student’s Perspective on Bus Rapid Transit

By Janet Shih
Tuesday March 04, 2008

After reading the recent article about AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal as well as being an attendee of early February’s planning commissioning meeting for Berkeley, I would like to support the argument for a positive response towards the BRT proposal. 

I believe incorporating a Bus Rapid Transit line into Telegraph Avenue would be extremely beneficial to the planning of the city of Berkeley. The implementation of the BRT would definitely bring about a drastic change, but this change would result in a half-price reduction in bus fare, efficiency in schedule, and an increase in transit speed. As a student at UC Berkeley, and for many of my peers, these are all the factors in need of improvement that currently discourage us from using public transit. The improvements of the AC Transit system by the BRT will definitely give heavy incentive for many car owners to choose public transportation over private transportation. 

If this proposal will turn out to be as successful as it is proposed to be, the sacrifice of, as one planning commissioning meeting attendee put it, “forcing people out of their cars,” would be worth it in the long run. Forcing people out of their cars and into public transportation would decrease congestion and be environmentally promising for air quality. I believe that this process will be rough in the beginning and that automobile owners will voice their stubborn concerns, but progressively as the AC Transit begins to take a larger presence in main streets (in this instance, Telegraph Avenue), the routine of abandoning car use and using bus lines will grow to be a very sustainable alternative. 

The city of Berkeley is only increasing in population. It is a city with a prestigious public university and inhabitants will only increase. In John Levy’s book Contemporary Urban Planning, he states that public transportation is only successful when it is geared towards cities of large population densities. As the Berkeley population increases, the problems of congestion increase along with it and unless action is taken for transportation, the matter will only grow worse and worse. An alternative must be considered. 

Levy refers to this as “compact planning,” which is very favorable to city planners. Public transportation is meant to decrease congestion and lead to a pedestrian friendly land-use pattern. I see the BRT installment as an attempt to be the main source of transportation in a currently congested street in order for people to initially become frustrated, but then eventually submit, abandon their cars, and use the AC Transit. 

In William Fulton’s book Guide to California Planning he mentions that a community has four options to mitigate congestion due to population growth and the least expensive and most practical of those options is to “try to reduce vehicle trips or shift travelers to other modes". However because of the influence of suburban land use, the idea of using public transit is not at all appealing. BRT is a great opportunity for the city of Berkeley to redefine its land-use and to reject it reliance on private automobiles. 

Very much of city planning is focused on preventing future municipal problems. The BRT is a smart move in order to do that and is a strategic tactic for sustainable living. 


Janet Shih is a UC Berkeley student. This commentary was part of a class assignment for City Planning 110.