Traffic signal upgrades planned on Line 51 route

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

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 The planning department can be reached by phone at 510-891-4755. See AC Transit’s Line 51 website for Berkeley here.

AC Transit’s Line 51 plans get second review Thursday (11.20.13)
Merchants ask AC Transit to revise Line 51 plans (10.21.13)
Parking losses, lane changes possible in Line 51 overhaul (08.26.13)
Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
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)

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  • Fran Haselsteiner

    Great job, AC and TC.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    The diagram doesn’t relate to the proposed signal changes–or have I missed something?

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    The People spoke on their ballots we don’t want this or anything like this

  • EBGuy

    Help me out here; it was the city council that killed BRT on Telegraph. And BTW, what really got people up in arms was the loss of two lanes on Telegraph (plus various assorted issues with parking, etc). This plan doesn’t take any lanes away from car traffic. YMMV.

  • emraguso

    I have a list (hard copy only) of the signals, but it’s in draft form. AC Transit said the document will be revised and available to the public next week. But it relates to many signals along the route in both directions.

  • EBGuy

    Uhhh…. Measure KK was pretty soundly defeated in 2008. Less than 25% of the electorate voted Yes.

  • guest

    If measure KK had been approved, it would have required voter approval of bus-only or HOV lanes:

    Since this plan does not create bus-only lanes, KK is not relevant.

    Anyway, Measure KK was defeated by an overwhelming majority of more than three to one.

    The question on the ballot:
    Measure KK: “Shall the initiative ordinance Requiring Voter Approval of Exclusive Transit-Only and HOV/Bus-Only Lanes be adopted?”

    Measure KK Result
    No —40,914 – 76.6%
    Yes– 12,427 – 23.3%

  • Joshua A

    I am not sure what you mean by “we don’t want anything like this”. We don’t want improvements for buses?

  • Jacob Lynn

    I’m a regular rider of the 51B, and improvements of 7 minutes (on a bus line that is only about 30 minutes end-to-end) would be fantastic. Beyond just increasing bus speeds, a more consistent and predictable end-to-end time would be even better.

    (Meant to speak about this at the Thursday meeting, but got busy with work and forgot…)

    I am concerned about the introduction of traffic signals at certain intersections — for instance, I think a signal at Bancroft and College is probably a poor choice. The main problem here is that the crosswalks are 45-55 ft from yellow ramp to yellow ramp, and drivers (to their credit) frequently don’t move during the entire time that pedestrians are on asphalt. Then, by the time one pedestrian has crossed (12 to 18 seconds at typical walking speeds), another has entered the crosswalk, and the cycle repeats itself.

    Sidewalk extensions at the corners (extending out into the parking lanes) would make the crossing distance more like 25-30 feet, reduce the pedestrian crossing time to 7 to 10 seconds, and give buses (and cars) more of a chance to cross in between pedestrians. The result would be a more pleasant, safe, and efficient intersection for all parties. Much the same is true at Russell and College.

    Strictly speaking, traffic signals at these intersections might move traffic along College and Bancroft a bit faster. But I think having platoons of cars and buses moving at relatively high speeds detracts from a safe and pedestrian friendly environment. That’s how traffic flows on Telegraph right now, and I think that contributes substantially to the unpleasantness there. Far better to have steady but slower traffic.

  • Acrider

    How about they just bring back the regular 51? Splitting the 51 into a and b was a terrible descision.

  • David D.

    Bulb outs at Bancroft & Dana may address the need for a signal, but the larger question is why Bancroft and Durant aren’t converted to 2-way streets. Making both streets 2 ways would calm traffic speeds and make the entire area more readily accessible for everyone. Also, the loss of a traffic lane on each street would allow for the creation of bike lanes and/or a dedicated left-turn lane. Where is the long-term vision here?

    As for College & Russell, the crossing distance is already pretty short, right? Because of the heavy traffic volumes and proximity to Ashby, a traffic signal is the best solution for the intersection short of (1) removing the stop sign and replacing it with nothing at all or (2) getting rid of all the traffic diversions on the surrounding side streets. I suspect Elmwood would like those options even less.

  • Jacob Lynn

    The crosswalks for College Ave are ~46 ft ramp-to-ramp, and bulbouts would decrease this to ~30 ft. The Russell Ave crosswalks are ~40 ft, and would be decreased to ~24 ft, decreasing pedestrian crossing times by ~4-5 seconds in each case.

    It’s not a huge intersection, so the crosswalks are shortish already, but I see substantial upside and little downside in adding the bulbouts.

  • emraguso

    Details about the Phase 1 and 2 proposals are included in this document: