Public Comment

First Remove Cars, Then Remove Lanes

By Russ Tilleman
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:13:00 PM

Len Conly correctly points out in his letter to the editor (April 16) that car use in Berkeley has steadily increased for the last three decades, even without the population increasing. Now that Berkeley is embarking on a building boom that will greatly increase the population and contribute to gentrification, it seems wise to assume that the trend of more cars will continue. The Berkeley  

Climate Action Plan’s “vision for 2050” doesn’t really include cars, but that is more likely a flaw in the vision than an indication that cars will vanish. 

Remember the City of Berkeley’s predictions about the ridiculous Pedestrian Safety Flags? After much fanfare and thousands of dollars of wasted public money, the project was cancelled due to the realities of human behavior. People weren’t ready to carry a flag across the street with them, just like they aren’t ready to give up their cars and ride the 1R bus if it gets its own lane. The debacle with the pedestrian flags was just another harmless failure of Berkeley’s planning process, but Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) appears to be a hugely more expensive failure in the making. If the planners couldn’t figure out that people won’t carry a flag when they cross the street, why should we believe their predictions in the Climate Action Plan? These planners don’t seem to understand Berkeley. 

Mr. Conly accuses me of ignoring the “current reality” in Berkeley. But I am acutely aware of the current reality here, that the government of Berkeley doesn’t care about our neighborhood or the people who live here. The city government is more concerned with grandiose plans to save the world than it is with the severe problems here in town. Hank Resnik, in his letter, suggests that I leave town, and due to the sad “current reality” in Berkeley, I have considered that at times. 

When I was awakened by a burglar and had to chase him out of my house on Parker Street in the dark, I considered moving out of Berkeley. When I watched my neighbor Meleia Willis-Starbuck bleed to death from a gunshot wound on College Avenue, a block from my house, I considered moving. When I saw a young woman violently kidnapped, kicking and screaming hysterically, on San Pablo Avenue, I considered moving. When a man who was soaked in blood slammed into me on the sidewalk on Shattuck Avenue as I was leaving the movie theater, nearly knocking me to the ground, I considered moving. When drug dealers stole a car and ran down a friend of mine’s boyfriend on Telegraph Avenue, purposely running over him twice and crushing his leg, I considered moving. When three young men attacked a friend and me on Telegraph and called us “fags” even though neither of us is gay, I considered moving. 

This is the “current reality” of Berkeley that I see. It’s bad enough that the City of Berkeley won’t do anything to help us with these problems. Now they want to go one step further and damage our neighborhood with a harebrained scheme to save the world by moving cars from Telegraph to College. The Express Lane might not have a chance because of this “current reality” in Berkeley, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. The main appeal of the Express Lane for people who live in my neighborhood is that it will reduce the number of cars and trucks on College Avenue. Conversely, BRT will add 160 additional vehicles per hour to College. I have personally seen two bicyclists lying in College Avenue, one in a pool of blood, after being hit by cars in two separate accidents in front of my house. A few weeks ago, a pedestrian was killed on Warring Street, three blocks from my house. Mr. Conly and Mr. Resnik might consider future casualties like these, caused by BRT, to be acceptable losses, but my neighbors and I don’t want to see more of these accidents. We would like our neighborhood to be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists (who by the way are mentioned in the Climate Action Plan) and the Express Lane can help with that. 

Finally, David Vartanoff’s letter points out a problem with AC Transit service that the Express Lane proposal corrects. Just about everyone who lives in my neighborhood knows that the traffic on the last four blocks of Telegraph, between Dwight Way and Bancroft Way, is a mess. AC Transit buses get stuck there just like other vehicles. As part of the Express Lane proposal, we are suggesting that the 1R bus be rerouted to avoid this section of Telegraph. Since the 1R bus does not stop anywhere in this area, we would route it up Dwight to Bowditch, then north on Bowditch to Bancroft. Regardless of the fate of BRT or the Express Lane, rerouting the 1R bus like this will avoid the kinds of delays that Mr. Vartanoff describes, without changing any bus stops. This is a good example of the value of a community-driven project like the Express Lane, that it incorporates detailed local knowledge. If AC Transit ever bothered to listen to the people who live here, they would have learned of this shortcut years ago. They could have significantly improved service for the 1R riders on this section of Telegraph, the only place I have ever seen a 1R bus slowed down significantly by congestion. 


Russ Tilleman is Berkeley resident.