Public Comment

No on Measure KK

By Steve Geller
Thursday October 23, 2008 - 10:03:00 AM

I voted NO on Measure KK not because it’s anti-transit, but because it’s bad government. Measure KK is another “solution” which creates more problems. It is another defective idea like the two-thirds majority requirement for taxes. Supporters of KK hope that by requiring an (expensive) election, Berkeley will be prevented from allocating a dedicated lane for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Telegraph Avenue. The measure also requires an election for a bus-only or HOV lane anywhere else in the city. One wonders why only lane decisions must be submitted to voters, and not, say, parking, zoning, staff salaries or library hours. I think some folks really want to keep buses out of the way of their cars. 

A dedicated lane enables BRT to provide the kind of reliable service we get from BART, which has tracks not shared with any other traffic. Environmentalists think the BRT will attract large numbers of car drivers, so that car traffic will be reduced. Some drivers see the dedicated lane as interfering with car traffic and thus increasing congestion; projecting their own car-first attitude on everyone else, they expect little or no reduction in car traffic as a result of people switching to BRT. 

Everyone should be aware that Telegraph already has something like a dedicated lane—or trucks. Mid-morning deliveries to businesses are often obstructed by cars parked along Telegraph, so the truck drivers simply block a traffic lane. Nobody seems to object to this practice, not even the police. 

Concerns about global warming and the high price of gasoline are now motivating a shift to transit. In TV ads, BP portrays itself as pushing alternative energy. Chevron has a poster in the bus shelters showing someone making a pledge: “I will leave the car at home more.” Presumably some of these good people will want to ride BRT, at least for commuting to and from work. 

The idea behind BRT is to provide bus service which is as fast as driving a car and, more important, service which is more frequent and reliable than present bus service. Today’s buses can’t maintain reliable schedules because of all the car traffic. The BRT bus needs to be given an advantage over cars—a dedicated bus lane. 

If Berkeley is so green and concerned about climate change, why do we have Measure KK on the ballot? I think that part of the problem is that people have long been accustomed to the convenience of a car and don’t like being told what to do. They don’t want to wait at a bus stop to ride a crowded bus. They don’t want to walk or ride a bike. They think that transit advocates would like to make driving a car so inconvenient and unpleasant that drivers will be compelled to shift to riding the bus. I think this attitude is what’s behind assertions that BRT is a waste of money and constitutes an evil power grab by AC Transit. 

It’s a matter of priorities too. While most people who are concerned about global warming and renewable energy are willing to buy CFL light bulbs or consider using solar panels, far fewer are willing to do anything effective to cut back on using their private car—not if it means riding a bus. 

When I’m riding a bus, I think about why so many people are driving alone as part of the surrounding car traffic instead of riding my bus. Looking at my fellow riders, I think I see one reason: disproportionately, my fellow bus riders are senior citizens like me, or low-income, or disabled or UC students and other young people. It might be that the car drivers think that riding a bus will lower their social class. 

Measure KK could have simply asked voters whether they want a bus-only lane on Telegraph. Do most Berkeley voters really want to torpedo the BRT? 

I would like to seriously look at what we can do to reduce the number of cars congesting the streets of Berkeley. I think BRT is a great idea; it works in cities elsewhere. And a successful BRT will do a lot to get Berkeley in compliance with AB32. 

We need some local compromises to make BRT work here. I think a dedicated bus lane is practical on Telegraph in the wide part south of Dwight, but not in the congested part between Dwight and Bancroft. 

“Rapid Bus Plus” is a proposal to forget about the dedicated lane and motivate the shift from car drivers to BRT riders by making some improvements to the existing Rapid Bus service. Improvements include having cleaner buses, using hybrid buses and implementing proof of payment (POP) to speed boarding. It’s a start on a compromise, but I don’t think it will be very close to a successful BRT. Anyone who rides the 1R on Telegraph or the 72R on San Pablo is aware that while Rapid Bus service is somewhat faster and more reliable due to traffic signal priority control and skipping stops, Rapid Bus service is still severely constrained by car traffic. In other cities, one sees POP implemented on light rail, but not on buses. The problem is that fare evasion is more difficult to police on buses, perhaps because buses are more numerous than light rail vehicles. AC Transit is very wary of POP in the East Bay. Muni has POP on the municipal railroad; I’ve seen inspectors checking for passes and tickets. 

We need some reasonable compromises to make BRT work in Berkeley. We can do a lot better than Measure KK. 



Steve Geller is longtime Berkeley resident.