Why put BRT on Telegraph?

The complaint I hear most often about AC Transit’s BRT proposal is that it mimics the BART line. I find this claim utterly bizarre, and my immediate inclination is to dismiss such concerns as coming from people who obviously don’t use transit to travel the route and don’t really understand much, if anything, about bus service. And while it is true that this talking point doesn’t actually make any logical sense, and I don’t think public agencies should make decisions based on the will of the completely uninformed, I want to see BRT have buy-in from as broad a constituency as possible. So, in that spirit, I’m going to try to explain here why AC Transit wants to put BRT along Telegraph and International.

It’s pretty basic, really. The answer is because that’s where people are and where they want to go. And do go. In cars, on BART, and, yes, also on the bus. In fact, so many people use the bus to travel along the corridor, that the trips AC Transit passengers make along this corridor on Telegraph, Broadway, Shattuck, and International account for almost 20% of their entire ridership. Um, did you catch that? Nearly one-fifth of all the rides on all the AC Transit buses – and remember, it’s a big freaking district (PDF) – happen on this corridor. And to put that number in a little more perspective, you might be interested to know that AC Transit buses on this corridor carry more people than the entire light rail system in Santa Clara County, and the entire light rail system in Sacramento. It’s a lot of people. And if all those people thought, for whatever reason, the BART served their needs better than the bus, they’d be taking it instead.

So, who are all these people using these buses? And where are they going? Mostly, they’re people who live along the route. 320,000 people live in this corridor, and 40% of all Oakland residents live within half a mile of the proposed BRT route. And while the route covers a wealth of entertainment and culinary destinations, the reality is that most of them are going to work. How handy, then, that the route hits almost all of the East Bay’s major employment centers.

And since I know my readers are a curious bunch, here they are, in order of the number of jobs they supply: Oakland City Center, Oakland Kaiser Center/Uptown, UC Berkeley, Downtown Berkeley, Oakland Chinatown/Old Oakland, Oakland County Buildings/Laney College, Pill Hill, and downtown San Leandro. Now, that isn’t all of the East Bay’s major employment centers (Oakland Airport, San Leandro industrial area, for example, aren’t served), but it is almost all of them. Plus, you’ve got 42,000 combined students at UC Berkeley and Laney College.

So we’ve got a whole lot of people needing to get a whole lot of places. Problem is, mixed-traffic operation means than bus service just keeps getting worse. Rising traffic congestion reduces bus speeds, and with it, reliability. The problem is only augmented by steadily increasing ridership, which, due to the way people accumulate at stops while waiting, slows the bus down and degrades service speed and reliability even more. After a while, degrading performance leads people to stop using transit, because they can’t trust it to get them where they need to go. So the goal here is two-fold: improve service for existing transit users AND draw drivers onto the bus by offering reliable and time-competitive service. And that’s something you simply can’t do on this route as long as the bus operates in mixed traffic.

Since the service demand along this corridor is so great, it wouldn’t make any sense for AC Transit to make their first major investment anywhere else. I hear people talk about San Pablo, but the fact is that San Pablo just doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of demand or need. The population density is significantly smaller than along Telegraph – less than half in many spots – and it doesn’t hit the major employment centers of downtown Berkeley, UC Berkeley, or Pill Hill. The street also has enough spare capacity that congestion hasn’t degraded bus service in quite the same way, so BRT there wouldn’t provide marked improvements over enhanced bus service (the 72R) in the way it will on Telegraph.

The only logical options for the northern portion of the route are College Avenue/Broadway or Telegraph Avenue. AC Transit’s major investment study estimated that a Broadway alignment would result in more riders (300 more boardings per day than Telegraph, which is essentially negligible), but using Telegraph would result in significantly reduced construction, congestion, and parking impacts. Also, it would cost less. Telegraph also yields better improvements in travel time and service reliability (mostly because of that insanely congested single-lane stretch of College).

So I hope that makes it clear why we would want to put BRT along Telegraph/International in the first place. Now, a little bit about BART. For starters, only a few points on this route actually have BART service. There’s a big difference, and one that a lot of people don’t seem to understand, between routes being similar service being similar. The BART stations along this line are as much as three miles apart from one another. Here’s a map:

For a bigger version, click here (PDF).

Let’s go back to the ride that inspired my reliability post*. I was traveling from downtown Oakland to 46th and Foothill. That’s like, a three block walk from my bus stop at 46th and International. The closest BART station is Fruitvale, at East 12th and 34th, over a mile away. That might be a fine walk for some people, but it isn’t one I’m particularly eager to make in four inch heels, and one I’m even less interested in making when I’m returning home after dark. And it’s the same way for all sorts of people with all sorts of destinations all along the route. I’ll say it again, because I just don’t think it can be said enough. If service on the 1 route actually duplicated BART service, it would not be one of the bus highly used bus routes in the entire Bay Area.

So, no, the line really doesn’t duplicate BART. Yes, it mirrors the BART route, in the exactly same way that the freeway mirrors the surface streets of Telegraph and International. But if you tried to argue that the freeway renders makes Telegraph and International unnecessary for cars, everyone would laugh at you. As they should. (Actually, since there are more frequent opportunities for freeway egress than there are BART stations, the streets are more redundant than BRT following this line of reasoning.)

People who live in downtown Berkeley and work in downtown San Leandro are not likely to stop using BART and ride BRT to work instead. BART is designed for distance commuting. But there are plenty of people who live along the BRT route who right now drive to say, MacArthur BART and ride it to their jobs in downtown Oakland. BRT would likely poach some of these riders, and that isn’t a bad thing. As Art pointed out in a comment on my last BRT post, BART is experiencing serious capacity issues during peak hours, so the system would actually benefit if AC Transit could relieve some of the more local burden.

*: I was happy to see the reliability was the word of the week with respect to BRT last week. If you missed them, make sure you check out Becks’s post about Jane Brunner’s BRT meeting and dto510′s sweet op-ed in the Berkeley Daily Planet. For another perspective on the subject, check out the BRT post on Oakland Space Academy.

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49 thoughts on “Why put BRT on Telegraph?

  1. Julie

    The AC Transit website lists 24,000 patrons per day currently in this corridor out of a total of 227,000 which is about 11%. Do you have more detailed data with different numbers that you could provide a link to?

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Julie, that’s the ridership number for the existing local service 1 route, not for total bus ridership along the corridor. With BRT, the local routes along College/Broadway and Shattuck would still exist, but since the lines duplicate service to major employment centers and points of key population density, BRT would poach some of those riders. (For example, right now, if you want to go from downtown Oakland or Berkeley to Temescal, you can use either the 18 or the 1. If you want to travel from UC Berkeley or downtown Oakland to Pill Hill, you can use the 1 or the 51 or the 18.) You can read more about the factors weighed in the decision to pursue BRT along this route here (PDF).

  3. Julie

    Thanks for the link. The AC Transit website says 24,000 is the corridor ridership.

    “The East Bay Bus Rapid Transit Project has the following corridor-wide projections:
    Increased corridor ridership–From 24,000 to 49,000 patrons per day in 2025!”

    But their numbers are all screwed up. In the pdf you provided the link to, it says:

    “With Enhanced Bus service, Total Corridor Boardings would increase to about 54,000 in 2020

    · BRT would attract about 30 to 40 percent more daily boardings than Enhanced Bus (60,000 Total Corridor Boardings”

    That’s an 11% increase, not 30 to 40%. Makes you wonder if they did the math right on any of this.

  4. dto510

    Julie, the numbers you cite above are increases over existing service, not increased service versus the alternatives. I know that many people think that every last inch of asphalt belongs solely to cars and shouldn’t be given to buses or bikes or widened sidewalks, but AC Transit is not getting their math wrong.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Julie, now that AC Transit has selected and is pursuing a specific route, the current BRT promotional website is using the term “corridor” differently than in the Major Investment Study and the way I’m using it here. This post is about the genesis of the decision to pursue BRT along the corridor, so that’s why I discuss the entire service corridor at the beginning of the post, then move onto the specific 1 route later.

    The math in the document is correct, you’re just talking about two different measurements. The 30-40% increase described is not indicative of total corridor boardings, it’s a measure of boardings for the new service. (The definitions of these terms are clearly explained in the paragraph at the beginning of the page you’re quoting from.) The total corridor boardings (that’s riders on the new service line plus riders on local services on the corridor) is estimated to be 54,2000 with Enhanced Bus versus 60,100 with BRT. But the boardings for the new service are estimated to be 21,200 with Enhanced Bus and 27,600 with BRT (30% higher). The 40% would have been if they put BRT on College/Broadway, which was rejected for reasons I explain in the post.

  6. Robert


    A minor correction, BART is experiencing serious capacity issues only in the transbay tube and in a couple of stations in the city. The Berkeley to San Leandro line is not at capacity, so diverting riders from BART to BRT does not help BART.

  7. dto510

    Robert, BART is coming close to capacity at stations in Oakland that are along the BRT route, and as time goes on, that will only get worse. BRT very much helps BART, just as the freeways and underused surface streets in North Oakland will help car drivers who will lose a few feet of Telegraph. Also, since Oakland users of BART subsidize the system for suburban commuters with fares that more than cover their own costs, diverting passengers away from BART is a more efficient use of regional transit subsidies, from the Oakland perspective. Not from Fremont’s.

  8. Julie

    dto510: I’m hurt – I actually support BRT, but feel the math is important if AC Transit is to choose the best option.

    V Smoothe: Thanks for the clarification. In my defense, the pdf says 30 -40% more “daily boardings”, which corresponds equally well to the 3 terms defined in the first paragraph.

    Where does the 20% of entire ridership come from? I’m still not seeing that.

  9. V Smoothe Post author

    Robert, my understanding was that Embarcadero and Montgomery are at capacity right now, but that the agency is also seriously concerned right now about long-term ridership growth (looking forward to the time when BRT would be operational) stretching system-wide capacity limits.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Julie –

    Yeah, the language could be clearer. You have to look at the charts on the following page to understand what they’re referring to.

    20% of AC Transit’s ridership travels along the whole corridor. Right now, that’s the entire 1 route, plus the portion of the 51 and the 18 routes between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland. Now, those routes aren’t identical, but they do hit a lot of the same major destinations and points of population density – downtown/UC Berkeley, Pill Hill, and Temescal (for the 18 and 1). So this the reason you want to put BRT there, instead of, say, along San Pablo. Because BRT will serve not only existing 1 riders and totally new transit users, but also current 51 and 18 riders going to the major destinations along the route, which relieves some of the ridership burden on those buses. That’s why the ridership increase for BRT service specifically is different than the ridership increase for total corridor boardings.

  11. dto510

    Sorry Julie, I am quite used to anti-BRT and anti-bus people looking for any minor excuse to justify their greed for asphalt, even though Telegraph is duplicated by the freeway and by countless surface streets, and buses are expected to carry more than one-fifth of ALL passengers (including car and BART trips) along this corridor if BRT is fully implemented. It makes me a bit edgy in these discussions.

  12. annoyed

    I understand the concern about the mess from construction and the fear that fewer stops will mean less shoppers for businesses along the ROW. But this is an opportunity for AC and the city to partner on how to make this work. They are partnering on this, right? Or is this the usual myopic approach to transportation that Oakland typically assumes? I would hope that the City would identify transit nodes where housing or other TOD could occur.

    While I am venting, I am so not voting for any more bond measures or fees or tax hikes that go to agencies that can’t manage their business. Furthermore, at a time when the economy is in near free fall, piling on more debt to the state or dumping more expense on property owners is not something I want to do.

    Also, I am not voting for Rebecca Kaplan or Kerry Hamill. You don’t reward incompetence by giving someone a promotion. The schools are a mess and now that they have some local control, the board doesn’t have the courage to close schools. With almost a third of enrollent down since the 1990′s, it is irresponsible not to close schools.

    And with AC in the same financial mess they’ve been in for decades, I have to wonder how they are still struggling for funding after all this time and have not come up with any viable plan to address their long term structural deficit . They need to find the most economical way to procure vehicles like piggybacking on other transit agency’s procurments in order to cut costs. AC riders are suing MTC (wink wink) over AC not getting its fair share of regional funding but they have wasted a fortune on the Van Hools which are horrible to ride on and horrible to drive. Other agencies have come up with out of the box ways to pay for operating expenses and all AC can think of is getting more funds from property owners. I’m not anti tax but AC has been pretty clueless for too many years.

    The at-large in Oakland can stay vacant for all I care. I’m not voting for either of these two. We don’t need more incompetence on the City Council. Let them stay where they are.

  13. Robert

    V, I am sure you are correct that in the long run, there will be additional capacity problems on BART. But any solution to the capacity at the two stations you mentioned, and the limits on actual trains going through the tube, is likely to have impacts on capacity in the rest of the BART system. And until BART is closer to figuring out how to deal with the major issue, it would be really speculative to project capacity problems on the rest of the system. Right now, Richmond-Fremont has available capacity.

    But again, this really donsn’t have a significant impact on your argument for BRT.

  14. Robert

    Julie, V is correct in her explanation of the transit boarding numbers. The most important number to take out of the MIS and the EIR is the number of net new boardings for AC Transit. This is the number of trips people make on the bus that they used to take by car, or BART, or didn’t take at all. The numbers have changed a little over the years, but if I remember, the draft EIR gives about 9000 net new boardings throughout the entire corridor (the BRT route and the parallel streets.)

  15. Robert

    dto, BART ridership at the 12th Street station in Oakland is only 1/3 of that at Embarcadero and Montgomery, so I don’t know where you got your information that the Oakland stations are near capacity (all other Oakland stations are even lower.) And 12th Street is a two platform operation so should have higher capacity than the SF stations.

    I don’t know what ‘underused’ surface streets in N Oakland you are thinking of, but I don’t think diverting traffic from Telegraph to the close by residential streets will go over all that well.

  16. Becks

    V – thanks for this post. I think you make some very compelling arguments as to why choosing this corridor for BRT makes sense.

    dto, BART ridership at the 12th Street station in Oakland is only 1/3 of that at Embarcadero and Montgomery, so I don’t know where you got your information that the Oakland stations are near capacity (all other Oakland stations are even lower.)

    Robert – I’m assuming you’re referring to BART’s statistics on exits from stations (PDF). It’s true that the exit rate from 12th Street is about a 1/3 of some SF stations. But the exit rate is not what matters. What matters is how many people are actually on a train as it passes through a given station. I don’t have any statistics on this (please tell me where to find them if they’re available), but trains at the 12th Street station are packed! When I ride BART, it’s usually during the evening rush hour from 12th Street. Not only is there never room to sit on trains – it seems that lately there’s little room to stand. The train’s are not at capacity but they are getting uncomfortably full.

    Once the BRT line is built, I’ll probably stop using BART altogether for travel within the East Bay. I think others will reduce their BART use as well, which will have a positive benefit for BART riders and our transit system as a whole.

  17. BT

    …And until BART is closer to figuring out how to deal with the major issue, it would be really speculative to project capacity problems on the rest of the system. Right now, Richmond-Fremont has available capacity.

    Robert, I used to commute daily from Fremont to 19th St. This isn’t very scientific , but from my daily experience those 6 car trains can get packed through to 12th St in the morning. Plus the Richmond-Fremont line allows bikes without restrictions at peak times, except for the blackout at 12th and 19th St. Add bikes on a standing room only train = good times.

    I agree with Beck, that line may not be at official capacity, but it feels like it.

  18. Robert

    The fact that they are only running 6 car trains on Richmond to Fremont is exact the evidence that they are not at capacity. they add the 4 more cars possible to those trains and suddenly they are not packed any more. Also, they can still easily add more frequent trains to the Richmond Fremont line, adding still more capacity. You would have to ask BART how they decide how many trains to run and how long those trains are.

    The full trains in DTO are actually caused by reaching system capacity through the tube. During rush hour every train going through the tube is packed, so you would expect them to still be full in DTO. Station capacity really is how many people can fit on the platform.

  19. New Resident

    Robert everyone is discussing TRAIN CAPACITY not station capacity. Frankly all BART stations are way under real station capacity. Unless some engineer made up some random number of “seconds of waiting time at the fare gate” all stations could fit a lot more people.

    The problem is that there is no more room on the trains for people to stand on some car; not enough doors (dumb two door per car design); and no more spare cars to add to the system (State robbed enough funding the last eight years to buy many cars) and BART cars are really expensive custom items (far more than BRT project cost). It does not matter how many are on the platform vs. platform capacity when the trains are full, as they can be at DTO.

    That said, I agree with doing an AC Transit project but we shouldn’t do BRT. AC Transit should switch from BRT to a streetcar system. Portland, Seattle, Little Rock, and even LA are showing the way. A streetcar system would provide all of the real benefits of a Light Rail system for less cost. Berkeley and San Leandro can pay the extra local match as they are full of the bellyaching NIMBYs. With Nancy, Obama, and Biden we should get plenty of matching funds for rail transit.

  20. dto510

    New Resident – BRT was chosen after AC Transit (and Berkeley) studied and rejected rail. Rail is much, much, much more expensive than BRT, and not as successful because its routes are limited. Streetcars are slower and hold fewer people than the bus. Streetcars take the lane space that anti-BRT people object to, so it really doesn’t address any issues besides an aesthetic one, which is a matter of taste. BRT has been in the planning stages for about eight years and a new president does not guarantee extra rail funds, certainly not on the scale it would require to make it anywhere close to the cost of advanced bus service. BRT is a superior system in many ways, and just because rail is pretty doesn’t mean that the federal government will switch from cost-effective transit subsidies (BRT and congestion pricing) to wildly inefficient rail systems.

    Streetcars offer fewer benefits and higher costs than BRT and don’t do anything for BRT opponents’ insatiable lust for asphalt. Don’t get me started on Portland’s system, and LA does not have streetcars and is not planning any, but is rolling out very successful BRT systems.

  21. New Resident

    Streetcars are slower??? Slower than 35 mph?? Slower acceleration than a diesel bus???
    Stop talking out your ass, no really… 70+ year old PCC cars show the utter ignorance of your assertions.

    I have been following the process since 2000-2001 and NO streetcars were not looked at then. The Portland system was exotic Czech trains that no one else used and were ineligible for Federal funds. Only full 60 mph LRT and “cheap fast” BRT were looked at.

    Well in 8 years what happened to “cheap, fast BRT” millions for EIRs, project costs have more than doubled, and no progress on construction. Meanwhile entire streetcar systems were planned and build while we waited for anything to happen here. BRT is often a scam in that it isn’t faster or even cheaper than rail over the long run. Check out the light rail now for their number and analysis. http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_brt.htm

    Going with a streetcar system (sharing ROW with select buses) would create a far higher-quality system than more would ride. That is the reality of US and world experience, people prefer rail and ride it more. The real core NIMBYs hate all transit, but a rail system would get a lot more support from people in the middle now.

    Now full Light Rail would be a waste as the trains never leave 35 mph streets, but streetcars were the overlooked option that should be picked now.

  22. V Smoothe Post author

    The streetcars in Portland at least go way slower than 35 mph. In fact, they go way slower than the buses. They’re awful.

    Also, the BRT project costs have not “more than doubled” and do you really think we wouldn’t have had to do an EIR for a streetcar? Please tell us more about these “entire streetcar systems” that have been planned and built between now and 2001. And how much did they cost?

  23. dto510

    Why would a colossally expensive rail system get more support from “people in the middle” than BRT, which is basically free? And why would more people ride rail than the bus, considering that BRT service is just as good as rail service?

    Portland’s streetcar is a total disaster. They don’t even have buses after midnight, but they spent millions on a showy streetcar that moves slower than walking. It’s a joke.

  24. Robert

    Dear NewResident,

    You really don’t need to shout at me when you are agreeing with me. My point was exactly that, that there is a system capacity issue (or train capacity issue if you will), mostly on the lines going to SF. While the Richmod/Fremont trains may be full during rush hour (I don’t actually know), that has a well understood, easy solution – add more cars to BART. True system capactiy on that line has not been reached. And at the last cost I saw of about $3M for a BART car, I think BART management could easily solve any current problems at a far lower cost than the $250M as a starting point for BRT.

    That said, ACTransit does not expect to poach a lot of riders from BART, which is why the whole discussion of BART capacity in this thread is somewhat meaningless.

  25. bikerider

    This is getting off topic with regard to BRT, however…BART does indeed have severe capacity issues, even for trips in and out of Oakland. As a short term measure, they are removing seats to increase vestibule space around doors. As a long term measure, their next-generation cars will have very different seating configuration, and probably 3 doors.

    BART planning figures indicate that (if long-term trends continue), 10-car trains will arrive at Rockridge station completely packed. Which means you won’t be able to take BART from North Oakland into downtown Oakland. Similarly, a lot of riders use SF-bound trains on the Richmond line trains to go from Berkeley into Oakland (and vice versa) — those trains will also reach saturation at some point.

    Finally, 12th St station reached its design limits long ago, due to SF trains arriving only at the lower level. It is the reason why bikes are banned from that station during commute hours.

  26. Max Allstadt

    Bikes on BART? During commute hours they should have one car without any seats on each train for bikers. Killing bike access during commute hours is downright stupid.

  27. Max Allstadt

    DTO, that shuttle is totally insufficient. If we really want to take advantage of bike power, why can’t you get on with a bike at West Oakland and get off at Embarcadero? Leave one empty car with no seats. If you do that, DTO and West O cyclists would only have to be in the system for 10 minutes each.

    A shuttle from MacArthur means people who live closer to SF than MacArthur have to back track. There has to be a way to safely get bikes onto the trains during rush hour.

  28. Robert

    The ACTransit numbers seem to bear out the idea that LRT would have greater acceptance and ridership that BRT, even thought he service levels are essentially the same. I don’t know that it costs much, much, more that BRT, the ACTransit numbers suggest it would be about twice the cost.

  29. bikerider

    If this were Germany or France, then you would have a valid point about using trams in this corridor. Unfortunately, AC Transit would have to operate under CA PUC rules, which leads to massive costs and other problems.

    LRT vehicles are extraordinarily heavy, requiring that the pavement be ripped out, utility relocation, etc, etc (whereas with BRT, all that is required is to stripe the words “Bus Lane”). For major intersections, the PUC could mandate all kinds of stupidity like crossing gates, “slow-orders”, horn-blowing, and even grade separations. Even to purchase an LRT vehicle is extremely complicated, with PUC mandating all kinds of stupid change orders to proven, existing designs.

  30. Even Newer Resident

    Sorry for being harsh with you Robert and dto510, that wasn’t necessary. I want AC Transit to use the delay caused by EIR and budget drama to switch to a better project. I didn’t mean to come out sounding all mean and McCain-y.

    @ Robert
    We agree that the trains are full but the Richmond line and Pittsburg/Baypoint line (the most full) trains are take everyone THROUGH DTO to get to the tube. Anyone not using those trains, especially the Pittsburg line ones helps.

    @ V
    Great great blog, on the budget issue you were right, I was wrong it didn’t double (just checked 2001 RTEP). However, on the speed issue you are wrong, the Skodas (what Portland bought) can go 70km/h, 43.5 mph see:

    Other streetcar designs can go even faster. If the Portland transit agency run them slower it is not the vehicles fault. I have ridden the Seattle SLUT^^^^ SLUS (Seattle Lake Union…. but not the Portland system so I can’t say first hand how fast they go.

    Sorry I went a little off on you when you made those false statement in your comment above. Check the links above about the capacities and speeds of just those two models. 155 and 279 people capacities and both over 40 mph (speed limit is 35 along the whole corridor). No bus can compete with those capacities.

    As for the ride quality and attractiveness of rail versus bus you may think it, “doesn’t address any issues besides an aesthetic one, which is a matter of taste..” and “why would more people ride rail than the bus, considering that BRT service is just as good as rail service?” but reality disagrees with your anti-rail, pro-bus view. Time after time the FTA has forced transit agencies to low-ball rail ridership because “BRT service is just as good as rail service” then the extra attractiveness of rail caused there to be a shortage of equipment. Happened in Denver, Utah, and Charlotte.

    As a matter of fact, the reverse happened in right here in Oakland exactly 60 years ago. The conversion of “old, inflexible” streetcars to “modern, fast” buses resulted in the loss of 40,000 passengers a day in the space of two months.
    See here:
    Think about that number 40,000 riders a day. Far, far more than the BRT is projected to gain, even after years.

    I believe that event, combined with the final end of the Key system in 1958 and the Freeways cut through to restore travel capacity, is what killed Oakland more than anything else over these past 60 years. Oakland’s arteries were ripped out and and the city chopped up and pollution and blight causing freeways. We need to go “back to the future” if the flatlands of Oakland are ever to recover.

  31. dto510

    ENR, I won’t disagree that losing streetcars to buses caused a huge decrease in transit ridership, but that doesn’t mean that replacing buses with streetcars will significantly increase ridership now, and of course streetcars are more expensive than buses.

    When I lived in Portland and the streetcar debuted, it was indeed slower than walking. Streetcars operate in mixed-flow lanes, so don’t offer the reliability and speed of BRT. Light-rail, which requires dedicated lanes, is very expensive and doesn’t offer any measurable benefit over BRT. Also, BRT has the flexibility to not use dedicated lanes in parts (ACT is not planning dedicated lanes in the DTO), and light rail does not.

    Light rail has already been studied and rejected for a variety of reasons, most significantly cost. BRT’s dedicated lanes could be replaced by light-rail in the future. Pining for rail is not a good reason to oppose an advanced bus system.

  32. New Resident

    Ok dto 510 and bikerider now I understand why we are talking past each other. Different definitions

    It is true that streetcars are generally in mixed traffic and Light Rail in dedicated right of way. But does are not always the case.

    The important difference to me is that streetcars and Light Rail are two different types of vehicles with vastly different weights. This means that streetcar tracks can be built much more cheaply that light rail using panel tracks and not doing expensive utility relocation.

    So, if you are making the dedicated lane with all that expense and EIR crap (no we spent 8 years in studies bikerider BRT is not just paint) why not put in the cheap streetcar track too instead of just pavement?

  33. Robert


    I am not sure what you re talking about in your comment to me. For costs and ridership, I was referring to ATTransits numbers they listed in the MIS. This study projected 11,300 new boardings for BRT and 15,200 for LRT. Costs in that report were $340M for BRT and $890M for LRT (2.6 fold greater) Cost per new boarding was $15.80 for BRT and $23.90 for LRT.

    I would have to agree with NR and ENR that ‘streetcars’ operating on dedicated ROW might actually be cost competitive with BRT if construction costs are lower than LRT. (I always thought that LRT was streetcars, but apparently LRT is something between streetcars and heavy rail such as BART.) That type of streetcar would likely have the increased passenger demand projected for LRT and thereby justify some increment in construction costs. It doesn’t look like this option was studied.

  34. New Resident

    Bikerider, all the stupidity you discuss regarding CA PUC and the FRA is true, BUT it applies to BRT too!

    The LA Orange line is slowed to something like 5-15 mph at “crossings” because they didn’t install crossing gates. That even though it is a bus on a road!

    Streetcars are smaller lighter vehicles that have less onerous requirements for weight than LRT vehicles because they never go 60-70 mph.

    It is a loophole in the stupidity, much like neighborhood electric vehicles have less requirements regarding crash tests, airbags, etc. because those vehicles never go above 25-35 mph.

    As for the “paint a line” myth, well that may work in South America but here we can’t add bike lanes to a street without an EIR and litigation (look at SF). To keep repeating that line about “a bucket of paint” is a lie until CEQA rules are reformed.

  35. New Resident

    p.s. Me and ENR are the same person but the spambot was blocking my posts so I was tricking the bot. Our wonderful blog hostess V fixed it now. Thanks V!

  36. Robert

    After taking another look at the numbers, BRT on Telegraph might make sense, but BRT in the southern segment makes no sense at all compared to Enhanced Bus. This is because BRT in the southern segment does not attract many more riders than Enhanced Bus alone, although BRT in the northern segment does attract a lot more riders. By the numbers, assuming that the northern segment is ½ or less the distance of the southern segment:

    EB, N $7500/daily new boarding
    EB, S $8600/daily new boarding

    To go from the capital costs for EB to BRT, and considering only the incremental increase in new boardings going from EB to BRT,

    BRT, N $10,800/additional daily new boarding
    BRT, S $200,000/additional daily new boarding

    So, it seems to me that BRT makes sense on the northern segment, but at 20 times the cost for each additional boarding it doesn’t make sense in the southern section.

    All numbers were taken from the ACTransit MIS or DEIR, except the cost for BRT, where I have used the much lower $250M number that has been bandied about in this blog. I could not find the actual route distances for the northern and southern segments, but the northern segment makes up less than 1/3rd of the total street miles. Construction costs are slightly lower on the southern segment, so I balanced out the two factors and estimated that construction costs in the northern segment made up 1/3rd of the total.

    Ridership, as net new corridor boardings relative to the baseline.

    EB N, 3552 – relative to do nothing
    EB S, 6152 – relative to do nothing
    BRT N, 8828 – relative to do nothing
    BRT N, 5300 – relative to EB
    BRT S, 6715 – relative to do nothing
    BRT S, 563 – relative to EB

    Enhanced Bus total capital cost $80M, so $27M for N and $53M for the S.
    BRT total capital cost $250M, or $170M relative to EB. So $57M for the northern section relative to EB, and $113M for the southern section. If the capital cost from the MIS is used for BRT the numbers are higher but don’t impact the conclusion.

    EB N = $27M/3552 = $7600
    EB S = $53M/6152 = $8600

    BRT (incremental to EB)
    BRT N = $57M/5300 = $10,800
    BRT S = $113M/563 = $201,000

  37. len raphael

    non quatitative question what mitagations are being negotiated by the BID’s etc for providing retali parking on Tele?

  38. bikerider

    New Resident:
    CPUC has no jurisdiction over BRT. Yes, the slowdown you describe on the Orange-line intersections was pretty idiotic, but there was no requirement for MTA to do it.

    Personally, TRUE low-floor streetcar tram (which does not exist in the USA) would be my preferred choice too, but the reality is that CPUC would figure out some way to screw it up, just like they have done with virtually every other transit project in CA.

  39. bikerider

    Robert suggests that because BRT would attract fewer new trips in the southern portion than the northern section, EB is sufficient for the southern stretch.

    Whether his numbers are even correct or not, I cannot say (without consulting the EIR), but the most likely explanation is that the southern segment runs through low-income, car-free areas that already have very high transit use. Indeed, my recollection is that existing 1R ridership shows this discontinuity quite dramatically. As well, the idea of doing exclusive BRT lanes along International has been almost completely uncontroversial (at least until you hit the San Leandro border) — most likely because people who live there tend to use the bus already.

    So, what it sounds like he is proposing is to not spend money building an upscale bus system for poor folks along International Blvd, but only do it for wealthier north Oakland and Berkeley. This is a very controversial proposition given the inequities that already exist in transit spending.

  40. Patrick

    At risk, I might also add that the southern portions of Telegraph, in addition to being high-ridership already, are “pass-through” areas for many people. The advantages of BRT must be expressed throughout its entire proposed length. Otherwise, much of the advantage is lost.

  41. BT

    I can’t believe how long this thread/post is. V, you hit a nerve.

    It is noteworthy how little opposition there is to BRT on International. bikerider makes a good point. That stretch will be extremely beneficial to current 1R riders.

  42. Robert

    The concept that folks south of DTO already make maximum use of transit doesn’t mesh with the increased ridership in that stretch when you go to EB. It is the increment from EB to BRT that does not appear to have perceived value in that segment.

    One of the justifications used by ACTransit for BRT is diverting people from their cars onto mass transit. BRT south of DTO does not seem to meet that opjective. And while I believe in social justice also, $100,000,000 seems like an awful lot of social justice money without a significant perceived benefit to the actual users.
    Just as a note, I was surprised by the numbers. I would have expected that there wold be greater use of BRT in the south segment, but that is not what the numbers say.

    While there may not be opposition in the south segment, that may be because the disruptions are less in that stretch. And just because the residenats don’t have a problem does not seem to justify, by itself, spending the money. It needs to provide value commensurate with the extra $100M.

    Patrick, ACTransit numbers suggest that less than 5% of the riders go from the south segment up to Berkeley. And that is total corridor trips, not just ACTransit. Your anecdotal observation may be correct, but the numbers ACTransit has provided won’t help clarify that. ACTransit breaks the north and south segments at approximately 12th and Broadway, and treats them as two separate segments in almost every analysis. As far as I can tell, the value added is independent in the two segments. This seems to be ACTransit deciding a priori that they want a single solution independent of possible different usage patterns.

  43. bikerider

    Perhaps I’m not understanding his point, but after reviewing the DEIR, I am unable to verify any of Robert’s figures above. In particular, Table 3.1-13 shows as many as 9,320 new transit trips for the “East oakland” segment over the “no-build alternative in 2025″. Note that the “no-build” alternative is Rapid bus (or what I think he is calling EB). This figure compares very favorably against the other segments, and also strongly implies that lots of trips involve more than just the southern segment.

  44. Robert

    My ridership numbers came from the MIS, Table 1.6. What you need to look at is the Increase in total corridor boardings. The numbers for New Dervice boardings include riders poached from other ACTransit lines and so do not represent an increase in ACTransit riders. The MIS represents projected 2020 ridership. Baseline condition for the MIS is before Rapid bus implementation.

    Your number of 9320 new boardings from the DEIR represents net new ACTransit boardings, but is the total new boarding in the WHOLE CORRIDOR, north and south. The column and row heads refer to alignment options, not segment boardings. The table title indicates that the numbers refer to region wide system boardings. The table is misleading, and in my mind it verges on deliberately misleading. The first time I read it I also thought the same thing you did, and was trying to gigure out why the numbers were different. The DEIR does not break out north and south segment ridership anywhere that I could find, which is why I pulled numbers from the MIS. Also, the MIS is the only comparison of EB to BRT and LRT.

    It is not totally clear to me the exact relationship between Rapid and the EB option. Rapid incorporates some but not all of the features of Enhanced Bus, and should probably be thought of as an intermediated between the MIS baseline and EB. Since the basline and projected years are both different for the MIS and the DEIR, and the basline operation itself is different in the two reports, it is impossible to compare ridership numbers between the reports.

  45. bikerider

    The MIS is a very old document, and cannot be used as a basis of comparison.

    People are welcome to look at the DEIR table and make their own conclusions. It is pretty clear to me that the conclusion is that BRT increases the net transit ridership in the East Oakland segment by as many as 9k. These are linked trips, which may involve trips between East Oakland and other areas, which is why it is termed “regional trips”.

    Finally, the DEIR defines the no-build alternative in a separate chapter, and is essentially EB. The AC Transit rep specifically addressed this issue in a number of meetings.

  46. Robert


    While the MIS is old, it is the only document that compares boardings on the north and south segments, and is also the only document that compares LRT to BRT. If you really think that it is old enough to be outdated, then the decision in the MIS is also outdated. I don’t actually think 5 years is all that much in the timeframe of transit system construction.

    The key word is ‘Regionwide’ Transit Trips, which should mean either the entire study corridor or the entire ACTransit Region. In the Summary the same number, 9300, is given as the increase in ‘Transit Sysytem’ ridership, which can only mean ridership an the entire ACTransit system in the context of the summary section (S.9.2). I suggest you go back and look again at the DEIR, incuding definitions and footnotes.

    The DEIR no-build does not include (apparently) queue jump and some of the IT improvements used by EB and BRT. It is not clear what IT improvements are left out, but the lack of queue jump alone makes the Rapid system not fully comparable to EB. For purposes of comparing the north and south segments, this isn’t important, since the DEIR does not give the appropriate north and south ridership numbers.

    P.S. Working in an industry where this comes up a lot, essentially is a very fuzzy word. It tends to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. You really have to nail down what the actual differences are when somebody uses this word.