Tonight, the Oakland Planning Commission will discuss, among other things (PDF) the selection of a locally preferred alternative (PDF) for AC Transit’s proposed East Bay BRT project. Why are they meeting tonight at all, you ask? Yeah, BEATS THE HELL OUT OF ME. They’ve canceled meetings on Ash Wednesday in the past. Not this year, though. What are you going to do?
Anyway. So what does this mean, to select a locally preferred alternative?
First, here is what it does not mean. It does not mean that the Planning Commission (and in coming weeks, the City Council) is approving doing BRT. That is a decision that will come later, after AC Transit has completed their Final Environmental Impact (FEIR) Report for the proposal. Before they can complete the FEIR, each City in the corridor (Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro) has identify their preferred route for the project and preferred station locations.
With a detailed plan for the route and stop locations, AC Transit will be able to identify the actual impacts of BRT more precisely than in their Draft EIR. Once the concrete impacts have been identified, they can then try to come up with specific steps they can take to mitigate those impacts. When that is all finished, the Council can then decide to approve or not approve the project.
I think that BRT would be pretty much the best possible thing, transit-wise, that could happen for Oakland and really hope that when we get to that point, the Council will make the correct decision. But it is important to understand that we aren’t there yet. I feel like a great deal of the opposition to BRT is due to a lack of information about the project. Yes, there are, of course, some people who are fully informed and have well thought out rationale for not liking the project. I disagree with those people, but respect them.
However, most of the time when I encounter people who don’t want BRT, it takes all of two minutes of talking to them before you realize that they are aware of like, zero facts about the project besides the fact that it involves dedicated lanes. I think this is unfortunate, and largely due to a combination of poor press coverage and aggressive misinformation campaigns on the part of a few local organizations. It’s sad.
If BRT is a new concept to you, you can get up to speed on AC Transit’s BRT page, the City of Oakland’s BRT page, and of course, the BRT archives on this blog. Basically, BRT would replace the bus routes 1 and 1R. Buses would run from Berkeley to downtown Oakland along Telegraph Avenue, then from downtown Oakland to San Leandro along International Boulevard. The stops would be spaced every one-third of a mile. This will be closer together than the stops on the existing 1R, and farther apart than the stops on the current 1. Roughly, the bus would stop every four blocks instead of every two.
Passengers would board the buses from raised platforms in the median. The stations would feature ticket vending machines, so that fares are pre-purchased. The raised platforms would also allow for level boarding (no more painful waiting for the bus to go up and down to let wheelchairs on and off). The buses would run in dedicated lanes along the route, except in downtown Oakland. Combined, the features are intended to significantly improve speed along the route, but much more importantly, ensure reliability of service.
Oakland’s draft locally preferred alternative, which the Planning Commission will be discussing tonight, involves not only dedicated bus lanes, but also the transformation of International and Telegraph into what is called a “complete street,” featuring significant improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists along the corridor. Read dto510′s blog post on the subject for more context.
You can read the details of the City’s draft locally preferred alternative at the City’s BRT website.
The City held a series of public meetings to solicit feedback on the proposed locally preferred alternative during January. The comments received at these meetings are included in the agenda report for tonight’s discussion (PDF). The 46 pages of comments include a lot of good questions and useful suggestions for further study. They also include a lot of pointless, unproductive, and totally uninformed comments from crazy people who hate BRT and have no interest in learning any facts or having a conversation about how to improve the project. And there’s also a pretty healthy dose of the random and irrelevant. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorites from the document:
I will enjoy the bus rides
The City of Oakland needs to repair the underground infrastructure such as the ailing old Sewer System before this Transit project. Most of Oakland’s Neighborhoods have Sewer leaks, Leaking Raw Human waste into the Ground!
To improve bus transportation routes, this is good. But you’ve got to first repair the roads, because now many roads are broken and without repair. Therefore the roads cause accidents, not only to pedestrians but to automobiles. Therefore I suggest that Oakland fixes all the broken roads first, and then tries to improve the bus transportation route.
I adamantly oppose the implementation of AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan. The havoc it woudl create for private autos and everyone else using the Tlegraph corridor is well beyond reason, with no great benefit to transit users. It would also make riding a bicycle on Telegraph Ave much less attractive, being hemmed in by long lines of autos and large buses whizzing by. And the idea that the City has no recourse to remove the infrastructure once the plan shows its not useful is beyond gall.
I’ve ridden AC Transit buses on Telegraph in Berkeley and Oakland for about thirty years. Never has there been any bus more dangerous (for a senior) and uncomfortable to ride than the BRT. In fact, I avoid BRT whenever possible, as do many others (witness the low ridership; I often see near empty BRT lumbering down Telegraph). It’s hard for me to believe you know or care how passengers are thrown around inside the BRT trying to grab something to hold onto or sit on. Did you think drivers waited for passengers to clasp something to hold onto or sit onto before driving off? It’s fairly obvious to we who ride buses that someone, somewhere, who never rides buses, took a big bribe to authorize such a mosterosity.
And my hands-down favorite of the comments? This one:
I can’t thank you enough for dropping your STOP BRT flyer on my Temescal home’s doorstep. I had heard nothing about this, and after reviewing various things on the web about it this afternoon, I am thrilled. What a creative proposal to improve public transportation in our city and help the environment.
Your flyer, by the way, is a bit of a downer. More the “politics of nope” than a “politics of hope.” My reaction to people who “just say no” is to always look at the other side, and in this case was so excited by the possibilities of Bus Rapid Transit that I have to wholeheartedly support it. To that end, I am cc’ing firstname.lastname@example.org_ (mailto:email@example.com) with this comment: Yes to BRT!
Yeah, you read that right. Temescal was papered with STOP BRT flyers filled with a bunch of lies about the proposal designed to terrify people about the concept of BRT. Happily, in at least one case, it backfired.
But the input received is by no means all silly or uninformed. There are a number of issues pop up repeatedly in the comments, and how these concerns can be addressed or mitigated, either through changes to the locally preferred alternative, or later through specific steps on the part of AC Transit, should be the focus of tonight’s discussion so that Oakland can end up with the best possible project when and if this finally happens. The common themes are as follows:
- Prohibiting left turns will shift traffic onto side streets
- Concern over bus only lanes limiting access for emergency vehicles
- Concern about losing parking spaces
- Concern about seniors walking too far for the bus
The Planning Commission meets at 6 PM tonight at City Hall, in Hearing Room 1. Oh, and if you feel like showing up early, the Planning Commission’s Zoning Update Committee will be meeting at 4:30 this afternoon to discuss a proposal to amend the Zoning Code (PDF) to allow conditional use permits for people to create new “temporary” surface parking lots on vacant property downtown. No, I am not making that up. There is more to the proposal than that – the parking lots are just one example. The idea is to allow “temporary” uses of things that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed throughout the City. What’s the point of even having zoning in the first place, you ask? Yeah, I don’t know either.