Bus Rapid Transit May Be Headed For November Vote

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday May 22, 2008 - 09:52:00 AM

Berkeley voters could be the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to the shape of an upgraded bus service for the city. 

Foes of a plan to narrow Telegraph Avenue down to two lanes to create room for a bus-only center lane say they have enough signatures to place a measure on the November ballot, which, if passed, would require public votes on any lane conversions on city streets. 

Bruce Kaplan, general manager of Looking Glass Photo’s Telegraph Avenue store, is co-sponsoring the measure with Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association president Dean Metzger. 

“Support for the measure has been overwhelming,” Kaplan said. “I think this shows that the residents of Berkeley feel that the city has not worked with AC Transit effectively to design the next generation of transit services. Voters want a system that is green, reduces congestion, and moves people where they need to go at an affordable cost.” 

Merchants have complained that the plan’s proposal to eliminate parking along Telegraph would result in lost business for local merchants, and neighborhood residents have complained that the reduction of traffic would send more cars onto neighborhood streets. 

The initiative proposal comes from Berkeleyans for Better Transit Options (BBTop), which has also floated an alternative proposal for a service they call Rapid Bus Plus (http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-05-15/article/30011). 

Organizers said Tuesday that they have collected more than the 2,037 signatures required to place the measure on the November ballot, and will continue gathering names for another week both to demonstrate popular support and to ensure a safe margin in case some signers are ruled ineligible. 

Once the petitions are handed over to the city clerk, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters will then verify the signatures. The Berkeley City Council then must either enact the measure or place it on the ballot for Berkeley voters to approve or reject. 

“Either way,” says Kaplan, “we have succeeded in drawing attention to BRT. The city will have to do a better job in getting input from the public and making sure that AC Transit is responsive to the real needs of Berkeley residents.”