Public Comment

Commentary: BRT Poor Choices: The Fault of the City of Berkeley

By Bruce Wicinas
Friday April 11, 2008

Opposed to BRT” does not fairly describe my position. We citizens have been offered a bad choice: accept BRT in roughly its present form or oppose BRT. Given these lousy choices, I choose to oppose. 

In my view AC transit is doing its job responsibly. Our own city is failing to serve its citizens. This is an embarrassingly poor performance by the city of Berkeley. The city’s failure to spend any money to author its own BRT alternatives has brought us to this point of no good choices. 

Three years ago when the lines where still drawn in pencil, Jim Cunradi of AC transit and the Downtown Berkeley Asso-ciation tried to get city staff to engage in co-planning this system. AC transit could get no ears at the city. “Everyone is over-worked. There’s a hiring freeze,” was the excuse heard from city staff.  

Regardless of the fact that this plan will impose drastic alterations on the street infrastructure that will persist for 25 years, no one in the city had time for it. The city did not see it as sufficiently important to hire its own draftsman and veteran designer to work with AC and with its citizens in order to devise a good design. 

The city said DAPAC will figure this out, even though the design of alternatives requires skills far beyond the means of citizen volunteers. The city said the “Transit Zone Urban Design Plan” will figure this out, though fleshing out alternatives was far beyond the scope of that competent but stingily-funded study—commissioned by Berkeley but NOT funded by Berkeley. The city refused to spend a dime or an hour on this when it was in a state begging for collaborative design and Jim Cunradi was pleading for the city’s input. 

The city now says, “make AC transit pay for additional design in Berkeley.” He who pays the piper calls the tune! 

In the ’60s occurred the last comparable change to the city’s infrastructure, the construction of BART. The following can be found at BART.GOV regarding the events of 1963-66. 

“Prime examples of how public pressures escalated the cost of the system are the Berkeley subway and the Ashby Station. After originally approving a combination aerial and subway line through Berkeley, that city later came to oppose the plan in favor of a subway-only line, which was much more expensive. The new plan necessitated redesign of the Ashby Station from an aerial to a subway facility. Extensive controversy and hearings ensued for the next two-and-a-half years, finally to be resolved by Berkeley residents voting to tax themselves additionally to finance the changes they wanted. Next, a Berkeley City Councilman filed a successful suit to redesign the Ashby Station, yet a second time, asserting the use of skylights in the original plans was not a true subway design. 

“The Berkeley situation resulted in a two-and-a-half year delay in subway construction, a 17-month delay in starting Ashby Station construction, and additional costs of $18 million.” 

Those Berkeleyans paid heed. They had courage. They shouldered the cost. We can learn from our brave and farsighted forebears. 


Bruce Wicinas is a Berkeley citizen.