AC Transit staff’s proposal to trash the vital 51 bus line is appallingly wrongheaded.
The 51 is now AC Transit’s very busiest line. Serving multiple places and purposes, it’s also the most useful. And linking as it does so many of the East Bay’s most vibrant urban scenes, it’s the most interesting line to ride: for locals and visitors alike, a handy resource for transit-enabled sight-seeing.
An obvious key to all of that is the 51 line’s great length, which lets passengers go anywhere along it without the inconvenience—and deterrent to ridership—of needing to transfer.
Thus for instance, the 51 now importantly links many of the densest sections of Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda directly with Kaiser’s medical facilities around the Broadway/MacArthur intersection. As another example, people from all those areas can ride the 51 right down to the Berkeley Amtrak station. The 51 directly connects UC’s campus with those of the California College of the Arts and the College of Alameda. And it seamlessly links much of Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda with a rich diversity of commercial areas, including Berkeley’s Arts District, upper Telegraph, and the Elmwood; Oakland’s Rockridge, Uptown, Old Oakland, and Chinatown; and Alameda’s Park Street, to the mutual benefit of restaurants, theaters, and shops along the bus line.
But those important linkages are seriously threatened by AC Transit staff’s proposal to chop the 51 route into two separate lines. One of them would run from Berkeley Amtrak only as far as the Rockridge BART station. The other one would go from Rockridge BART through Downtown Oakland and Alameda, plus a short extension to the Fruitvale BART
station. And along both these replacement lines, service frequency would be less than what the 51 now provides.
The results would be especially harmful for Berkeleyans, and for Berkeley’s Southside and Elmwood districts.
While I realize that AC Transit needs to reduce its large fiscal deficit in general, I don’t see how dismembering and downgrading its busiest and most popular bus line could particularly serve that goal.
If it’s truly essential to break the 51 into two separate lines, the severing should be done somewhere in Downtown Oakland instead of at Rockridge BART. But even that would be undesirable, leaving Alameda out in the cold.
Though the 51 line does have problems, such as slow speed along College Avenue during the evening peak hour, these can be addressed through relatively modest measures like signal preemption or perhaps eliminating some stops. AC Transit should enhance the 51, not destroy it.
John English is a Berkeley resident and Route 51 patron.