Public Comment

Why Is Measure KK on the Ballot?

By Mary Oram
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 09:59:00 AM

The arguments that have appeared against Measure KK (Berkeley’s initiative to give you a vote on future street conversions) do not hold up.  

Measure KK was qualified for the ballot by a group of Berkeley citizens from all over town who came together out of frustration over trying to have some positive input into AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) project. I learned about the proposed BRT on Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues approximately two years ago. I started attending meetings, workshops, hearings, etc.  

The vast majority of people speaking at these meetings were opposed to the proposed route and configuration and made their concerns known. They have written many letters to the editor and commentaries on this subject that have appeared in the Daily Planet. (Thank goodness we have a local newspaper that permits lively debates on local issues!) AC Transit issued its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIR”) and we responded with our concerns as individuals. The cost was originally given as $400 million. (Later this was reduced verbally to $250 million, then $235 million.) But the BRT plan kept rolling along.  

Last year, AC Transit inaugurated the 1R “Rapid Bus” service along the proposed BRT route, in addition to a local bus route 1. The 1R runs Monday through Friday using big, double VanHool buses with stops that are approximately one third of a mile apart. The local 1 stops are approximately two blocks apart.  

At some point the current group, known as Berkeleyans for Better Transportation Options (BBTOP), coalesced and came to the conclusion that we needed to take more steps if we were going to have our serious concerns represented. 

We had goals, one of which was to let the greater Berkeley community—and not just the informed few—know about BRT and the problems we see with it.  

The major problems are reducing the capacity of Telegraph Avenue to one lane in each direction for all but bus traffic and eliminating approximately 75 percent of the parking on Telegraph from Alcatraz north to Bancroft Way. We proposed a modification to the Rapid Bus, called “Rapid Bus Plus,” to add all the benefits of BRT except the lane closures and mid-street stations. We met with AC Transit and other stakeholders to present this plan. But the BRT plan kept rolling along.  

Last spring our group wrote the KK Initiative, had it approved by Berkeley and Alameda County, and we began to collect signatures. We collected over 3,000 signatures, approximately 50% more than were necessary to qualify it for the ballot, in less than six weeks. Now it is on the ballot. At the very least, this will inform the citizens of Berkeley about BRT and start them thinking about where Berkeley is headed.  

The main arguments against this initiative are that it will cost the city lots of money, and that it is anti-environmental. Neither is true.  

If Measure KK passes, you will get a vote before any major project such as BRT is approved and dedicated traffic lanes are transferred to AC Transit or similar organizations. But the cost cited in the ballot argument against Measure KK is grossly inflated. Most of it represents analysis that Berkeley should do before handing over any public traffic lanes to AC Transit, whether or Measure KK passes and requires a public vote.  

As to the anti-environmental argument, according to data contained in AC Transit’s only environmental study shows almost no decrease in emissions, pollution, or travel time if BRT were implemented. The report makes no claims at all about greenhouse gases, and suggests a modest decrease in car trips.  

AC Transit is already using the large, unpopular diesel buses along this route, and most of them have almost no passengers for most of the day. And these are hours of low traffic congestion. How will creating a bus only lane change this situation? Overall, just about any alternative transit investment would do much more for the planet—and we can only spend this money once.  

I would also like you to compare the list of endorsers for Measure KK, pro and con. The No on Measure KK organization has the endorsement of a long list of politicians and special interest organizations. Yes on Measure KK is endorsed by Berkeley neighborhood and small business organizations, groups that represent Berkeley residents and business owners directly. This issue is not just about how buses are going to run on Berkeley streets. It is also about development. If BRT is built, it will trigger high density development around each station which would be beyond the control of Berkeley zoning regulations.  

So the trade-off for BRT on Telegraph and downtown appears to be that we spend between $235 and $400 million, confine all but bus traffic to one lane each direction, eliminate most of the parking along Telegraph, eliminate local bus service and other negative impacts—all to save two to three minutes on the trip between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland. And to give developers new opportunities to build high-density housing, which neighbors do not want, along the route, centered at each station.  

We find this an obviously bad deal. But we are not voting on BRT at this point, only for the right to vote on BRT-type projects.  

That is why we worked so hard to put Measure KK on the ballot—to ensure that citizens can be heard on this important issue and others like it. Please vote Yes on Measure KK.  



Mary Oram is treasurer of Advocates for Voter Approved Transit and a member of BBTOP.