It isn’t about speed, it’s about reliability.

Aah, it’s been a while since I talked about BRT. The Berkeley Daily Planet, or, as I like to call it, the We Hate BRT Weekly, has worn me down with their incessant lying and uninformed ranting and I just don’t even want to have to think about it ever. I don’t have the faintest idea how the Friends of BRT people can stomach having to respond to their jibberish week after week after week. For the last six months, I haven’t even been able to muster up even a teeny tiny shred of anger or frustration or desire to refute all the completely wrong things that get said in there. Instead, I just roll my eyes, tell myself that they’re all crazy and (lately) that Measure KK is going to get steamrolled, because most people are at least relatively reasonable and aren’t inclined to listen when some nutcase tries to tell them that the bus is part of the military-industrial complex that we need to fight with every fiber in our soul. BRT = Dick Cheney just isn’t a compelling argument, folks.

Anyway, I was thinking about this yesterday, as I often do, while I was riding the bus. For me, the saddest thing about the anti-BRT people is just how little they understand about what AC Transit is proposing, and how completely clueless they are about how buses work and what the problems with them are. I mean, their “Rapid Bus Plus” “idea” is so pathetically out of touch with any sort of reality that it’s hard to get angry. Reading that, you mostly just feel sorry for them. I want to give them a hearty pat on the back, tell them it’s a good idea and I’m glad they’re helping, and then send them away, like you’d do with a small child or an elderly relative.

One of the criticisms you frequently hear from BRT opponents, and one that I think probably sounds pretty reasonable to the average person who hasn’t formed an opinion on the subject either way, is that BRT won’t actually save very much time. They claim that most riders will only save a few minutes with BRT compared to using the current 1R. Such complaints miss the point.

The problem with the bus isn’t speed. When the 1 is running totally on schedule, it actually doesn’t take all that long to get you where you need to go. Unfortunately, because it spends all its time sitting in unpredictable car traffic, it often doesn’t run on schedule. It gets backed up, buses start bunching, crowds start accumulating at every stop, which puts everything even more behind schedule – it’s a mess. And this is the problem with the bus, the problem that BRT and a dedicated lane solves – it isn’t reliable. You can’t trust that it’s going to conform to that schedule.

Let me tell you a story. Yesterday, I had a meeting at 3:30. I look up the schedule and see that I should be able to board the 1 downtown at 3:02 and arrive at my destination on time. Of course, that would be cutting things pretty close, and being a frequent bus rider, I know better than to give myself no window for delays, so I elect to take the 2:47 bus instead, which I will theoretically exit at 3:13. Now that makes me almost 20 minutes early, which is a little annoying, but hey – better safe than sorry, right?

So I go to the bus stop at 2:45, and of course, no bus. I wait. By 2:50, I’m starting to get annoyed. I light a cigarette, because, well, I’m superstitious. Big shock, it doesn’t work and I actually manage to smoke the entire thing. Still no bus. Finally, the bus shows up at 2:55. I figure I’m still okay, good thing I took the earlier one. But of course, traffic. Painful, painful traffic. International was a mess. I’m sure you can imagine what a cheerful mood I was in when we finally arrived at my destination at 3:42. I walked into my meeting fifteen minutes late and looked like a total asshole.

This doesn’t happen all the time. Or even most of the time. But it happens often enough that it keeps people from riding the bus. Look, people need to stop relying on their cars to go everywhere. It isn’t sustainable. And we have seen over and over and over again, all over the country, that people are willing to get out of their cars and use transit instead when that transit is fast and reliable. Reliable. That’s the key word. People will use transit – yes, even buses – and do, in Los Angeles, in Boston, in Orlando, in Kansas City, in Cleveland, in Pittsburg, and all sorts of other places when they can trust that it will take them where they need to go in the promised time. And that’s what BRT will deliver. There is no substitute.

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40 thoughts on “It isn’t about speed, it’s about reliability.

  1. Max Allstadt

    V, since you didn’t name names, I will.

    Jessie Douglas Allen-Taylor wrote the latest article on BRT, and he basically skewed it to make it look like there was a 50-50 split on the issue. This is not true. He printed something that wasn’t true, and he did it on purpose to further his point of view and that of his publisher.

    JDAT does this sort of crap all the time. Have you seen the excuses he makes for Ron Dellums’ lack of results?

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    JDAT’s piece on the BRT meeting was bizarre indeed, and definitely doesn’t gel with reports I heard from other sources (see Becks’s version of the event here).

    One Daily Planet reporter recently resigned over the lack of journalistic integrity displayed by publisher Becky O’Malley:

    “After 2.5 years of being insulted, berated and lied to by the Daily Planet’s executive editor – and having my stories distorted by the deletion of quotes from persons Becky O’Malley hates and the addition of her nasty remarks about such people – I have left the Planet,” Scherr said in an email she sent to friends last Thursday.

    But on top of the biased articles, practically every issue of that paper is packed with totally inaccurate anti-BRT letters and commentaries. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Max Allstadt

    It is indeed ridiculous. I think the Planet is completely aware that they have an agenda and wanton bias. If they were interested in community in any real way, they would have online reader comments. They don’t. There’s no way for readers to register dissent or disagreement.

    When I disagree with a pundit’s opinion on the coolness or scruffiness of a beard, by god I should be able to post a comment accordingly!

  4. justin

    V, You’re right on everything, including the cigarette bit. In Hungary, they call a cigarette “the magic wand” for transit.

  5. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    I consider myself a BRT skeptic, especially the current proposal from AC Transit. I hope to post at OSA soon on this, as I think there are reasonable, pro-transit arguments against this proposal that have nothing to do with the typical Berkeley conservative nimbyism.

    But this is the first thing I’ve read that has moved me toward BRT. You can understand how one might think it is about speed – it is called Bus RAPID Transit. This name already poses problems in the Bay Area, creating confusion with BART, and now we find out they choose the wrong one too.

    AC Transit is simply not making good decisions right now. The new Van Hool’s are horrible, the graphic design of the signage for the new 1R is crap (almost as bad as Kerry Hamill’s posters and we will be stuck with them much longer), NextBus is a joke, and it hurts my eyes just thinking about the Downtown Oakland Tranist Center.

  6. Becks

    It is indeed ridiculous. I think the Planet is completely aware that they have an agenda and wanton bias. If they were interested in community in any real way, they would have online reader comments. They don’t. There’s no way for readers to register dissent or disagreement.

    Max – though they don’t allow reader comments online, they print almost every letter to the editor they receive. So you should think about writing one to them. I did so in response to JDAT’s article because it was completely inaccurate and needed to be corrected.

    AC Transit is simply not making good decisions right now. The new Van Hool’s are horrible, the graphic design of the signage for the new 1R is crap (almost as bad as Kerry Hamill’s posters and we will be stuck with them much longer), NextBus is a joke, and it hurts my eyes just thinking about the Downtown Oakland Tranist Center.

    I complain about AC Transit a lot (in fact I just got back from lunch, where I spent a good amount of time complaining about their lack of savvy marketing to attract BART riders). But overall, I think the agency makes a lot of good decisions. The 1R billboards aren’t too bad (certainly nowhere as bad as the Hamill signs). NextBus isn’t perfect, but without it, I honestly don’t know how I’d schedule my life at all. And I’ve come around quite a bit about the Uptown transit center (which I assume is what you’re referring to). I was just waiting for a bus there last night and it felt a lot safer than waiting at the stop across from Rebecca Kaplan’s office, which is deserted. Also, I could see the NextBus signs, which were accurate last night.

    So I feel pretty good trusting AC Transit with the BRT project, especially after seeing Jim Cunradi’s excellent presentation on Saturday. Plus, there will be ample opportunities for us Oaklanders to weigh in at city hearings so if you have specific concerns, you’ll have an opportunity to voice them.

  7. Eric

    According to the AC Transit website, the cost of BRT will be ‘up to’ $250 million and will add ‘up to’ 9300 new riders. That works out to about $27,000 per new rider if it comes in on budget and at the high end of ridership projections, not including operating costs. And look at the map. The route is practically on top of BART the whole way from San Leandro through Berkeley .

    Improving the reliability of one bus line will not appreciably increase the overall reliability or convenience of commuting by bus. To get from my house to my work by bus requires walking a mile and changing buses twice, and takes an hour and twenty minutes each way. I live five miles from work, so I can ride my bike in less time.

    With BRT I will still have to walk to and from the bus stop and take two other buses, which will still be unreliable. I will still need to get to the bus stop by my house early to build in a margin of safety, and I will still have to wait between buses. The efficiency of the commute system I need to get to work by bus will not improve just because the efficiency of one component has improved – I will just end up waiting somewhere else in the system. Most people will have the same problem most of the time – unless the starting point and ending point of a trip are both on the BRT line, there won’t be an overall improvement in performance. And people who begin and end a trip on that route already have BART.

    I think there are other ways to get more bang for the buck. When I have ridden the bus, traffic, getting people on and off the bus, and waiting to change buses seem to be the big variables. BRT addresses the loading/unloading problem and traffic, but only along one route. Smaller changes across the system that improve the entire system will have more of an impact than improving one component of the system.

    Moving ticket machines off the buses across the system, not just on BRT, would have a much more profound effect on overall point to point travel than BRT. Improving ingress and egress for those with impaired mobility on all buses would be another big boost to system reliability. These changes would allow some of the qeueing time to be removed from the schedules, so the wait between buses would be less. I know this would make the bus a more viable alternative for me than BRT would. AC Transit could make some pretty drastic improvements in these areas for a quarter of a billion dollars.

  8. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    Sorry…Uptown Transit Center (UTC). Certainly it may be safer than further up Broadway, but we are all paying an ugly price. I take the 15 or 18 at the UTC after working out at the YMCA fairly regularly in the early evening, and the NextBus signs have never worked for me. They always seem to say I’ll be waiting 25 minutes, then one comes a few minutes later, or the reverse. If I want reliability, I take BART instead, and not because of anything external to AC Transit. It is because I don’t know whether to trust NextBus or the posted schedule. And the schedules posted at individual stops often don’t correspond with the schedules online, further confusing things.

    AC Transit didn’t have to choose “BRT”, and actually they are calling it “RAPID”. Certainly that is what similar systems are called in the abstract, but that would be like BART deciding to call itself “Heavy Rail” or “Subway”. Instead they chose (wisely) to personify their system with their name, while AC Transit chose to describe. Not a bad choice, except RAPID describes it wrongly as it turns out.

    I like BuRT – Bus Reliable Transit.

  9. Max Allstadt

    So what are the odds of a second BRT route running on San Pablo, or Grand, or MacArthur, or Mountain, or Foothill? It could even dip on and off of the 580 if need be.

    If the first one works, wouldn’t the next step be to create a route that runs closer to the bay in West Oakland, through Emeryville, Berkeley and El Cerrito… and further inland on the east side of the Lake?

    I just like BURT because it sounds like BART has a new baby brother.

  10. Becks

    According to the AC Transit website, the cost of BRT will be ‘up to’ $250 million and will add ‘up to’ 9300 new riders. That works out to about $27,000 per new rider if it comes in on budget and at the high end of ridership projections, not including operating costs. And look at the map. The route is practically on top of BART the whole way from San Leandro through Berkeley .

    These arguments are both problematic. First, the federal funds that are available for BRT are NOT available for other bus improvements. They are slated for BRT. If we don’t build BRT, we don’t get this money. Also, the projected ridership increase is 25,000, not 9,000. As for the argument that the route is on top of the BART line, well, first, it’s not very true, and second, BART is not convenient or realistic for local trips. Sure, I could take BART, but I’d have to walk 15 minutes to the station and at night, it’s simply not safe to do so. BART is not an option for me or for the majority of people on this line who live more than 5 minutes from a BART station.

    So what are the odds of a second BRT route running on San Pablo, or Grand, or MacArthur, or Mountain, or Foothill? It could even dip on and off of the 580 if need be. If the first one works, wouldn’t the next step be to create a route that runs closer to the bay in West Oakland, through Emeryville, Berkeley and El Cerrito… and further inland on the east side of the Lake?

    Yes, yes, yes. I think that once this first BRT line is implemented, people will see how amazing it is and AC Transit will move quickly to seek funding for other lines. I think several of the possibilities you mentioned will be considered. So let’s keep in mind that even if this particular BRT line doesn’t make your commute easier, it will serve as a model for improved, more reliable bus service throughout the system.

  11. Art

    Actually, NextBus works fine for me most of the time. It’s not perfect—the technology could be more reliable, since periodically there’s a bus without a working transponder or (especially on the 1 for some reason) a 1 is coded as a 1R or vice versa, which screws up the numbers. But for the most part, the bus shows up when it says it will show up. I use it to check from home before I even leave the house so that I can decide which bus stop to walk to, and I think it’s one of the most effective things AC has done for service in a while. (For what it’s worth, I only look at the posted schedule for very select routes that I know are usually on schedule, like the 11.)

    Doubling the BART route is also a frequent complaint. But that’s the *point*, at some level! BART doesn’t stop frequently. I live on the BART route, but I’m not close to a station. You can be “on top” of BART in East Oakland and be a very, very long and unsafe walk from a station. That’s who BRT is for. And to play devil’s advocate, improving one bus line can potentially make a big difference. The current 1R (which is not as fast as true BRT would be) shaves 15 minutes off my 50-minute commute, on average, making it a few minutes shorter than if I were to ride a bike to BART. I have to walk an extra two blocks to get to the stop, but I more than make up the difference. I know how long it takes me to get there based on when Nextbus says the bus is showing up, and nine days out of ten that works seamlessly, which is good enough for me for now.

    You’re right that BRT only addresses the things that slow down buses along one route. But hopefully in the future, that will change, and we’ll see more and more transit-priority streets across the area, making for a more functional system overall.

  12. jarichmond

    I’ll just echo the people praising the NextBus system. It’s not perfect, but my experience on the 1R and the 51 has been really good. I’ve also discovered that many times, if the 51 shows a ridiculously long time between buses (like half an hour or more), it’s a sign that a bus has a malfunctioning transponder, and there’s usually an extra bus somewhere in the gap. Even if it’s not just exactly correct, I appreciate having some indication about when to expect a bus.

    Another thing to consider for the people complaining about it just being one line is that it’s already one of the most heavily used and heavily populated lines in the system. You have to start somewhere with these things, so it makes sense to start where you’d have the biggest chance of success.

    Does AC Transit or anyone have a map up showing the proposed route with stops and how it compares to the current BART stations? Maybe showing that there’s multiple stops between each of BART’s would help show why this would be important?

  13. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    But Becks, I hope you are not arguing we should spend this money just because it is there and we won’t get it if we don’t. That is just an awful way to think about government spending.

    The first BRT line should have gone down San Pablo and the 580 corridor as Max mentioned, a route that should be served by BART but isn’t (and with BART’s priorities, won’t be for a while). And this goes to the decision making I mentioned earlier.

    I think Eric makes some good points above, even if he got the ridership numbers wrong. Mostly there are opportunity costs here that I don’t feel are getting a fair hearing. How far would this money go if instead AC Transit better fed into stations along the BART route? My guess is really far.

    Ok. I’ve used up half my arguments commenting here instead of posting to my own blog. I’m out on this until I get my act together over at OSA.

  14. Eric

    Actually my numbers are correct. The 25,000 number is increased corridor ‘ridership’ per day (the number of increased trips). 9300 new riders is the number of new business BRT is projected to bring to AC Transit (this is on the FAQs page under ‘project purpose and need’ – sorry, I don’t know how to link on here, but I’ve pasted the direct quote below).

    —By 2025, up to 49,000 passengers are forecast to board BRT buses each weekday. Adding BRT service to the AC Transit route system will generate up to 9,300 new transit riders, nearly all of them currently traveling by auto.—

    The argument that this somehow costs less because part is paid by federal funds is bogus – the cost is a quarter of a billion dollars, plus operating costs. Whether there are subsidies to the local agency from a federal agency is irrelevant to the actual cost. Since we live in the United States as well as the AC Transit district, we still pay this. If AC Transit ‘loses’ the subsidy, we as US taxpayers benefit when the money is spent for a better purpose (hopefully).

    The thing about BRT running along the BART route seems to be largely a matter of where one lives. Since the routes are closer together for most of their length than I live to a bus stop, I consider them to almost overlap. For those that live along the BRT route but a few blocks from BART, they are largely divergent. The thing is, this corridor appears to be one of the better served in the area. Not only is there BART for longer trips, but there is a bus line running parallel to it for shorter trips. How does turning the bus line into a BRT line (more like BART, with fewer stops farther apart) improve this? Doesn’t this make it worse for people with mobility issues? Won’t it be less convenient for short trips, since one will have to walk further to a BRT stop?

    BART has its shortcomings, but it’s already built so it is a sunk cost. BART will most likely continue to operate much as it does now whether BRT is built or not. So the question is, is BART plus BRT a quarter of a billion dollars better than BART plus the #1 bus? Or do you feel that the quarter of a billion dollars (or whatever the actual cost is after losing the federal subsidy and adding cost overruns) could better be spent in some other way?

  15. Becks

    But Becks, I hope you are not arguing we should spend this money just because it is there and we won’t get it if we don’t. That is just an awful way to think about government spending.

    Of course not. What I’m saying is that AC Transit can’t just spend this money on some other improvement, including another BRT line. Also, it’s significant to note that the federal government is now prioritizing funding BRT lines nationwide. Why? Because they work. They’re more affordable than rail, yet they can improve the transit experience of just as many people.

    The first BRT line should have gone down San Pablo and the 580 corridor as Max mentioned, a route that should be served by BART but isn’t (and with BART’s priorities, won’t be for a while). And this goes to the decision making I mentioned earlier.

    I hope that these are the next lines that AC Transit chooses, but they had their reasons for choosing the 1 line. I think the best arguments for choosing it are that it currently has the highest ridership out of any AC Transit line (several thousand more daily riders than the 72 line), and there are several up and coming districts along its route that are not well served by BART (Temescal is number one in my mind) so there’s room for increased ridership.

    The thing about BRT running along the BART route seems to be largely a matter of where one lives. Since the routes are closer together for most of their length than I live to a bus stop, I consider them to almost overlap. For those that live along the BRT route but a few blocks from BART, they are largely divergent. The thing is, this corridor appears to be one of the better served in the area. Not only is there BART for longer trips, but there is a bus line running parallel to it for shorter trips. How does turning the bus line into a BRT line (more like BART, with fewer stops farther apart) improve this? Doesn’t this make it worse for people with mobility issues? Won’t it be less convenient for short trips, since one will have to walk further to a BRT stop?

    I think V already explained very well above why the current bus line is not sufficient. It is unreliable and until we have the reliability of BRT, many people will not ride the bus. It’s that simple. In terms of mobility issues, AC Transit has not yet made a final decision on where the stops will be placed or of how many there will be. If you are concerned about mobility issues, please raise these concerns at Oakland meetings on BRT or contact AC Transit directly. I think AC Transit is doing an excellent job of responding to concerns raised (like those of the bicycling community) so it makes sense to raise these concerns now.

    So the question is, is BART plus BRT a quarter of a billion dollars better than BART plus the #1 bus?

    As a daily 1 rider, I can emphatically say, YES!

    Or do you feel that the quarter of a billion dollars… could better be spent in some other way?

    No.

  16. Art

    It’s also worth noting that BART is currently at capacity during rush hour on most of its lines and is exploring some very costly solutions to this. So if AC Transit could put in a system that would better meet the needs of current bus riders *and* shift some of the local BART demand to BRT instead, that could have added value for BART. (For instance, there are lots of people who commute from Berkeley to Oakland and vice versa who use BART because it’s much faster/more reliable than the bus—but if the bus were just as fast and convenient, that could open up capacity on BART for people commuting to, say, Fremont or SF or beyond, making both systems more efficient.)

  17. Max Allstadt

    I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that our friend DTO has a long Op-Ed in the Berkeley Daily Planet today, evangelizing BRT.

    I still think the Planet should institute reader comments. I wonder how their unique hits per day numbers compare with V’s. I bet they’d go way up if they added comments.

  18. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    Ok, I’ve finally weighed in over at OSA, though I’m still working on getting my act together.

    [...] eliminating street parking is a huge psychological change in the makeup of the street…sitting outside having a chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty or eggs at The Mixing Bowl will become a significantly worse experience [...]

  19. jdabs

    for examples of BRT success worlwide, check out streetsblog.com and search for BRT

    if intra-urban BRT takes $250m to set up, and we spend $80,000m per year as the bay area on gasoline, how long would it take for BRTs to pay for themselves in the bay area? (what is the payback for BRT?)

    that is also money that would be respent locally instead of wasting money on gas/oil – genuflecting bush/cheney/palin, chevron, arco, bp, conocophillips chief executives and all the really great countries we source gas/oil from…

    BRT amping up ridership means less road congestion for remaining people who can afford to drive, better air quality for all of us, more money spent locally, fewer car “accidents”, less need for cars…. what’s not to like?

    That 80% of Berkeley voted for Prop G to ‘reduce GHG emissions by 80%” and for the stupid daily planet and any ‘Berkeleyans’ to berate BRT is, well, incomprehensible.

    I hope BRT passes. I’d rather trust AC Transit/Key Route systems than thousands of local people driving around, to reduce traffic fatalities.

    PLUS, when I ride the bus and talk to riders and drivers, they are all for a bus-only lane. The poor people especially say “it’s about time.” I agree! FUCK CARS. Time for our collective ‘carectomy.’

  20. Robert

    I’m sure that bus riders and drivers all want dedicated lanes, that’s a no brainer. But there are impacts on everybody else of dedicated bus lanes, e.g. traffic congestion will be worse, not only on the BRT streets but also on the parallel streets, and parking in the commercial districts will be reduced. And why BRT instead of Enhanced bus service? If you read the summary from early in this decade it pretty much reads that all the numbers favor enhanced bus service, but AC Transit wants BRT anyway. The numbers are Enhanced Bus gives about half the service time improvements and half the increased ridership as BRT, but both capital and operating costs are about a quarter of BRT. So when you look at cost/value, Enhanced Bus comes out 2-fold ahead. While other transportation impacts were not assessed for Enhanced Bus, they are likely to be far less than removing traffic lanes on heavily travelled streets which is required for BRT. But AC Transit recommended BRT? Why?

    All the numbers in the traffic impact analysis section of the EIR say that driving will be negatively impacted, but the EIR conclusion is that perfectly acceptable? And the parking analysis is a joke in spots. The proposed mitigation for removing parking spaces is to put in meters? I know parts of the Temescal area, and parking there in the evening – after parking restrictions expire – is difficult at best. Removing parking from Telegraph is going to have impacts on the businesses that are open in the evening. And as was pointed out above, the sideway ambiance when the auto traffic is right next to the curb is much worse than when it is separated by a row of parked cars. If you want to increase pedestrian friendliness, this is not the way to go.

    Regarding energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, I have seen the numbers, the average passenger mpg on a bus, not the max but the average, is not all that much better than a car. When they are full they are great for passenger mpg’s, but when they are mostly empty they are worse than cars. If you want to justify this by energy efficiency, then you have to go with LRT. Partly because rail is much more energy efficient than buses, but also because an electric LRT can tap into renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

    Now I agree that social justice demands that improvements be made to our existing bus system, I just think that Enhanced Bus is a much more cost effective way to go.

  21. Patrick

    Robert, I think you may have answered your own question.

    “Enhanced Bus gives about half the service time improvements and half the increased ridership as BRT…”

    “When they are full they are great for passenger mpg’s, but when they are mostly empty they are worse than cars.”

    According to the US Department of Transportation, the average passenger vehicle in the US today gets 17.1 mpg. The average diesel bus on the ACTransit line returns 3.8 mpg while the new Hybrid bus gets 7.6 mpg (according to the ACTransit website). So, 4.5 average passengers are required on a diesel bus and 2.25 average passengers are required on a Hybrid bus to equal the efficiency of the average passenger vehicle. And it only gets better from there.

    But, this issue is not only about moving people from Point A to Point B. It is about moving large amounts of people from Point A to Point B, with all of the inherent advantages: increased RELIABILITY, reduced traffic, improved safety, cleaner air, lower fuel consumption…BRT is indicated on all high-use bus routes. Enhanced Bus is great for routes that do not meet the averages…perhaps in Montclair?

    The other advantage of BRT is that the roadway infrastructure would be in place for a future upgrade to LRT, or even overhead-electric streetcars. That is Oakland’s desire, I think, but we can’t afford it now. Enhanced Bus, however much an improvement over our current system, is simply putting lipstick on a pig (sorry).

    I can not comment with authority on reduced pedestrian “desirability” with traffic next to the sidewalk as opposed to parked cars next to the sidewalk. Personally, while walking, I would rather see an ever changing scene than the relatively static look of a parking lot. Parking and driving on the same stretch of street, I suggest, increases safety concerns and decreases a roadway’s ability to move traffic. I do understand the local’s concerns. But BRT should be a boon to the local populace along its route, business included. I think that the people who live/work along Telegraph may someday regret their decision to force the project to be realigned.

    Our country’s economic strength was, and still is, built partially upon its unparalleled transportation system. But the costs, both tangible and intangible, of “personal” transportation have increased dramatically. We need to look to solutions, not stopgaps, to maintain our viability.

  22. Patrick

    That being said, I live below 580, but relatively close to MacArthur…we’d be DELIGHTED to have BRT in our neighborhood.

  23. Robert

    Patrick, You totally ignored the impacts on traffic caused by the lane dedication of BRT, which is, to me, the biggest issue.

    I have seen many buses running with less than 5 passengers in them, although that clearly depends on time of day. And the quoted mpg’s leave out the effect of deadheading back and forth to the garage. Might not be a huge factor for the dity routes, but does have serious impacts on the long haul routes.

    If LRT is the long term goal, then AC transit should say so, and indicate that BRT is but a step on that path. I, for one, would be more included to go along with that proposal than the current proposal. And if we take that approach, I think that some of the improvements required for Enhanced bus will carry overy to BRT anyway. To me, the choice between Enhanced Bus and BRT is cost/benefit. I certainly see that BRT is better, at least for the bus riders, but it costs a whole lot more.

    The other issue I see with BRT is more philosophical. Mass transit is no longer a popular mode of transportation for most people in most circumstances because it no longer serves the needs (or desires if you want) of the majority of the population. The automobile repaced buses and trains because it was more flexible. I don’t think that it is a good idea to invest a lot of money in an outmoded transit system to try and replace the current dependence on the auto. I think that a stopgap measure is best here, until we see what the future of transportation holds. Maybe personlized rapid transit that has been mentioned in this blog, or the decentralized agrarian towns with everyone telecommuting. I just think that by the time BRT gets built out it will be seen as laughably antiquated.

  24. Patrick

    David:

    By separating bus traffic, car traffic and bicycle traffic, all will benefit. Imagine! No dodging in and out, avoiding buses and bicyclists. Your very own lane, dedicated solely for car use.

    We can fudge the numbers all we like regarding mpg: you talk about dead-heading and seeing buses with fewer than five passengers, but in a previous post you mention a 4-fold increase in ridership along BRT routes. As I do not know exact figures for today’s bus fleet as an average per passenger, and I can not predict the future, I will leave this one alone. I will say, however, that given a viable alternative, people are more than willing to get out of their cars, if only occasionally.

    Although BRT to LRT is mentioned on the ACTransit website, it only suggests it as a possibility. It is NOT their stated intention, I just mention it as a possibility, as they have.

    Yes, the automobile is more flexible. Who can argue with that? But I think the Telegraph merchants are (pardon the pun) missing the bus on this one. Why are the merchants so afraid? Because they are already hurting. They fear it will get worse. But the reason they are hurting is because it is already difficult to drive and park on Telegraph and they have been beaten by the uber-parking lots of Emeryville. But, surprise! TELEGRAPH AVENUE WAS DESIGNED FOR DEDICATED MASS TRANSIT. From 1869 to 1948, Telegraph Ave., from 14th to the University, was served by a horsecar line, followed by a street car line. The original horse barn on 51st and Telegraph was changed to a car house in 1893. It is now a Walgreen’s. I humbly suggest that Telegraph merchants stop trying to fight the loss of car-based consumers to Emeryville merchants. Embrace BRT. It will bring thousands of potential shoppers quickly and safely past your doorsteps every day. And, they won’t need parking. On the way home from work, hop off the bus, do a little shopping, and hop back on the bus. What could be simpler or more efficient?

    And, finally. Do you believe that oil is peaking as a resource? I think most of us do. As we saw in the most recent price spike, people, where possible, took mass transit as a means to cut costs. In addition, many people gave up driving as much as possible…including trips to shopping destinations. And it will happen again. And again. But there is an affordable alternative. Why would any merchant on Telegraph Avenue want to give up the increased reliability, safety and speed of BRT, knowing it will bring, overall, more people to their area (twice as many as enhanced bus service)? And why wouldn’t local residents want the ability to use BRT to satisfy some of their transportation needs as well? I guess some people are just stuck in the past.

  25. Robert

    Patrick, Car traffic does not benefit. Read the draft EIR for BRT to see the impacts on car traffic. If you look at the numbers, there is an increase in delay at essentially every intersection. Even with ACTransit numbers, cars do not benefit from BRT. And while the exact numbers are not reported, even with BRT there seem to be more people moving along the street by car than by bus.

    “Stuck in the past” is an interesting term from someone who is hoping for the return of something that died 50 years ago. :)

  26. Patrick

    OK, I will read them. And I’ll get back to you.

    Streetcar lines didn’t die…they were bought out and dismantled by oil, car and rubber companies. It is the Telegraph merchants who are dying…and they’re so sure that the current model will work…if only… They’ll be driving their cars to the unemployment line, rather than considering an updated version of the mode of transit that made their street prosperous in the first place.

  27. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    Robert:

    You rightly point out traffic congestion will increase with BRT, but you seem to think that is a bad thing. I would argue that increased congestion is a good thing for city neighborhoods, and something that needs to be encouraged. Unlike you, I never have a problem parking in Temescal at night. When I don’t walk there or hop the bus, I always seem to find a spot in the Walgreens parking lot, a half block in either direction on 51st, or on Telegraph itself. But if there is a parking problem in the evenings, the solution is to extend the metering to maybe 9:00pm. There is no better way to ensure a shortage of something than to make it free.

    Patrick:

    If not sure which section of Telegraph you are comparing with which in Emeryville, but it is not clear to me these are in much competition. And I would hardly characterize Telegraph merchants as dying. Plus I think right now they are supporting the proposal with qualifications, though maybe I’m misunderstanding Becks rundown of the recent meeting.

  28. Robert

    OSA,

    Neighborhoods are popular in spite of congestion, and popular neighborhoods tend to get congested. They are not popular because they are congested. If BRT increases congestion, some people will no longer go to the neighborhood. Will BRT make up for this? Who knows.

    Patrick,

    Whether streetcars died naturally or were murdered, they still died a long time ago. Also, while the bus manufacturers bought up the Key System to replace it with buses, one of the major problems with the Key at the time was a lot of deferred maintenance on the system beacuse of low farebox recovery.

  29. len raphael

    P, flesh out how BRT could result in many more shoppers in Temescal or South Berkeley on Tele? Riders coming from where and going to ? People hopping off on their commute back from SF or dto to pick up a cake at BB? or a BRT that at rush hour reserves room for passengers with say 3 bags of groceries that they carried in a wheeled grocery carrier?

    You get a bunch of people hopping off and on with a bunch of packages at retail stores, you’re defeating one of the goals of brt.

    OSA, reason you can relatively easily find a place to park near Temescal Tele now is a combo of existing low density plus fear of getting mugged detering night time retail, etc.

    There are many areas in Oakland would immediately benefit from a BRT, those are areas are farther from BART and existing bus lines than Berkley and North Oakland, or potentially very high density dto. Pushing it down Telegraph now makes as much sense as putting it on College Avenue.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  30. Max Allstadt

    Robert,

    Congestion and parking in Temescal are such a non-issue. My girlfriend lives in Temescal. I drive a van and I never have any trouble parking, on telegraph or off. The housing density off telegraph is low, and when people build bigger developments, the city makes them put in big garages. Plus, Temescal is on a very gentle slope in a city with gorgeous weather. Get a bike.

  31. Chris Kidd

    Because I’m lazy, I’m going to copy and paste a section of my comment on OSA since I feel it’s relevent to the conversation. I was responding to 1. his concerns about removing the buffer that parked cars give between traffic and pedestrians and 2. his lesser concerns about the lack of bicycle lanes.

    I especially appreciated the points made about the effects to pyschic space for people on the sidewalk. Creating those “buffer zones” between streets, sidewalks and buildings (along with reducing curb cuts for driveways) are absolutely essential to encouraging walkable, populated street scenes(envigorating neighborhoods, reudcing crime, all that jazz). By pulling out all street parking, BRT would be stripping away that barrier between pedestrians and cars.

    Even so, I don’t think it’s an insurmountable issue. Using planter boxes, trees, greenspace or public art can help create a just-as-effective pyschic space between sidewalk and traffic as street parking currently does. In fact, you could incorporate local artists in a bidding process to do just that, since they missed out on getting to design the shelters(per your awesome suggestion). If my memory serves me, most of the sidewalks in the Temescal are certainly wide enough to convert some space. Actually, considering the low heights of the buildings, the low density and how wide Telegraph is down there, limiting the sidewalk space might actually have a positive effect on pedestrian perception of the street (strange as it may seem, a too-wide sidewalk is just as large a deterent to pedestrian activity as a lack of buffer zones or multiple curb cuts).

    The bicycle issue doesn’t bother me that much either, but for different reasons. I’ve seen a perfectly workable solution in Alameda. Park Street can be comparable to the College Ave in its hustle and bustle. There is NO room for bikes on that street. But to accomodate bicyclists who want access to the same stores on Park Street, Alameda created bicycle lanes on the two streets that parallel Park Street to the north and south. I’ve always been of the mind that secondary streets work better for bicycles anway. There are fewer cars and they move more slowly, making it a much safer place to bike. This may raise the level of activity in these side streets, but I’m not particularly afraid of increased bicycle use…

  32. dto510

    Len, improved transit will certainly benefit Temescal merchants. Lots of people use the bus for grocery shopping and other kinds of shopping, and certainly to go out to eat and drink so as to avoid finding a designated driver. BRT does not have a goal of people not getting on and off as much, the point of BRT is that getting on and off the bus won’t cause delays.

    Robert, while the DEIR does not say that car traffic will benefit, in Los Angeles advanced bus lines have lead to measurable decreases in traffic congestion. And Temescal has its own freeway exit – cars, particularly through traffic, can simply go around Telegraph. Telegraph has excess capacity, like West Grand, like 27th, both streets that recently lost a car traffic lane with no ill effects on congestion. And in those cases, the narrowed street did not benefit from transit improvements anywhere as significant as BRT. In LA, BRT ridership has vastly exceeded expectations. AC Transit’s ridership estimates are underestimated, and the congestion impact is therefore overestimated. Car traffic is like water – it finds a way. In the case of Temescal, that way is the freeway.

  33. Chris Kidd

    dto, you reference LA’s BRT as an example of reduced traffic congestion. I was under the impression that the BRT in LA (well, at least the BRT in the valley) was run in alleyways dedicated solely to BRT. If that’s the system you’re referencing, I think it’s an inapt comparison. No traffic lanes were converted to BRT lanes in the San Fernando valley (for the sections I’ve ridden), while BRT would convert traffic lanes up here. It’d kinda be apples and oranges to speak of their reduced traffic congestion since they didn’t sacrifice any city streets.

    Not trying to hate on the BRT here (I think it rocks). Is there perhaps another LA BRT section I don’t know about that did convert traffic lanes while still reducing congestion?

  34. dto510

    Chris, dedicated lanes aren’t a “sacrifice,” it’s just traffic management. Oakland removes traffic lanes all over town for various reasons and nobody gets upset about it – only when it’s coupled with a bus improvement do people get upset.

    I am not familiar with the details of LA’s system. I know that they’re studying taking a lane away from Wilshire right now. The alleys in the Valley are city streets that people use, so traffic space was removed for the bus. We don’t have that option because we don’t have redundant streets in our layout (because our streets were laid out for the streetcar systems).

    No matter what, people will claim that nothing is an apt comparison because no city is exactly like Oakland. It’s the same argument you hear about why we shouldn’t expect that good police management can decrease crime, because even though virtually every other city in country does it, we are unique and impossible. But we can draw a lot of lessons from LA. The main one is that people will leave their cars for the bus if it’s reliable enough. No way are LA residents less wedded to their cars than Oaklanders and Berkeleyans.

  35. Chris Kidd

    dto,

    We’re on the same side here, but you’re just wrong in equating the BRT in the San Fernando Valley with that proposed for here. There are surely better, more similar BRT plans to use as a metric. To keep trotting out the LA example opens you up to anti-BRT folks using it to refute your arguments.

    The removal of 2 lanes in a 4-6 lane thoroughfare is *completely* different than converting a 2-lane alley into a BRT route. The only place I could find photo examples of the alleyway BRT are on a hyper-anti BRT website calling for light rail instead. Let’s just ignore their vitriol and look at the layout in the images for proof:

    http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_brt_2006-10a-2.htm

    No additional lanes, no sidewalks, the buildings come right up to the lanes and have no frontages – they’re just the blank backs of buildings. To claim that the differences between the two should be ignored because Oaklanders are hyper-sensitive about their uniqueness (ZOMG!! Oaklandis totes diffferent!!11!) is disingenuous.

    Rather, let’s look for success stories that more closely mirror the BRT that AC Transit is looking to implement. Or maybe point out how god-awful Enhanced Bus Transit could be as an alternative. All you need to do is look across the bay and see what a sh*t-show Market street can be for bus riders at rush hour.

  36. Becks

    Chris – You’re right about LA’s BRT system (at least the Orange Line). Someone at Jane Brunner’s BRT forum brought this up as well, arguing that it’s not fair to compare the lines. Jim Cunradi from AC Transit had an excellent response, which was to bring up the Eugene, OR model. There, BRT takes up a lane of streets that were previously two lane streets, turning them into one lane streets. Merchants in Eugene (and in many other cities) were initially resistant to BRT but now love it because they’ve seen it increase their business, especially by making the neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly.

    No current BRT system is going to be an exact match to AC Transit’s proposal, but I think a lot can be learned from the projects in LA, Eugene, and elsewhere. What’s particularly relevant about the LA BRT line is that in a city where people have been transit resistant for decades (and entirely underserved by transit), tens of thousands of commuters were willing to ditch their cars to commute by bus. As someone who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, this was both shocking and heartening to me. If LA drivers can make the change, I think Oakland and East Bay drivers can do the same.