Public Comment

The Anti-Transit Crowd Is at it Again

By Charles Siegel
Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 06:23:00 PM

The small minority of Berkeley residents who are die-hard opponents of Bus Rapid Transit have not changed after their overwhelming loss in the recent election, where Measure KK was defeated by a margin of more than three to one.  

The same familiar faces who always are there to oppose BRT showed up once again at AC Transit’s last board meeting. According to the Daily Planet’s report, they claimed that Measure KK was not really about BRT but about good government, and that Measure KK lost only because the opposition spent more money on their campaign. They even held up the anti-KK mailer with a picture of a polar bear on it, as if this somehow discredited the campaign against KK. 

Their claims make no sense. 

First, the supporters of measure KK themselves defined this vote as a referendum on AC Transit’s current BRT proposal. If you look at the letters and opinion pieces in the Daily Planet supporting KK, you will see that almost all of them are about the current AC Transit proposal and not about good government. As a supporter of public transportation, I found it exasperating that KK supporters constantly talked about this one BRT proposal and did not even mention that the initiative would have also made it harder to build any light rail or BRT project in the future. 

The voters overwhelmingly rejected this campaign against AC Transit’s proposal to build BRT on Telegraph Ave. 

Second, even if we ignore their campaign and just look at the text of the initiative, it is clear that the initiative would have done one thing: make it more difficult to convert automobile lanes into exclusive transit lanes. The anti-BRT crowd constantly harps on the problems that would be caused by converting a automobile lane into a transit lane, such as traffic congestion and loss of parking. They ignore the fact that AC Transit has promised to mitigate these problems. 

The voters overwhelming rejected their attempt to make it more difficult to convert lanes into exclusive transit lanes. 

Third, their talk about the amount of money spent on the campaign might have some merit if the results of the vote were close. But, in reality, they lost by a margin of more than three to one. If most Berkeley voters were against exclusive transit lanes, no amount of money would have influenced enough voters to create such a large landslide against Measure KK. 

The voters support better public transit, and the anti-transit crowd is just a small, conservative minority. In fact, they are not just a minority within Berkeley: the state has passed SB 375 to fight global warming by promoting transit and smart growth, and President-elect Obama has said that he wants to tie federal transportation funding to smart growth, showing that Berkeley’s anti-transit, anti-smart-growth crowd represents a conservative minority within California and within the United States as a whole. 

Fourth, I cannot understand the anti-transit crowd’s irrational aversion to polar bears. They seem to think that the polar-bear mailer was a distraction from the real issue, but in fact, global warming is the real issue, the biggest issue that we face in the coming century. The possible extinction of the polar bears is probably the most dramatic and best known symbol of the impact of global warming. There is consensus among environmentalists that we need to promote public transportation to combat global warming. It was perfectly appropriate to have a mailer saying that Measure KK would have interfered with Berkeley’s attempts to combat global warming by encouraging use of public transportation. 

The voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure KK because they are concerned about global warming. 

I think we all know that some people in Berkeley are against everything. If the angel Gabriel blew his trumpet and a voice came out of the heavens saying that the millennium has arrived and there will be one thousand years of peace and prosperity, there would be people in Berkeley who would react by saying: “I’m against it, because it might make it harder for me to find a parking space.” 

And those people would have familiar faces. They would be the same people that we always see at meetings speaking against Bus Rapid Transit. 



Charles Siegel is a Berkeley resident.