Public Comment

BRT and the Noisy Minority

By Charles Siegel
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 09:02:00 AM

We know that Berkeley’s citizens support Bus Rapid Transit. Opponents of BRT made the mistake of putting measure KK on the ballot. When they circulated the initiative to get signatures, they said people should sign to stop BRT. When they ran their campaign, they said people should vote Yes on KK to stop BRT. 

Berkeley voters responded by voting 77 percent No on KK, an overwhelming endorsement of BRT. A margin of more than two to one is considered a landslide victory. No on KK won by far more than that—by over three to one. 

Berkeley voters clearly believe we should move toward a more balanced transportation system with better public transit, in order to reduce our energy use and control global warming. 

Despite their overwhelming defeat at the polls, the same people who supported measure KK are now saying that AC Transit should not even study BRT for Berkeley in the project’s Final EIR, and instead should only study their pet plan for Rapid Bus Plus, which has some features of BRT but no dedicated bus lanes. 

At the recent Transportation Commission hearing on the issue, commissioners and staff made it clear that the FEIR would study a no-build option and a Rapid Bus Plus option, and that the commission was also working to formulate a BRT option to be included in the study. Yet Rapid Bus Plus supporters said that the FEIR should study no build and Rapid Bus Plus but should not develop a BRT option to study—that we should reject BRT without even completing the study of it. 

Why would they want this? They have repeatedly claimed that Rapid Bus Plus would provide 90 percent of the benefits of BRT at a small fraction of the cost. If they really believed that, they would want the FEIR to compare Rapid Bus Plus with BRT to prove their point. 

Currently, there is absolutely no data about Rapid Bus Plus. If you search for it on Google, you will just find things written by the same small group of people in Berkeley, and no studies by professionally competent transportation planners. 

I can think of only one reason why they do not want the FEIR even to include BRT: They are afraid that a head-to-head comparison would show that BRT provides far more benefits than Rapid Bus Plus. 

Their effrontery is astounding: After Berkeley voters overwhelming repudiated their initiative and supported BRT, they have the nerve to say that Berkeley should reject BRT without even completing the study of it! 

It is a shame that this small group of chronic naysayers—the same people who worked against the Brower Center and who routinely work against any change proposed in Berkeley—are making so much noise that they are drowning out the people who have legitimate concerns about BRT. Telegraph Avenue. merchants and street vendors are right to be concerned about the impact on parking and loading for customers of their businesses. Nearby residents are right to be concerned about the impact of spillover traffic on their streets. 

The FEIR needs to study these issues and their mitigations before Berkeley can make an informed decision about whether to adopt BRT. 

But the chronic naysayers are spreading so much fear and misinformation that they are drowning out these legitimate concerns. Let us look at just a few of the many pieces of misinformation that they have spread: 

They claim that BRT will slow emergency vehicle response. In fact, the bus lanes will be available to emergency vehicles, speeding response. 

They claim that BRT is costly, but they do not mention that the overwhelming bulk of the cost goes to paving. Here is a news flash for them: streets need to be repaved periodically, whether or not we have BRT. The difference is that AC Transit will pay for paving these lanes if we have BRT, and the city will pay for paving if we do not. 

They even claim that BRT will have hulking platforms that will block views across the street. In fact, the platforms will be short stretches of sidewalk in the median of the street, and they will be 12 inches high. They will block your view only if you are less than one foot tall. 

Berkeley should ignore all this misinformation and fear mongering, and should move forward and develop a BRT alternative to be studied in the FEIR. 

We live in a democracy where the majority rules, not in a squeaky-wheel-ocracy where the people who make the most noise rule. Measure KK proved that, despite all the disruption they cause, the chronic naysayers opposing BRT are just a small, noisy minority. 


Charles Siegel is a Berkeley resident and environmental activist.