East Bay BRT Q and A

I’ve blogged here before about clueless anti-BRT whining in the local press. It seems like it never ends.

The Northgate News now has a story headlined “Opponents of BRT Fight to Expose Plan’s Potential Drawbacks.” A more accurate title might have been “Opponents of BRT lie every way possible to preserve their parking spaces.” The anti-BRT contingent’s arguments are a morass of uninformed speculation, deception, and half-truths. Of course, we all know by now that it doesn’t matter if something is true or not – to make people believe it, you just have to say it over and over again. That’s how we all know that social security is insolvent, inclusionary zoning provides housing to the poor, and BRT is a disaster in the making.

Pointless as my endeavor may be, I’d like to respond in one place to the so-called drawbacks of BRT. Below, I’ve taken several of the comments from Sunday’s Chronicle story about BRT, and provided my responses. As always, for an overview of the entire project, check out my Novometro story on AC Transit’s East Bay BRT proposal.

From eastbaygenius:

If there’s so much money available to invest in public transit – why not invest it in the BART system, especially given this the BRT route will be redundant with the BART line??

Ah, the redundant of BART argument, very popular among the anti-BRT crowd, and also an immediate tip-off that the person speaking simply does not use public transit. BART follows a similar corridor only in the sense that it connects Berkeley and San Leandro through Oakland. But if you want to buy records on Telegraph Avenue, go to work at Childrens Hospital, have dinner in Temescal, sing some rent-a-room karaoke in Koreatown, or visit art galleries on First Friday, BART isn’t going to help you. And that’s only the first part of the route! 24,000 people already ride the 1 line every day, in spite of the traffic delays that make it at times infuriatingly slow. They’re not doing it for fun.

And if you’re concerned about wasting money, don’t give a penny to BART. Talk about replicating routes! They want to extend from Fremont to San Jose(!!!), in spite of existing express buses and a train line covering the route. At $200 million per mile, I want my tax money as far out of BART’s reach as possible! Ultimately, BART is about moving people from the suburbs to their jobs in downtown Oakland and SF. It does not serve neighborhoods or urban residents.

Moving on. Bollocks offers:

And after the first pedestrian gets killed by a speeding bus (which they are already doing) – the buses will be instructed to slow down and then we have wasted $400,000,000.

Huh? Dedicated lanes are not so buses can drag race – they will simply allow for consistent travel speeds and eliminate time wasted while the bus is stuck in traffic. A reliable corridor should theoretically ameliorate current problems with speeding buses, as they will not be compelled to floor it every time they get a chance trying to make up for time lost in traffic jams.

And Bollocks again:

Just for the record “bike-rider” – I am a Telegraph Avenue street vendor and have been for 15 years – so perhaps I do know what I’m talking about – come hang out on the Ave and watch the empty buses with us – I’ll be on Telegraph and Channing – I know what i’m seeing – bunching or not these buses are running almost empty and that is disgusting.

Um, yes. You’ll find that buses are often empty at the terminus of their routes. If Bollocks ever rode the bus, he would realize that the 1 is generally standing room only. The photo below was taken on the 1 on a recent Sunday afternoon, typically a low-traffic period.


Worse, the new bus system will use more energy and emit more pollution per passenger.

Actually, BRT produces a third of the CO2 emissions of light rail, and is considered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Federal Transportation Authority to be the most environmentally friendly public transit solution.


Why are we still bothering with diesel bus technology? Especially buses that run on environment-damaging diesel? Downtown Berkeley is making the wrong arguments here — reject BRT because it is short sighted and contributes to global warming, and instead pass a bond or tax for electric buses or trains. Let’s do it right the first time.

See above. BRT is better for the environment that light rail. By a wide margin. And for those obsessed with electricity, here’s a newsflash – just because the train doesn’t emit in Oakland doesn’t mean it doesn’t emit anywhere. Is it okay to shift the emissions burden to poorer areas where you don’t live? For example: the hydrogen currently fueling our “zero emissions” buses is fossil fuel derived. For more info, see this article (PDF!) from the Journal of Public Transportation.


Talk about marketing over substance. You won’t be able to get drivers out of cars with glorified buses, just look at the Orange Line BRT (empty P&R lots all along the line)

Actually, the Los Angeles’s Orange Line has vastly exceeded expectations. Within one year of operation, it met its ridership forecasts for 2020. It also reduced freeway congestion along the route. Rider surveys revealed that of Orange Line passengers, 17% had never used transit before, and 77% of those who had previously commuted via car said that BRT was faster.


Just because it works in other countries doesn’t mean it will work here. Americans are too wedded to their cars. Also, the culture here is different. It will take a quantum change in attitude for society to accept this to any degree.

At some point, that simply has to change. Freeway culture is not sustainable.

On the second point: see above. And it isn’t just LA. In Oregon, Eugene-Springfield’s EmX Green Line opened in January, average weekday boardings along the route increased 70%, and broke system ridership records. Orlando’s Lynx Lymmo exceeded expectations as well, and increased boardings 33% over the previous route. The MAX in Kansas City ended a systemwide ridership decline since 2002, and increased ridership along the route by 40%. Pheonix’s RAPID is so successful that the city had to add more buses to the route. The Silver Line in Boston doubled ridership along the route in one year.


This proposal strikes me as inappropriate as it intends to leapfrog over blighted areas of Oakland…Public transit funds shouldn’t be used to support this form of apartheid economic policies.

Leapfrog over blighted areas? Since when is East Oakland considered a posh neighborhood?


I do not believe this noisy and jerky bus ride is a reasonable option. I expect many other commuters will also not be willing to switch to BRT. Maybe that is why this bus is mostly empty in Berkeley. Is anyone who supports this project actually riding this bus on a regular basis? Try it before you sing its praises.

Actually, yes. People who ride the bus are the ones who most want BRT, in part because a dedicated lane will make for a far more pleasant and less jerky ride. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but the point of BRT is that it will make the bus better, not to spend $400 million to get the same quality of service. Throughout the US and all over the world, people have switched to transit when offered improved service. Do we really believe that the residents of Berkeley are more wedded to their cars than those of Kansas City?


What I’m alluding to is the vacuous acceptance of planning fads by people who have no clue what it really means, and haven’t even got far enough to recognize that. It just sounds good, and it’s the cool thing to say. If the BRT proposal really makes sense then it needs to be supported by analysis, not by cheerleading.

That’s what the EIR is for.

Reading the comments provides an excellent window into the uninformed single mindedness of the opposition. I hate to sound like Nancy Nadel, but I can’t believe we’re negotiating transit policy with gas guzzling car drivers.

Fully fledged BRT has worked phenomenally well throughout the world, and right here in the United States. It will work in the East Bay. Furthermore, innovative rapid bus systems and busways built throughout the country have all generated ridership increases far beyond projections. Time after time after time, people throughout the country have demonstrated that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that has dominated transit planning in the US over the past few decades, Americans will take the bus is when it is fast, efficient, and reliable.

7 thoughts on “East Bay BRT Q and A

  1. dto510

    Excellent and right-on. BRT is so fantastically successful all over the US – the idea that East Bay residents would be less likely to ride the bus than Midwesterners is preposterous.

  2. Eric

    Nice post. The comments to this BRT post were really depressing and really demonstrate that this region needs better transit education (by which I mean, they should take it more). I laughed out loud at the merchant who observed the buses were always empty at Channing. Clearly someone who just doesn’t take buses and has no idea what the line even looks like. And yet, they feel qualified to comment on it.

    If you ran into me there, I was commenter “ecsf” on that article, but I felt like I was running into a brick wall, and gave up after awhile.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Eric –

    Just went back and looked at your comments – I see we hit many of the same notes. In fact, it was partly your very matter of fact, reasoned responses to their shrieking that inspired me to write this post. I applaud your efforts to try to reason with these people, or at least make them somewhat informed. I was simply an observer, not a participant, in the debate. I never comment on the Chronicle – I don’t feel like creating an account and there’s always so many comments I feel like mine would just get lost.

    Since you seem to be more in tune with Bay Area transit issues in general than me, I’m interested to know if you have an opinion about what’s going to happen with East Bay BRT. I’m very worried that Berkeley or San Leandro will kill it. And I also worry about Oakland – there has not been loud opposition here so far, but the project also seems to be getting no support from any Councilmembers or our Mayor. Where is the commitment to sustainability they showed when they formed the Oil Independence Task Force? Or banned styrofoam? And plastic bags? Does their concern for the environment not extend to addressing the single most important choice people can make – getting out of their cars? to Is AC Transit just doing a poor job educating people about this?

  4. Steve

    You’re gonna need to juice your anti-”redundant with BART” argument. A quick map-based analysis of the two routes, from Berkeley to downtown Oakland, shows that no proposed BRT station is more than 0.8 miles distant from the nearest BART station, as the crow flies. Most are much less. Seems pretty similar to me. Plot them both on the same map, and they almost appear to overlap.

    Ergo, BART gets you pretty close to each of the destinations that you enumerated that it “isn’t going to help you”, incurring the following additional travel over the BRT solution:

    Children’s Hospital – 0.1 miles
    Dinner in Temescal – 0.4 miles
    Koreatown – Art Murmur – 0.3 miles
    Telegraph @ Channing – 0.7 miles

    I’m all for helping people walk slightly less, but considering the similarity to the BART route, BRT might not be the most efficient utilization of our TaxMegaBuxxx. Maybe little express loops from each BART station to the local destinations, on the existing infrastructure, would be more cost effective, as well as less disruptive to traffic flow and parking?

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Steve -

    First of all, people don’t travel as the crow flies. They travel on roads.

    I can’t figure out where you’re coming up with those distance numbers. How did you decide where the stations are? AC Transit hasn’t even selected an alignment alternative, let alone placed stations. And it’s fairly obvious just looking at the corridor (PDF!) that your 0.8 mile claim simply isn’t true. 98th and International, for example, on the proposed BRT route, is over a mile and a half from any BART station.

    Traveling along actual streets, Children’s Hospital is .71 miles from MacArthur BART and 1.04 miles from Ashby BART. Dona Tomas is .6 miles from MacArthur BART. Amoeba Records is .98 miles from Berkeley BART. Koreana Plaza is .43 miles from 19th St. BART.

    In any case, only someone who doesn’t use transit would think it’s reasonable to expect people to walk a mile or more to get to a station, then walk another mile to get to one’s destination, then repeat the same thing for the return trip. The 1 line is not redundant with BART in any meaningful sense. If riders thought that it was, it wouldn’t be one of the most popular bus routes in the entire Bay Area.

    As for the idea of using “little express loops” from BART stations, such a system would hardly be more cost effective. I shudder to think about the operating cost of running shuttles (to where, exactly?) every 5 minutes from every single BART station along the line – yikes! How does it make sense to pay for 9 buses instead of 1? Additionally, I’m at a complete loss as to what the benefits of this sort of system would be.

  6. Steve

    Yes, people travel on roads. Thanks for the insight.

    The stations are from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Build Alternative 1. See the map on page 2-13. Note that, as I mentioned in my analysis, I am discussing the section from Berkeley to downtown Oakland. Yes, the route is slightly more divergent in East Oakland. I stand by my original 0.8 mile claim under its stated constraints.

    Remember that the BRT system is an “express” arrangement, and that you’ll have to walk from the station to your destination, just like BART. Consider the Children’s Hospital example. From Macarthur BART to the front door, it’s 0.6 miles. From 49th and Telegraph, which appears to be approximately the location of the proposed BRT stop, 0.4 miles. Ooops, it’s an 0.2 mile net increase, I was off by a tenth of a mile. Apologies.

    As for the other examples you mentioned, you can cherry pick exact locations to support either side of the argument. For example, eating at Don Tomas versus Koryo in Temescal. Just remember, you’ll have to walk from BRT too.

    As for your “9 buses instead of 1″ argument, do you honestly believe that there will be only one bus operating along the entire BRT route at any given time? Please, detail, with some estimates, why the “little express loops” solution would be so much less cost effective than the BRT solution.

    There are obvious advantages to any solution that doesn’t require new infrastructure. First, you eliminate the disruption from construction and modification of existing traffic flow. Second, you can spend all that money on something else.

    I don’t disagree that the BRT would be a improvement for some amount of people that frequent the Telegraph corridor. I’m just not sure that it’s a wise expenditure of all that money, given the overall benefit received, especially when framed by the potential traffic/parking disruptions.

  7. max

    You obviously follow this more closely than I do, so correct me if any of the following is wrong. I gave up on the 40 a few years ago after I realized I could drive in 10 minutes what normally took 40 minutes to an hour on the bus. Now I happily rent a parking spot that costs 5x my tax-free bus pass. (I did try the 1/1R several times without appreciable improvement).

    The solution is not to build elevated platforms for your special low-floor buses — it it to RUN MORE BUSES. The bunching problem is alleviated by having routes that aren’t 100 miles long. It is totally not complicated, because it is how buses work in every city in which they actually work.

    I grew up riding the bus every day, in Boston and New York. I lived here for almost a decade without a car — without a license! — I really wanted to make it work. But it is just impossible.

    BRT might improve things. But it is a complicated and expensive answer to an easy question. AC Transit needs to spend less money on trips to Belgium, “transit rodeos”, and elaborate schemes to destroy every major street in the east bay, and just run more buses. Also, a remedial route design class or two.