Transportation

Merchants ask AC Transit to revise Line 51 plans

Proposed changes along the Line 51 route in Berkeley. (Click to view larger.) Image: AC Transit
Proposed changes along the Line 51 route in Berkeley. (Click to view larger.) Image: AC Transit

Berkeley business owners took AC Transit to task last week for what they described as the agency’s failure to communicate as it moves ahead with proposed changes on the Line 51 route designed to speed up and improve bus service.

Proposed changes along the route — which are still very much in the draft stage — include possible parking space removal during peak times, the relocation or removal of some stops, the installation of “bus bulbs,” and, at College Avenue and Russell Street, a new traffic signal. (See a map of the proposed changes here.)

AC Transit held two community meetings about the proposal in late August, and presented an overview of the Line 51 project to Berkeley’s Transportation Commission on Thursday. AC Transit is scheduled to return to the commission in November, then go on to the Berkeley City Council in December or January. The council will ultimately need to approve the changes for them to take place. (Scroll to the bottom of this story to view maps that show each proposed change.)

Merchants said they were concerned about the loss of parking on University Avenue and in the Elmwood District. AC Transit is proposing the conversion of some parking spaces along the route into a travel lane during peak hours; agency reps said they did not have exact numbers on how many spaces could be affected.


Ellen Lasher, of Al Lasher’s Electronics, at 1734 University, said, in addition to how the loss of parking could affect customers, she is also worried about how the removal of the parking lane could affect pedestrians on the sidewalk, who would no longer have a barrier between where they walk and street traffic. That could leave them vulnerable to traffic accidents on University should a vehicle, for example, get pushed onto the sidewalk.

Maulin Chokshi, of Bombay Jewelry Company, at 1042 University, said he and other merchants in the area had collected 300 signatures from people opposed to AC Transit’s proposed parking changes. (Chockshi has been involved with the University Avenue Association since 1993, and has been the group’s president for the past five years.) He also criticized AC Transit for failing to provide detailed information about the proposals in a timely manner. Chokshi said he was told at one of AC Transit’s late August meetings that more information would be posted online about, for example, how many parking spots on University could be affected.

“They said they were going to put that up on the website a week after the meeting,” he said. “We’re talking nearly the end of October and the information still isn’t out there. And he [an AC Transit staffer] is just talking about putting it up maybe next week. That information should have been out there already.”

Chokshi and others said AC Transit should have done more outreach to local business owners to explain the proposal and get their feedback. Several Elmwood District merchants, including Jason Wayman, of Elements at 2937 College Ave., was one of them.

Wayman said he had handed an AC Transit representative a letter in late August from more than 30 merchants in the district who are concerned about proposed traffic changes. Wayman also said he had emailed and left messages with him.


“We’ve had no communication,” he said. “No response, no call, no email, no letter.”

The letter from the merchants questioned the need for a traffic signal at College and Russell, and said said they wholly oppose the elimination of parking and a much-needed loading zone in the district to make way for right-turn lanes, a protected left-turn and other changes.

Merchants said Russell is not a busy intersection, particularly because it’s closed to through-traffic on both sides of College, and would be ill-served by a traffic signal. Wayman said the stop sign there “probably saves lives” because it slows down drives who would otherwise speed through the area.

Said Daryl Ross of Caffe Strada: “I’m very concerned with the process. It feels a bit like putting the cart before the horse.” He noted that very limited information has been available for review, and said the proposed timeline to begin construction is coming up fast.

Other speakers said the possible relocation of a bus stop at University and Sacramento would make it very difficult for seniors with mobility issues who use the current stop to reach the proposed location.


AC Transit traffic engineer Wil Buller apologized to merchants for not getting in touch sooner, and said the agency plans to set up a special meeting with merchants to hear their ideas. Buller said AC Transit had received “a high volume of comments” from both merchants and individuals. He said that, though AC Transit had hoped to begin making changes to the route in January, public outreach that still needs to happen “is going to interfere with that quite possibly.”

AC Transit reps said a draft transportation study currently under review by Berkeley city staff will offer more insight into plans, and also that preliminary design plans (called “35% plans”) will also be available soon online.

AC Transit said the proposed changes would shave 7-8 minutes in each direction off the route in Berkeley, increase reliability, improve air quality, enhance ADA access and improve the “overall progression of traffic.”

The agency also plans to upgrade traffic signals along the corridor to increase coordination and efficiency.

Commissioners were sympathetic to the community concerns and asked AC Transit to return in November having done more outreach, and with more information in hand.

“I know you’re on a schedule, but you can’t sort of leap over the issues to make the schedule,” said Commissioner Terry Roberts.

Commissioners also asked for block-by-block estimates for time savings that would result from proposed changes along the route.

Added Commissioner Ghanya Thomas: “It sounds like there’s a bit of an issue in terms of communication and not reaching out with the residents.” She encouraged AC Transit to consider creating “a dedicated space,” such as a Facebook page, where community members could learn and weigh in. “It’s a bit old school to have meetings…. You need to reach out to the community more.”

Preliminary Proposed AC Transit Changes on Line 51

Information about the project can be found online. Community members can submit written comments to Tammy Kyllo, administrative coordinator for AC Transit, 1600 Franklin St., Oakland, Calif., 94612, or by email to planning@actransit.org. The planning department can be reached by phone at 510-891-4755.

Related:
Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
Parking losses, lane changes possible in Line 51 overhaul (08.26.13)
goBerkeley parking rules get final public review (for now) (08.08.13)
The Alameda in Berkeley to be put on ‘road diet’ (07.31.13)
2 goBerkeley public meetings on parking coming up (07.31.13)
Scorecard would help determine Measure M projects (07.18.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
City sets goBerkeley transportation program in motion (06.27.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Berkeley set for $12.7m in downtown transport grants (05.28.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)
Berkeley resident parking fees set to rise 30% (04.03.13)

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.