The 27-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed for the East Bay will move into another phase this fall as final project parameters begin to be established. BRT is expected to provide bus service that’s faster and more reliable than the existing system through the use of dedicated bus lanes, signal priority, rapid boarding and prepaid fares.
One of the key design choices has now been analyzed and decided. AC Transit’s “technical advisory committee” has recommended to the cities of San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley that the Bus Rapid Transit route on International Boulevard, Telegraph Avenue and into downtown Berkeley be provisioned as “combined service.” The current 1 Rapid and 1 Local routes would be joined into a single BRT service. Stations would be spaced further apart than most current local service but be closer together than current 1 Rapid stops—on average about a third of a mile apart.
Relatively few riders will be inconvenienced by the combined service, according to AC Transit’s recent study of the trip origins and destinations of 1/1R riders. In Berkeley, 87 percent of riders would go to the same bus stop they use today. Thirteen percent of riders might have to travel in a different direction to get to their closest station, but would not have to go more than one city block further.
Combined BRT service will provide the community with five important benefits compared to maintaining separate local service:
1. Faster journeys. Today’s riders of the 1 Local bus will enjoy improved travel times on a faster BRT bus that will stop at more stations than today’s 1 Rapid.
2. More frequent service and a shorter wait. With only one route to pay for instead of two, AC Transit will be able to provide BRT service more frequent than either of the two current services does today, reducing riders’ average waiting time.
3. More local parking. With no need for a local bus to stop at the curb (BRT stations will be built as platforms in the middle of the street wherever there are designated BRT lanes), most of today’s bus stops can be converted to two or three parking spaces. This will help local merchants and shoppers who drive, and increase meter revenue for the cities.
4. Less local traffic. Without buses traveling in the auto traffic lanes or blocking a lane at bus stops, auto drivers on the many blocks where BRT uses a dedicated lane will travel more smoothly.
5. Improvements for disabled passengers. Other AC Transit studies have shown that even disabled riders are willing to travel to a slightly more distant station, if necessary, in order to enjoy faster journeys. One statistic supports this conclusion: the percentage of riders using disabled passes on today’s 1 Rapid, with half-mile stop spacing, is higher than that percentage on the 1 Local with quarter-mile or less spacing. Most disabled travelers clearly know a better thing when they see it. In the future, when BRT vehicles provide access via roll-on level boarding instead of an awkward and time-consuming lift, disabled riders will surely not miss local service on a regular bus.
In summary, AC Transit riders should not fear that the bus company will be taking away service on the 1 route. They should instead be eager for the benefits that combined BRT service will provide.
This fall, AC Transit will be holding community presentations and workshops in all three cities to explain the current recommendations and alternatives for routes, station locations, blocks recommended for dedicated lanes, and other choices. Each city will then need to select which of these are the “locally preferred alternatives,” so that AC Transit can complete its final environmental impact report. If the three cities promptly approve the preferred project after its impacts and their mitigations are fully explained in the final EIR, BRT construction could begin in 2012.
Alan Tobey, a Berkeley resident, is a member of Friends of BRT.