North Oakland Residents as Divided as Berkeley Over Bus Rapid Transit Proposal

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday October 16, 2008 - 09:50:00 AM

While the battle over the North Oakland portion of AC Transit’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit line has not reached the level or volume that it has in neighboring Berkeley, a Saturday morning political forum at Peralta Elementary School showed that the battle lines are drawn around similar issues. 

The political forum was part of the regular monthly community advisory meeting held by Oakland District One Councilmember Jane Brunner, who represents North Oakland. 

AC Transit is proposing to run BRT from downtown San Leandro to downtown Oakland via East 14th Street and International Boulevard, and then to downtown Berkeley via Telegraph Avenue, but at a quicker pace than the current 1 and 1R lines. In order to speed up the service and make it more reliable, the bus district is proposing, among other things, carving out dedicated bus-only lanes along the route, putting a wider distance between bus stops than on the current routes, and eliminating the ticket purchase time on buses by having ticket vending machines at busstops, so that tickets can be bought in advance. 

At Saturday’s meeting, after hearing presentations by AC Transit, BRT Project Manager Jim Cunradi (pro BRT, obviously), Bruce Kaplan of Berkeleyans for Better Transit Options (opposed to BRT), and Roy Alpert of the Temescal Merchants Association and the Temescal-Telegraph Business District (generally supportive of BRT but with modifications), a long line of North Oakland residents gave one-minute summations of their own positions. 

Some had not yet made up their minds on the issue, like 66th Street resident Stephanie Sullivan, who said that she was “quite ambivalent—the devil is in the details, and I haven’t heard the details.” 

Sullivan said that she was “concerned” that lane closures caused by dedicated bus lanes would shunt through traffic onto residential side streets paralleling Telegraph Avenue. “I want to hear more about traffic calming measures” in the adjacent neighborhood, Sullivan said. 

On the other hand, North Oakland resident Joan Etlinger was already opposed, at least for her area. “I think BRT is good in some locations, but Telegraph Avenue is not one of those locations,” Etlinger said. 

She added that the increased speed of travel projected by BRT advocates would not pan out, saying that “going short distances will not be that much quicker.” She also criticized AC Transit’s projection of the controversial 60-foot Van Hool bus as the workhorse of the proposed BRT system, saying that because of the Van Hools’ high rider platforms, they are “bad for disabled.” 

Others, like Telegraph Avenue resident Rebecca Saltzman, were in favor of BRT. “I think it’s a great idea. Buses are currently unreliable” in meeting their scheduled arrivals, Saltzman said, and “BRT addresses that reliability.” 

Saying that BRT does not duplicate service already offered by BART—an argument used by some BRT opponents—Saltzman said that she rarely uses BART. “It’s a 15-minute walk to the Rockridge BART station from my home, and it’s too dangerous to walk at night.” 

AC Transit is negotiating with the three cities through which BRT is proposed to pass—Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro—about proposed alterations to the plan. Once the district’s board of directors votes on a final proposal, final approval of the project will be voted on by the respective city councils of each of the three cities. Brunner said that the Oakland City Council is scheduled to take up discussion of BRT sometime after the first of the year.