Intersections along AC Transit’s Line 51 bus route in Berkeley may see upgrades, if approved by city staff, designed to improve traffic signal timing coordination and allow signals to better recognize when vehicles are waiting for a green light.
The changes are part of a larger plan by AC Transit to speed up and improve service on Line 51. Thursday night, Berkeley’s Transportation Commission approved the signal changes as Phase 1 of the project. City transportation staff said they will take a closer look at those proposals before giving AC Transit the final go-ahead.
More controversial changes under consideration — such as a new traffic light at Russell Street and College Avenue, new bus bulbs, and the removal of numerous parking spots along University and College avenues — will be considered at a later date.
AC Transit said the proposed changes would shave seven minutes in each direction off the route in Berkeley, increase reliability, improve air quality, enhance ADA access and improve the “overall progression of traffic.”
AC Transit traffic engineer Wil Buller said Monday that a document listing Phase 1 and 2 changes, which was reviewed by staff and the commission Thursday, is undergoing revisions based on feedback, and should be available to the public next week. (Update, Dec. 11: See that document here as part of a memo written by Berkeley city manager Christine Daniel. The spreadsheet is being updated, according to AC Transit.)
Signals along the Line 51 route that could receive coordination and vehicle-sensing upgrades are located on University, Durant, Shattuck and College avenues, and Bancroft Way.
At both Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Sixth Street, where they meet University, new signals are proposed that would allow buses several seconds to get ahead of other traffic in the roadway.
A new bus bulb — to allow the bus to pick up and drop off passengers without pulling out of traffic — could also be built at College and Durant if approved by city staff.
A new traffic signal at Dana Street and Bancroft also was approved by the commission; currently, a steady stream of pedestrians makes it difficult for vehicles to pass through the crosswalk there, which now features flashing beacons, said city staff. The new signal has been under consideration by the city and university for some time, and could be installed as part of AC Transit’s Line 51 project.
Since AC Transit last visited the Transportation Commission in October, agency representatives have been meeting with merchants from University and College avenue to collect feedback about bus route proposals.
Thursday night, University Avenue merchants seemed largely satisfied that AC Transit was listening to their concerns and making appropriate adjustments to Line 51 project plans.
Elmwood District merchants and residents continued to express opposition to a new traffic signal proposed at College and Russell, saying it would speed up traffic through the neighborhood and create a hazardous environment for pedestrians.
“The Elmwood is a very special place,” Claudia Hunka of Your Basic Bird told the commission. “And the safety of the Elmwood is our biggest concern.”
Residents and merchants also noted opposition to any parking or loading zone losses in the business district, which they said cannot afford to give up the space.
Local business owner Daryl Ross — who owns Caffe Strada, Freehouse restaurant, Free Speech Café and Café Zeb on campus, as well as the Bancroft Hotel — said he too was not convinced that changes proposed by AC Transit in front of Caffe Strada would be worth the problems he believes they’ll cause.
“I think it’s important to sacrifice for the common good, but it has not yet been proven that the 17 seconds this will save is for the common good,” he told the commission, regarding a new signal proposed at College and Bancroft.
Farid Javandel, manager of the city’s Transportation Division, said the Phase 1 changes will be reviewed over the next few weeks, with approved upgrades to take place in the coming months.
City staff will also review the more controversial Phase 2 proposals and return with recommendations about them that ultimately will be considered by the Berkeley City Council.
“Anything we identify as having a fatal flaw … gets tossed out,” Javandel told the panel.
Due to the lengthy list of proposals, AC Transit is covering the cost of extra staff time for those reviews.
Community members can submit written comments to Tammy Kyllo, administrative coordinator for AC Transit, 1600 Franklin St., Oakland, Calif., 94612, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The planning department can be reached by phone at 510-891-4755. See AC Transit’s Line 51 website for Berkeley here.
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