Public Comment

BRT Opposition Ignores Global Warming

By Roy Nakadegawa
Thursday October 02, 2008 - 09:38:00 AM

I wonder if people who write in opposition to the proposed AC Transit BRT project and in support of Measure KK, which would most likely bring the Bus Rapid Transit project to a complete halt, are concerned with or even bother to consider the future of our city and its environment. In their letters to the Daily Planet, most of them write as though their primary concern is maintaining the status quo of driving in Berkeley. 

I have lived in and around Berkeley for almost 60 years. Automobile traffic has increased over those years nearly three-fold. At the same time the city’s population has diminished by about 20,000. In the near future, traffic and parking demand are destined to increase inevitably with the construction of the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. The expanded Caldecott, in combination with all the planned development by the University and other downtown developments including the projected 2,500 residential units that will be built in coming decades to accommodate the East Bay’s growing population, will inevitably produce more traffic, congestion and greater demand for parking to Berkeley. This is likely to happen no matter what fluctuations occur in the price of gasoline and people’s use of public transportation, which is increasingly stretched due to limited resources, budget constraints and congested traffic. 

These changes are occurring against a background of increasingly serious problem of global warming. According to the most recent version of Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan, nearly half of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced from transportation. Overall, the United States generates about one-sixth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while comprising less than a twentieth of its population. 

Berkeley, famous for being “green,” will be as guilty of contributing to the problem as anywhere else. Known worldwide as a progressive leader, Berkeley should do more to show others what a citizenry truly concerned about global warming can do to tackle its transportation problems. Instead, being extremely reluctant even to consider an alternative to our use of cars, some Berkeley citizens have put Measure KK on the ballot to defeat the most promising transportation improvement that has been proposed for decades. 

If we are concerned with our future and our leadership in addressing the problem of global warming, legislation alone will not reduce Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions to the level that 81 percent of Berkeleyans voted for when they passed Measure G in 2006. It will take personal lifestyle changes and a serious citywide effort to reduce automobile dependence. 

The potential exists in Berkeley to provide real and positive leadership. Many cities in Europe, Asia, Canada, and Central and South America have successfully integrated public transit and development, creating urbanized centers that are vital, lively, attractive, and commercially successful. And many major cities have formed pedestrian zones around urban centers where one can freely walk, shop, and enjoy leisure time without being concerned about the hazards of auto traffic. It is possible in places like these to experience a high quality of livability, overall mobility, and personal comfort and convenience. 

Yet Measure KK would stand in the way of that and roll back the clock to a time when the automobile was paramount. The proponents of Measure KK are looking resolutely through a rear-view mirror (most likely the rear-view mirror of their own cars). They lack any vision for a positive future. 

Many cities in other parts of the world are far ahead of Berkeley in planning for a livable and sustainable future. Consider Strasbourg, Vienna, Copenhagen, Zurich, Bern, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Ottawa, Curitiba, Kobe, and Yokohama. All have created pedestrian zones and transit-oriented, mixed-use developments that have become attractive and viable neighborhoods accessed primarily by means other than the private automobile. 

People in Berkeley are constantly fretting about the lack of adequate parking. Again, this absence of vision should be a cause of serious concern to all of us who say we care about the environment. Plentiful free parking is a concept promulgated during the automobile-oriented planning of the mid-20th century. Reliable and frequent public transit is what we’ll need in the 21st century and beyond with car and bike sharing with limited parking 

This does not mean that everyone will be “forced” to get out of their cars, as opponents of BRT in Berkeley often claim. But it does mean that if we intend to be serious about addressing climate change, we will need to think a lot more about how and when we use cars as a means of transportation. Many trips can be made by transit, some by walking, some by bicycle, and some by car. When our mindset changes to one of less reliance on the private automobile as the exclusive means of personal transportation, we can make better use of the parking. 

Unfortunately, Measure KK and its opposition to the BRT project is a distraction from what should obviously be our real goal: seriously addressing ways to develop a lifestyle that is less dependent on the private automobile for everyday transportation. Berkeley is a center of creativity and innovation, or at least it has been. If Berkeley cannot find ways to promote practical and viable transportation alternatives, what city can? 

Roy Nakadegawa is a former director of both AC Transit and BART, serving a total of 32 years. He currently serves on the Public Transportation and Land Development Committee of the Transportation Research Board, a branch of the Academy of Sciences.