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Mayor Bates Urges Quicker Implementation of Bus Rapid Transit

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 25, 2009 - 08:00:00 PM

An enthusiastic Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates wants the AC Transit bus district to dramatically step up its timetable for development, approval, and implementation of the district’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, telling members of the BRT Policy Steering Committee last week that the proposed 2015 end-of-construction date is not nearly soon enough. 

“[The year] 2015 is going to be like never,” Bates said. “Can’t you compress this and get it moving? I think we want this project to either go or not go. I want the timetable for rapid bus to be more rapid.” 

AC Transit is proposing putting in a high-speed bus line along Easy 14th Street, International Boulevard, and Telegraph Avenue to connect the downtown sections of San Leandro, Oakland, and Berkeley along the route currently operated by its 1 and 1R lines. Among the proposed features of the BRT project are dedicated bus-only lanes along much of the route, as well as boarding stations that resemble those of light rail systems. 

Because the BRT proposal requires significant changes to streets owned by the three cities, AC Transit must get each individual city to agree to the final details of BRT before it is finally approved by the AC Transit Board. 

The most significant opposition to BRT has come from the City of Berkeley, where neighbors and merchants along the proposed Telegraph Avenue route have been divided over approval or disapproval of the project. 

Bates is one of two Berkeley representatives on the 12-seat BRT Policy Steering Committee that also includes two elected officials apiece from Oakland and San Leandro, three representatives from the AC Transit Board of Directors, an elected representative from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and a representative from CalTrans. Bates, who is a commissioner on the Metropolitan Transit Commission, also represents that group on the BRT steering committee. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the other Berkeley representative on the BRT steering committee, said that he supported implementation of BRT, but that the district needed to answer questions and concerns about the proposed system before it is put in place. 

“My enthusiasm for doing something in the [Telegraph Avenue] corridor is all about how do we actually make it so that more people will ride the bus,” Worthington said. “In San Leandro and Berkeley and in some parts of Oakland as well, there are concerns about how you connect people to this service. The project as it’s now stated doesn’t link to our Amtrak Station in Berkeley, it doesn’t link to our ferry, and so we’re already writing off a whole bunch of middle-class bus riders because we don’t connect there. We don’t even connect to the San Pablo [AC Transit] Rapid. I’m interested in linking the people in our cities to this service so that they’ll actually use it.”  

Worthington added that he is a “passionate advocate for buses, so I want this bus to work.” 

Both Worthington and Bates were concerned that the $235 million currently set aside by AC Transit to build BRT will not be adequate to put in the things necessary to make the system a success, with Bates saying that he wants to be able to “pay for the things that people want in the system: no traffic delays, adequate parking, and access to the system.”  

AC Transit has let the BRT Policy Steering Committee languish for many months while it worked individually with representatives of each of the three BRT cities to try to address their concerns about the project. But with Bates and Worthington leading the way—Oakland was represented only by council staff because its City Council was meeting in closed session at the same time—the Steering Committee decided on a stepped-up meeting schedule in order to push forward BRT. 

AC Transit is working with the respective cities to develop those cities’ preferred alterations to the BRT proposal. The district is currently projecting final design completion and beginning of construction by mid-2012.