As an opponent of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), I sincerely hope the initiative measure requiring voter approval for BRT will pass in the November election. This is the chance we have to stop BRT before construction begins. But if BRT does get built, what will the ramifications be? I feel it is better to consider these ramifications now, while we can still stop BRT, rather than waiting until it is too late.
If BRT is built, we will all have to live with it, quite possibly for the rest of our lives. One of the biggest effects will clearly be the redirection of Telegraph Avenue car and truck traffic onto other streets. As much as we might hope for it, these cars and trucks will not magically disappear. They will be driving around on our streets every day. College Avenue is predicted to receive an additional 160 vehicles per hour, which is obviously not realistic due to the current levels of congestion there. So where will these cars and trucks go, and is there anything we will be able to do to limit the impact on traffic?
Many cars and trucks are currently diverted onto College, Telegraph, and Shattuck by the numerous traffic barriers that close off streets in Berkeley. There does not appear to be any way to add additional traffic lanes to the existing streets in Berkeley, so removing some or all of these traffic barriers might be the only way to handle the displaced cars and trucks.
By the time I moved to Berkeley in the 1970s, many traffic barriers were already in place, so I am not familiar with the decision making process that resulted in their construction. However, at the time these decisions were made, Telegraph Avenue had the current number of traffic lanes. Putting up these barriers may have made sense when College, Telegraph, and Shattuck had the capacity to accept the cars pushed onto those streets by the barriers, but if BRT is built, they might not make sense anymore. In addition to forcing vehicles onto the major streets, these barriers complicate driving around the neighborhoods. BRT will further complicate navigating, by preventing left turns and cross traffic at most of the intersections along Telegraph. Removing the traffic barriers would also help reduce this effect, by allowing cars and trucks to more easily traverse the neighborhoods.
In June of 2007, I submitted a comment to the BRT draft environmental impact report suggesting that a trial closure be carried out for the proposed bus lanes on Telegraph, to see where the displaced cars and trucks will really go. In the 13 months since then, I have not received any response, nor have I heard of any plan to close down those lanes to see what will really happen. My suspicion is that AC Transit and the City of Berkeley do not want to have a trial closure because it will cause major traffic disruptions, just like BRT. The last thing BRT proponents want is a large traffic jam that alerts everyone to the problems BRT will produce. Certainly a trial closure would not be very expensive, all that would be required would be traffic cones and temporary “No Left Turn” signs. And they wouldn't be needed for very long. Even two or three months of lane closures would give us a good idea of what will happen if BRT is built. If AC Transit and the City of Berkeley are legitimately trying to do the right thing for the citizens of Berkeley, they should close off the Telegraph lanes until the November election, so we can see what will happen. If the traffic is bad enough, they might even want to temporarily remove the neighborhood traffic barriers to see if it solves the problems. This is the only way I can see of fully understanding what we’ll be getting ourselves into if we allow BRT to move forward.
Russ Tilleman is a Berkeley resident.