After many months of considering Bus Rapid Transit, my neighbors and I have developed an alternative plan that we think is much better. Our plan should provide the benefits desired by transit supporters without damaging our neighborhood. This should satisfy AC Transit, the City of Berkeley, and the people who live and work in this part of Berkeley.
Instead of converting the two center lanes of Telegraph into bus only lanes that can only be used by AC Transit, our plan would convert those lanes into express lanes to be used by ALL vehicles. Small underpasses would be built to carry those two lanes under the major cross streets like Ashby and Alcatraz, and other cross traffic would be prohibited. The outer two traffic lanes, the bike lanes, and the parking lanes would remain as they are. This would allow cars, trucks, and buses to drive from Dwight Way in Berkeley to Downtown Oakland, Highway 24, or the San Leandro BART station without stopping, while still allowing access to driveways and parking. A number of elevated bridges would be built to allow pedestrian, bicycle, and handicap access across Telegraph between the underpasses.
I am in discussions with my City Councilmemember, Gordon Wozniak, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission about this, and they both have expressed interest in the express lane. The City of Berkeley Traffic Engineering Department says the express lane concept is “great.” Essentially everyone I discuss this with in Berkeley and Oakland prefers it to the current BRT proposal. I would be in discussion with AC Transit about it, but AC Transit has still not responded to my request for dialog from 2007. Their only interest seems to be to force BRT onto our neighborhood over the objections of the people who live here.
The exact cost of the express lane has not been determined yet, but it looks like it might not cost much more than BRT. And even if it is a little more expensive, it promises to provide some real improvements to transportation around here. Whereas BRT would slow down car and truck traffic and force more vehicles into the neighborhoods surrounding Telegraph, the express lane would do just the opposite. Traffic flow on Telegraph would be improved, making Telegraph a more desirable path for cars and trucks entering and leaving Berkeley from the south. This would likely pull vehicles off of College Avenue and Warring Street, reducing congestion and improving pedestrian safety. The express lane could also help carry the additional traffic flow that will arrive with the completion of the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. Without the Telegraph express lane, many of these additional cars and trucks will end up on College and Warring, making the existing unacceptable situation even worse. If BRT is built, College and Warring will see the addition of both the vehicles it displaces from Telegraph and the new vehicles brought into Berkeley by the Caldecott.
To the people in this neighborhood, the choice is clear. We can either make this part of Berkeley more congested and more dangerous to pedestrians, or we can make it a better place to live and work. If AC Transit is interested in being a responsible member of the community, they will support this alternative to BRT. But I suspect they won’t. After all, it will speed up their buses, maybe more than BRT would, but it will also speed up cars. And AC Transit seems more concerned with making car travel more difficult than with making bus travel easier. So I expect a lot of complaining from them about how most people would rather drive a car than ride their buses, and how they need an unfair advantage over cars if they are to feel good about themselves. But that is no reason to stick with the their badly flawed plan for BRT, when we can have something that is so much better.
Russ Tilleman is a Berkeley resident.