Urban planning

Council approaches BRT “study” decision

Alan Tobey, a citizen of Berkeley since 1970, has been closely following the plans for Bus Rapid Transit in Berkeley. He reports on the latest developments:

FMG Architects

In 2001, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved its choice for an AC Transit “major improvement” project: Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph Avenue and on into Downtown. Only nine years later, the Council will soon choose the details of what may actually be built.

Bus Rapid Transit is said to improve service by increasing reliability, frequency and speed, and it supports Berkeley’s current “transit first” policy; but its claim of precedence over some traditional private auto convenience has created a vigorous opposition.

On March 23 the Council will be “presented” with “build” choices recommended by the Transportation and Planning Commissions for BRT’s Locally Preferred Alternatives (LPA), to be used by AC Transit in producing the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. On April 20 the final LPA choices will be approved.  Once this FEIS is certified late this summer, Berkeley (and Oakland and San Leandro, also part of the same project) will decide on the project itself.

Though you’d never know it from the comments of BRT opponents at recent public meetings, this LPA step is not about whether to approve the final construction of a project. It only controls what will be studied in the FEIS: what negative impacts the project might create in the context of the benefits, how those negative impacts could be mitigated (eliminated or reduced), and what variants are viable. The FEIS will also analyze a “no build” alternative and a near-no-build scenario call Rapid Bus Plus.

Up to now only “impacts” were described by AC Transit in the draft FEIS, which have been used by BRT opponents as ammunition. The inclusion of potential mitigations and alternatives, along with a now-required consideration of greenhouse gas emissions related to the project, should provide a better basis for a more balanced community discussion this fall.

Although there are many relevant details that still may change, the shape of the overall build-LPA package is starting to be visible. There is now one set of “commissions” recommendations plus a new set of comments from staff that favor some different alternatives on parts of the route.  There are four segments that will each get separate consideration. Headline items and alternatives for each are as follows:

Oakland border to Dwight Way. The only build scenario to be studied will be the provision of exclusive center-running bus lanes in both directions on Telegraph, connecting with a presumed identical configuration in Oakland.

Dwight Way to Bancroft. Both the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission voted to recommend no exclusive bus lanes on this segment, but instead want to change the street to two-way, with mixed BRT and auto traffic in both directions. City transportation staff have written a “rationale” for leaving current Telegraph unchanged here, with southbound BRT buses running on Dana Street from Bancroft in a bus-only lane.

Telegraph to Downtown. Both commissions and the city staff recommend the conversion of Bancroft and possibly Durant to two-way traffic, with BRT and auto traffic running in both directions on Bancroft. Lane configurations, changed traffic flow and concerns over how and where a long BRT bus can make the needed right turn to go southbound would be left for the study.

Shattuck Avenue in Downtown. Both commissions recommend a “build” alternative for study here (favoring prominent center-street stations — see sketch, above right) even though parallel studies as part of deciding the Downtown Area Plan and as part of the SOSIP (Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan) process are still ongoing.The staff report provides its brief “rationale” for considering only small “raised platform stations” at right-side curb stops.

Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting didn’t resolve the differences, but only become entangled in possible differences between federal and state environmental law about the degree to which “alternatives” such as both the commission and staff scenarios could be included in the FEIR. Staff and some commissioners will try to resolve these technicalities before the Council meeting.

Even those council members currently skeptical of BRT as a project seem to be conceding that a thorough build-option study, guided by the city’s LPA choices, is essential at this point. The release of the ensuing FEIS, with hundreds of pages of juicy detail for proponents and opponents to use as ammunition, will significantly define the political end-game expected for the late fall.

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  • Anna Field

    Dwight Way to Bancroft: Telegraph Ave. is a two-lane one-way street, northbound, ending at Bancroft, which is also a two-lane one-way street. This is a crucial point and an important reason not to have any buses at all on Telegraph Ave.

    Due to heavy pedestrian usage of the Bancroft Telegraph Ave. pedestrian walkway all day by students (walkway from Sather Gate in front of campus to the Telegraph Ave. entrance) this area is the most consistently congested traffic and pedestrian area of Telegraph Ave. The BRT should not add to the congestion due to the fact that a left turn here is dangerous to pedestrian and auto traffic since buses are long and turning is difficult in this cramped area.

    The BRT is a good idea; but, only if BRT doesn’t use Telegraph Ave. There are severe problems for all merchants, as well as the 125 street vendors if the BRT’s current plan to change Telegraph Ave. into two-way street with one lane exclusively for buses and loading and and the other lane for automobile traffic.

    Here are more problems to consider: Garbage pickup is at the most congested time of day early evening. Are the buses going to have to wait for the garbage truck, UPS and FedEx trucks and various food and other service trucks along the avenue; not to mention, stores such as Rasputin Records, Amoeba Record, Mars Mercantile — depend on customers who unload directly in front of their stores. These shops will lose business and this loss will impact Telegraph Avenue overall. Also the street vendors need to load and unload all along the 4 block Telegraph Ave corridor twice a day. I doubt that anyone can load or unload a vehicle in 3 minutes — in time to avoid blocking bus traffic in the bus and loading lane.

    Also bicyclists should be aware that Telegraph Ave is too narrow to put a bike lane in. Consider Car exhaust and bus exhaust alone. How could bicyclists ride directly next to a bus lane or a very slow moving single lane for autos? The pollution would be terrible because a single lane of auto traffic would slow traffic to a standstill at every stoplight. Fumes would be affecting bicyclists, pedestrians, street vendors and stores. Will the buses really be able to keep their schedule under these conditions; and, one other very important reason not to have BRT on Telegraph Ave is the fact that the buses, every 5 minutes, will throw up a tremendous amount of dirt into the air. This is an absolute fact that would have significant impact on anyone on the sidewalks, including cafe shops open to the sidewalks. BRT on Telegraph is already a problem for pedestrians,bicyclists, service trucks merchants and street vendors.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in traffic on Telegraph Ave. It is highly dangerous to ride a bicycle on Telegraph Ave. During peak hours a bicyclist must somehow ride in between the two lanes going one-way. Creating a bike lane would also add to the already existing problem of no more space and would force Telegraph Ave to create a second bike lane going the opposite direction if Telegraph Ave. was a two-way Street. Bicyclists should walk their bikes on the sidewalk on Telegraph Ave and use the existing bike lane on Channing Way; cross Telegraph Ave and turn left at the next corner and continue to Bancroft if the University is their destination; or if they must be on Telegraph Ave; walk their bikes on the sidewalk.

    Consider also that Telegraph Ave is a one way street and bicyclists can only move in the same direction as autos. Many bicyclists ride the wrong way on Telegraph, which is illegal and dangerous to themselves and a hazard to vehicles.

    Consider, also, the environmental impact a change would have on the historically significant ambiance of Telegraph Ave. The history of street vending and small businesses in a unique setting would be, forever, lost. We would not be able to restore this unique atmosphere after the damage is done. If the City of Berkeley would make permits to operate businesses easier to get there would be more business on Telegraph Ave.

    If we want Telegraph to be a better place we should concentrate on keeping Telegraph Ave a person- friendly place to shop and a clean safe environment for all who work and shop there. Consider, also Emergency Vehicles and Police Vehicles. How are they going to park and where are they going to park if the BRT plan is instigated? Can an emergency vehicle squeeze into a single lane of creeping autos and what about the stoplight? How is a police or other emergency vehicle (ambulance) going to park; either in the bus lane or in the auto lane and, if it is a two-way, street, then, imagine the confusion in case of emergency. Will the buses come to a standstill while this is happening and miss their deadlines; thus obstructing other buses from meeting their deadlines?

    Instead of going Southbound between Haste and Telegraph an alternate route should be implemented for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. They cannot widen Telegraph Ave. in order to actuate their plan without narrowing the sidewalks to the point of congestion and danger to pedestrians and to the detriment of shops . I propose a left turn on Haste Ave. and a right turn on Dana and then left on Bancroft. Bus stops could be created on Haste St. at that corner and on the Dana St. corner. There is already a bus stop on Bancroft . An alternate route should be proposed.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Anna, this is a bit off topic about your main thesis about BRT but I want to respond to you when you write: “Bicycles should not be allowed in traffic on Telegraph Ave. It is highly dangerous to ride a bicycle on Telegraph Ave. During peak hours a bicyclist must somehow ride in between the two lanes going one-way.”

    You are talking about a small segment of Telegraph, of course. And, about that segment, you are only partly correct.

    You are correct that that part of Telegraph can be a pretty tricky ride. I would not recommend it to a rider who lacked confidence and alertness.

    You are completely incorrect that “a bicyclist must somehow ride in between the two lanes going one way”.

    On the contrary, in that section of Telegraph, the wise cyclist simply (and legally) *takes a lane*. That is, one rides down the center of a lane, clearly blocking cars from passing them in that lane. This is proper, legal, and probably the safest way to handle that part of the road.

    In my experience of that segment of road, that’s more or less the only safe-ish way to handle it. The main two dangers that then arise are from the large amount of double-parking that occurs on Telegraph, and the occasional driver who decides to respond to this circumstance by deliberately menacing you with their car. Banning cyclists from that part of Telegraph would be a peculiar cure for those illegal activities by non-cyclists.

    (Cyclists riding the wrong way there, as you mention some do, get no sympathy from me.)

  • Anna Field

    Thomas- I didn’t mean to sound harsh concerning bicycles on Telegraph. There is no bike lane and is it somewhat unsafe to ride there. The road is too narrow for bike lanes. I definitely would not wish to ban cyclists from Telegraph Ave. I am more concerned for cyclists ‘ safety. Anna

  • Anna Field

    regarding BRT: I apologize for several mistakes I made in my first letter. The first line which says ” Southbound ” should read “northbound”. The second mistake at the end of the letter on alternate routes – Dana is a one-way street southbound so that route is impossible. The alternate route should be Telegraph Ave. to Dwight Way -turn right – go to Bowditch St – turn left- go to Bancroft Ave- turn left- follow Bowditch Ave to bus stops on Bowditch Ave. Anna

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Anna: no sweat – I didn’t take you as “harsh” at all. Sorry if I seemed harsh in reply. I was just nitpicking and riding some favorite hobby horses (e.g., cyclists shouldn’t be jerks in ways like riding the wrong ways; motorists shouldn’t be jerks like when some of them deliberately menace bikes with a deadly weapon; delivery people and others shouldn’t be jerks who double park on narrow busy streets; and cyclists should learn to take lanes when appropriate. I’ve heard that there is even an “urban biking” class in that other City across the bay that teaches “lane taking” as a safety measure.)

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