Public Comment

Entrenched in Bus Rapid Transit

By Joseph Stubbs
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 06:53:00 PM

As I read the letters criticizing Russ Tilleman’s alternative idea to BRT, it occurs to me that, whether his idea is good or feasible or not, the notion of making it difficult to drive on Telegraph is precisely what BRT advocates are fighting for. It may be helpful to discuss this from a strategic point of view because this is, in its distilled form, the primary bone of contention. And make no mistake, the operative word here is “hamper,” not “calm” as AC Transit language implies, for there is nothing calm about traffic that is hampered. 

Advocates believe, and have argued many times, that the manufactured congestion of traffic in combination with faster bus service will cause enough people to switch from driving to bus riding so that the congestion issue will abate itself over time. Opponents believe that this will not work and that, in addition to congestion on Telegraph, negative impacts will extend into surrounding neighborhoods that are currently calm and peaceful. Existing merchants (especially those without a dedicated parking lot) generally oppose the idea, predicting that it will cause them to lose auto-based patronage and harm their business. 

My own opinion? I think that AC Transit has already acknowledged internally and confidentially that this particular BRT idea is not going to work, but they are pursuing it anyway because it is a major capital project for them, which qualifies them for various local, state and federal funding that represents an investment in the success of AC Transit by these various agencies—and that is a special currency all its own. I also think that this project is being aggressively pursued by the mayor and others because it brings money in at all levels, immediate consultation money from AC Transit, and eventually development moneys related to enormous developer incentives that the dedicated lanes and bus stop “stations” trigger eligibility for. At the street level, I believe that there will be a large spike in congestion on Telegraph when construction begins and almost immediately drivers will adapt by finding different routes to their destinations. I think this will cause a redistribution of traffic which will have greatest impact points such as Ashby at College, the Ashby/Tunnel/Claremont intersection, Alcatraz at Adeline, Claremont at College and all of Haste between Telegraph and MLK. Ultimately an increase in congestion will find an equilibrium that distributes the load evenly between a two-lane Telegraph and all these other points such that these other areas will have permanently denser traffic (it will not switch back). To mitigate parking loss around bus stop islands, new parking meters will appear down residential side streets. which will constrict parking for residents in those areas. I also believe that ridership on the new bus line will increase modestly, but not appreciably until more UC-based commuter demand is created by future new development along the route. 

But what is most important is what you think. This is a “go” project, and unless more people get involved in making their opinions heard on this issue then it is going to happen. There is too much at stake for those supporting this project to acknowledge either that it may be a bad idea for Telegraph, or that the aspect of lane removal could even possibly be eliminated from the plan. It may be just as effective to focus on the primary plausible transportation target (commuters to and from UC) and work with UC to develop partially or fully subsidized monthly bus passes. But such suggestions hardly matter now. Polarized opinions are entrenched on this issue, and it is time for those who have remained silent to step up to the plate. Decisionmakers need to know how you feel, and this includes state and federal funding agencies which do not make it their policy to fund unwanted projects.  


Joseph Stubbs lives in Berkeley’s southside.