Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is on this Wed.’s AC Transit board agenda after having failed to get buy-in from any of the three cities, Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, for their preferred alternative that would require dedicating two out of four lanes for bus only and removing most street parking along its Telegraph/International/14th Street route. They have painted themselves into a corner with an EIR that basically has only one other alternative, the old stand-by—no-build.
AC Transit planners have propagated a myth that unless the buses have dedicated lanes it cannot be called BRT and will not qualify for Federal Small-Starts funds. (They have received $15 million of the $75 million requested.) Dedicated lanes are encouraged but NOT required. (See the Small Starts Fact Sheet.) If it were, very few projects would qualify.Some BRTs create dedicated lanes by adding new lanes but only one in the USA has taken two out of four existing lanes for buses, and that is Euclid Ave. in Cleveland.
Planners use Euclid Ave. as a role model but its story is completely different.A bus agency did not foist it on the city and then request their approval.The whole corridor was part of a redevelopment project with years of public participation involving comprehensive planning including zoning updates and all modes of travel.
Probably most Oaklanders have not even heard of BRT; there was so little public outreach.This past January, the City finally held public meetings.The one in Fruitvale was poorly attended. The one in north Oakland was well attended but neither the Councilmember nor any member of her staff attended.The Council only agreed on a STUDY of the dedicated lanes alternatives after being assured numerous times by staff that they were only voting for a study and NOT a project.They also wanted a curbside BRT studied, which would not remove traffic lanes and parking.
Berkeley has been studying BRT for years with lots of public input, so one can say theirs was a more informed decision—they voted to reject the dedicated lane BRT.
The San Leandro City Council voted reluctantly to study dedicated lanes on a few blocks although their Planning Commission had unanimously opposed it.
AC Transit told the cities that only the alternatives in the draft EIR could be studied.For new alternatives, they would have to find separate funds for a study apart from the EIR. But if they are not included in the EIR, they leave themselves open to a CEQA lawsuit.
Other cites are studying various curbside BRT alternatives that do not have such negative impacts on pedestrians, parking, and vehicular traffic. Los Angeles is proposing a BRT on Wilshire Blvd that operates in the curb lane. San Diego is proposing one with “pop-outs,” bulb-outs at stops.
Geary Blvd includes a curbside alternative with bulb-outs in addition to dedicated lanes in the center.The center one will probably be preferred because they have three lanes in each direction and a median wider than a lane. The planning process included a Citizen Advisory Committee and since the lead agency is not a bus agency but San Francisco County Transportation Authority, all modes have been considered, pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles as well as transit.
One AC Transit boardmember’s response to complaints about impacts on traffic and parking was “that isn’t our concern.We’re a bus agency; our job is increasing bus ridership.”
But the cities are interested in the complete street and they have final say. If there is no acceptable build alternative, the only choice will be “no-build.”I repeat, AC Transit has painted itself into a corner.