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Residents Say No To Bus-Only Lanes

By Richard Brenneman
Friday April 11, 2008

Judging by comments at a Wednesday night hearing, Ber-keley residents like faster bus service but hate the notion of losing car lanes to bus expressways. 

AC Transit’s Jim Cunradi briefed a joint session of the city’s Planning and Transportation commissions on his agency’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal. 

While a dozen speakers told the commissioners to urge the City Council to move ahead and another said BRT was fine so long as none of the controversial Van Hool buses were involved, 25 speakers said no to bus-only lanes, with many urging a no-build vote and a system redesign. 

Dean Metzger said opposition to the ACT Transit plan was strong in Berkeley neighborhoods, with polls by the Council of Neighborhood Associations and his own Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association running strongly against any proposal to take existing traffic lanes and convert them to bus-only use. 

Last week, Metzger said, “I initiated a measure to be on the November ballot” that would bar taking traffic lanes for BRT buses. 

BRT would link Berkeley and San Leandro with a 17-mile service that would flow in a pair of dedicated one-way bus-only lanes, except in the commercial heart of San Leandro itself, where the City Council has blocked the dedicated lanes in favor of keeping the buses in regular traffic lanes. 

The transit company is still in discussions with Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner about the configuration for North Oakland, Cunradi said. 

At the heart of the current AC Transit proposal for the northern leg of the system is the creation of two bus-only lanes down the center of Telegraph Avenue with stations in the middle of street which Cunradi said could also serve to promote public safety.  

In the model offered by BRT—which could change as the bus agency works with city government—the route would turn west off Telegraph, looping through downtown Berkeley, through a two lane route along Bancroft Way, then north on Oxford Street and down University Avenue to Shattuck Avenue, and looping back to Telegraph either via two-way dual BRT lanes on Bancroft or a one-line eastbound link on Durant Avenue. 

Keeping both lanes on Bancroft would result in a loss of more than 60 parking spaces on Bancroft, compared to the separated routing. 

Wednesday night’s meeting saw the forging of some unusual alliances, with individuals and organizations often opposed on other development finding common ground in opposition to BRT-only lanes. 

Thus Brendan Heafey of Ruegg & Ellsworth, the West Berkeley real estate brokerage and development firm, found himself allied with Doug Buckwald, Merilee Mitchell and others who have often occupied opposing side on development issues. 

Mark McLeod, president of the Downtown Berkeley Association, and Chamber of Commerce President Ted Garrett also called for re-evaluation of a system they feared would deter shoppers and pedestrians, as did representatives of Telegraph Avenue businesses. 

Members of Friends of BRT turned out to support the system, including Len Conly and Livable Berkeley Board Member Alan Tobey. 

Sierra Club Northern Alameda Group volunteer chair Kent Lewandowski offered support for BRT, which he said would be especially needed given the significant growth in enrollment and jobs projected in UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan through 2020. 

Jeff Ranor of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition urged commissioners to “move as soon possible, because each additional delay is putting tons more carbon into the environment.” 

Linsay Imai of Urban Habitat urged the commissions “to work with urgency to select a locally preferred alternative so AC transit can address all the impacts.” 

But judging by the volume of applause, the consensus among BRT-only lane opponents seemed to be for a system dubbed Rapid Bus Plus, similar to the that now operating along San Pablo Avenue. 

That system would incorporate BRT features, including traffic signal priority, prepaid fares and live scheduling information posted at stops, while not requiring reconfiguration of turns along the route or generating additional congestion that would divert traffic onto neighborhood streets. 

George Williams, who is filling in on the Planning Commission for David Stoloff, asked if the bus agency could compare BRT and Rapid Bus Plus. 

“We could do that, sure,” said Cunradi, offering to add the comparison to the final EIR. 

Two former city councilmembers came to speak out, one, Miriam Hawley, to support BRT, and the other, former Mayor Shirley Dean, to oppose BRT, which she had previously endorsed as mayor when the council adopted a 2001 resolution calling for a BRT route down Telegraph. 

Critics questioned the time and energy savings that AC Transit has said will be significant benefits of what has been described in the past by Cunradi and others as a $300 million to $400 million system. 

But as the meeting was nearing its end Cunradi said that while there wasn’t $400 million available, his agency had come up with a system that would do the job for $250 million instead, largely by dumping the planned concrete busways and using the existing asphalt paving instead—a remark that drew gasps of disbelief from the audience. 

Cunradi confirmed one fear of many critics—namely that creation of BRT stations at the intersections of Telegraph and Bancroft Way and Haste and Derby streets, the downtown BART station and on Shattuck at Bancroft or Durant would create the opportunity for state Transit Village designations that would pave the way for denser development that currently allowed by city plans and codes. 

The designation itself, Cunradi told Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey, would come from the city and not his agency. 

City Transportation Planner Matt Nichols said the next step is development of a work plan based on comments from commissioners and the public to determine what is needed so the planners can present the city council with a preferred alternative. 

City staff had come under fire from some of the public speakers for its failure to work with the transit agency in coming up with a city designed preference. 

“The city has a lot of say in how it looks,” Cunradi said. 

If BRT-only lanes are approved for Berkeley, their advent will also bring a new law enforcement agency to the city’s streets. Cunradi said enforcement within the BRT zone, including citation of cars that venture into the newly forbidden bus turf, will be carried out by the Alameda County Sheriff. 

NIchols said he might return to the commissions in late May or early June to present a work plan for the next stage in the process. 

The draft EIR is available online at