With so much discussion about transportation planning in Berkeley focused on details like street width, the number of on-street parking spaces, or the decision-making process, it’s easy to lose the sight of the big picture. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a regional system that will serve the interconnected East Bay. Even though I live in Oakland, I am one of the many people outside of Berkeley’s borders affected by its transportation decisions. I ask Berkeleyans, when thinking about the transit questions posed on their November ballot, to consider their neighbors in Oakland and San Leandro who use regional buses.
My family, living in Oakland and Berkeley, is an example. I travel from downtown Oakland for Sunday dinner at my parents’ home in South Berkeley or to shop for records at the end of Telegraph Avenue. My sister commutes to Cal from her home in East Oakland. My aunt lives in West Oakland and works on Telegraph, my aunt and uncle live in North Oakland and one of their daughters attends school in Berkeley. All of us can benefit from improved bus service connecting the two cities.
Bus Rapid Transit, particularly its rail-like reliability from dedicated lanes, will allow people who travel regularly from Oakland to Berkeley to reduce our travel and waiting times and better plan our excursions. Oakland’s population is growing much faster than Berkeley’s, so better transit service will help businesses in downtown Berkeley and Telegraph remain competitive with downtown and North Oakland. East Oakland and downtown San Leandro will also benefit from improved service along their shared boulevard.
Unfortunately, some Berkeley residents have opted to fight any attempt to take some street space away from private cars with Measure KK, which would render irrelevant the years of study and public input that currently go into the City Council’s transportation planning decisions. They ask the voters to “leave our streets alone” as if cars need every last inch of the public roadway. But the No. 1 corridor’s 24,000 bus riders are not asking for very much.
Virtually all street lanes in Berkeley are dedicated to cars and parking, with some exclusive bike lanes and a handful of taxi stands and shuttle stops. Telegraph Avenue, originally a stagecoach route, is so wide because it was designed to house multiple competing streetcar lines, not because cars require two lanes in each direction as well as turn lanes and exclusive street parking. In most of the commercial districts along Telegraph, on-street parking spaces are far outnumbered by parking structures and lots. Both Oakland and Berkeley have recently narrowed major streets without causing excessive traffic delays. BRT does represent a step away from a car-centric society, but not a radical or unprecedented one.
As an Oaklander with family in Berkeley, I ask Berkeley residents to consider the regional benefits of a dramatically improved transit corridor when deciding how to vote on Measure KK. Allowing the most heavily used bus line in the East Bay to have a portion of one street in Berkeley is a good investment for the city and its neighbors, allowing shoppers, workers and families to better connect across Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro.
Jonathan Bair is chair of the Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.