Public Comment

Commentary: Bus Rapid Transit Needs More Study

By Vincent Casalaina
Friday April 11, 2008

The one thing that was clear at last night’s joint Planning and Transit Commission workshop was that not much is really known about AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit proposal. That may surprise many people after the multitude of public hearings and thousands of pages of material written by AC Transit, BRT supporters and those who support better public transit but are opposed to dedicating public roadways to busses that will come once every 10 minutes. 

So where do we start first to try to get solid information about the effects of Bus Rapid Transit on Berkeley?  

One place could be the Draft Environ-mental Impact Statement/Report published last May but proponents of BRT, and AC Transit, say it’s just the draft and should not be taken seriously. For those of us trying to understand BRT’s impact, it is the only source of information and facts about the project. 

Here’s what AC Transit does say about automobile congestion: BRT could mean longer drive times on Telegraph Ave. BRT requires a transitway for safe and efficient operations. This means that the length of time driving along the route is expected to increase due to congestion and delay when a traffic lane in each direction is converted to BRT. 

How bad will that congestion be? The draft is clear that it’s not just Telegraph where congestion will worsen. A significant number of auto trips will divert onto College Avenue and Shattuck Avenue. AC Transit doesn’t use the term gridlock, but they do say that unsatisfactory conditions will occur at a number of local intersections. 

Will there be other impacts to the surrounding neighborhoods due to the added congestion on the major roadways? Neigh-borhood cut-through traffic is dismissed in the draft. AC Transit’s traffic analysis shows that they did not model many of the smaller residential streets. AC Transit’s vision of the shortest time path across Berkeley is at odds with what those of us who live and, yes, drive here everyday know. 

We are currently in the process of defining the Locally Preferred Alternative route. That’s what the joint Planning and Transportation Commission workshop was all about. What they got instead was an outpouring of community sentiment believing that we just don’t know enough yet to decide if we want dedicated lanes for buses, let alone where we might want them. 

So where does that leave us when looking for real answers to the question of traffic impacts to Berkeley? 

AC Transit and the City of Berkeley should implement a “Real World Test” of the lane closures on Telegraph to get some real data about the impacts on congestion, travel time, cut-through traffic and many other variables about which we currently can only conjecture. Here are questions that should be examined: 

1. Will the neighborhood concern that we will see a big increase in cut-through traffic become a reality?  

2. Will there be gridlock along Telegraph Ave., like that which exists today on College Ave. in Elmwood? 

3. Will the restriction of left turns from Telegraph Avenue add much additional local traffic to residential streets? 

4. Will the reduction in parking greatly impact many of the businesses on Telegraph Ave., as owners fear? 

5. Will the imposition of metered parking in residential areas further restrict residents’ ability to find parking near their houses? 

6. Will the interruption of bike lanes in the vicinity of the BRT stations put cyclists at greater risk? 

AC Transit has produced their proposal for the lane configuration and traffic flow on Telegraph Ave. with BRT in place. We should use their plan as the basis for any test of the impacts of BRT. The test should cover the area from Dwight Way to the Berkeley/Oakland border and should examine: 

• Blocking off lanes of traffic with cones or other temporary but effective barriers to traffic (consistent with public safety needs). 

• The restrictions on turns both onto and off of Telegraph Ave. 

• The reduction of parking around stations and left turns. 

• The removal of bike lanes in the vicinity of stations and left turn lanes. 

• Appropriate signage to make sure motorists, pedestrians and cyclists understand the reconfigured roadway. 

The following should be measured before and during the test: 

• Traffic volume on Telegraph Ave. and on each of the cross-streets at which traffic will be allowed to cross Telegraph Ave. 

• Traffic volume where neighborhood streets exit onto adjacent arterials of College, Shattuck, Dwight, Ashby and Alcatraz and at major intersections on those arterials. 

• Congestion delay at each intersection that is measured for traffic volume. 

• Public transit ridership on all of the AC Transit routes adjacent to and crossing the test area. 

• Business activity along Telegraph Ave. based on sales tax revenue. 

A post-test neighborhood resident survey covering qualitative and quantitative measures of the impact the test had on their daily lives should also be made. 

When and for how long should the test be conducted: 

• The test should last long enough for ingrained travel patterns to adjust to the new roadway configuration. It’s clear than a few days, or even a few weeks will not give people enough time to actually find the path that best fits their particular travel needs. 

• The test should take place during the peak travel season. 

The following process could be followed: 

• Request the City Manager to produce a plan, based on the above request with projection of costs and potential sources of funding for such a test. Also, an analysis of how neighborhood volunteers could be used to help reduce the funding costs of such a test. 

• Request the City Manager to produce a projected implementation timeline for such a test.