Proposed changes to AC Transit’s Line 51 bus service in Berkeley will come back before the city’s Transportation Commission on Thursday night for a second review.
AC Transit presented its plans — designed to speed up service and make it more reliable — in October, and met with steep opposition from members of the public who criticized the agency’s attempts at public outreach, decried its lack of responsiveness to local concerns, and questioned whether the proposed changes and resulting gains would be worth the hardships some community members believe they would pose.
Since the last meeting, AC Transit has posted a draft parking study that outlines proposed changes along the route in Berkeley. If approved, a handful of parking spots would be added, but another 133 — metered, unmetered, handicapped, yellow, green and white — could potentially be removed. The bulk of the removals — 99 spaces along University Avenue — would be in effect during PM peak hours only. (See the full list here.) The other spots, in the Elmwood and Southside, do not appear to be tied to a particular time of day, but AC Transit could not be reached for confirmation.
Wednesday morning, AC Transit sent out an email notice about the meeting to be held Thursday night before the Transportation Commission: “We apologize for the late advisory, but we hope a number of riders will be able to attend and give their perspective on improving this vital transportation service in Berkeley.”
Proposed changes along the route — which are still very much in the draft stage — include possible parking space removal (noted above) 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.)
Other possible changes include lengthening “landing” areas for buses, intersection and traffic signal upgrades, transit-priority signal timing upgrades, shared bus/queue jump lanes, and left-turn pockets.
According to AC Transit, additional outreach, review and decision meetings will occur in Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda over the next three months.
AC Transit reps said in October that 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.”
Local businessman questions process, asks for more analysis
Over the past two months, Berkeley entrepreneur Daryl Ross — who owns Caffe Strada, Freehouse restaurant, Free Speech Café and Café Zeb on campus, as well as the Bancroft Hotel — submitted letters to the city and AC Transit outlining his concerns about the proposed changes. Ross also spoke up in October about the lack of information publicly available about the project.
In the letter, penned by an attorney on Ross’ behalf, he writes: “Simply, the AC Transit Project would entail wide-sweeping changes to the circulation network, and it appears the public record on this matter contains little to no information on what collateral effects, environmental and otherwise, could result.” The letter notes the lack of readily available traffic and environmental studies, and questions whether sufficient environmental review has taken place.
Ross hired a traffic consultant, Kittelson & Associates, to conduct a preliminary analysis about which studies should be done: “Further analysis has the potential [to] show that adverse impacts would occur, such as unanticipated delays on Bancroft Way and increased safety risks to students and other pedestrians.”
The consultant found that vehicle speeds would likely increase as a result of the proposed AC Transit changes, leading to more auto-pedestrian accidents.
The letter also notes a paucity of information on how proposed changes would affect streets not on the bus route, or “secondary impacts, such as effects on aesthetics, air quality, and the noise environment.” The primary document outlining proposed Line 51 changes, it notes, is already five years old. A third concern noted is the possible encroachment upon private property that the project could entail.
The letter states that proposed changes would save less than 20 minutes in bus commute time, and suggests that “less severe measures may be available” at College and Bancroft — where Caffe Strada is located — and other intersections. But “due to the absence of an objective traffic study to support AC Transit’s proposal, it is not possible to make that determination.”
Other members of the public sent letters asking AC Transit to reconsider its plans for bus bulbs along the route; re-think its approach to peak-hour bus lanes, particularly in relation to cyclists; reevaluate the need to remove two stops (University at McGee eastbound, and University at Curtis westbound); and reassess the need to remove parking on University.
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 in October. AC Transit is scheduled to return to the commission Thursday, then go on to the Berkeley City Council for a final review in December or January. The council will ultimately need to approve the changes for them to take place.
Preliminary Proposed AC Transit Changes on Line 51
- University at Sixth and Seventh streets
- University at Eighth and Ninth streets
- University at 10th Street and San Pablo Avenue
- University at Curtis and Chestnut streets
- University at Acton and Sacramento streets
- University at California Street and McGee Avenue
- University at Grant Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way
- Durant Avenue at Ellsworth Street
- Durant Avenue at Telegraph Avenue and Dana Street
- College Avenue at Durant and Bancroft avenues
- College Avenue at Parker Street
- College Avenue at Derby Street
- College Avenue at Russell Street
- College Avenue at Alcatraz Street
The meeting will take place Nov. 21, at 7 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst Ave. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The planning department can be reached by phone at 510-891-4755.
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