Letters for the week of August 8-14, 2007

Readers comment on crime, journalistic tactics, union subterfuge, our Herbivore review, factory farming, and an alternative to Bus Rapid Transit.

“Escorts for Hire,” Full Disclosure, 7/4


Lock ’em up
Your recent article was clever and skillfully written. However, while you glibly criticized Oakland Police Sergeant Cronin, you failed to address the main point he offered; that more cops will result in negligible crime reduction. On this point Sergeant Cronin is actually correct. While crime has many complex sociological causes, there is really only truly one effective way to reduce it: Put criminals in prison so they cannot victimize innocent people. Having more cops on the street will not accomplish that. Having more cops will only reduce the time it takes for an officer to come to a victim’s house to take a report. That hardly qualifies as “crime prevention.”

If you truly want to reduce crime, then you should write articles favoring more prison construction and more mandatory sentence rules. Then fewer criminals would be on the street, ergo fewer crimes. Criminals are not stupid. They do not fear being arrested because it is not a punishment. They have usually been arrested dozens of times. However, going to prison for several years is a true punishment. Therefore, if you create a credible fear of going to prison, then you may actually create a general deterrent effect, which will also reduce crime. Cronin was correct; you just didn’t let him explain.
Mark Poland, Castro Valley

“Geeks and Freaks,” Books, 6/27


Next time, say hello
Mark Nichol, had we only known you were there!!! Your piece re: Carol Pogash’s reading at Cody’s showed an unusual new technique: journalism through intuition. Many of those in attendance have been reporters for years, but none so clever as you, to report on an event without asking a single question! Or revealing you were there! Amazing. But maybe your readers prefer intuitive reporting to the facts.

You’re right, it was a bit of a reunion. Most of us have worked with Carol in Bay Area journalism for years. (David Harris, Don Lattin, Jim Finefrock, Bill Schechner, Kate Coleman, Jerry Lubenow — heard of them?) But your intuition led you to guess we were all from “over the hill.” Nope. Only Carol. The rest of us are from Berkeley or SF. Funny, none of us recognized you. Next time say hello. After all, you’re a journalist too, right?
Linda Schacht, Berkeley


“Joe’s Foes,” Water Cooler, 7/4


Go picket Wal-Mart
Yes, we in the neighborhood are confused also. I am a strong union supporter and I wouldn’t cross a REAL picket line. But this is a case where the union is just plain WRONG. Why? Unions might call it “bread and circuses,” but Farmer Joe’s (Joe and Diana) have been an integral part of the Laurel, and now Dimond, community for over twelve years. They have ALWAYS donated to community events, from produce to whatever is needed. I find produce there that I can’t find in other stores.

Well, IF I wanted to traipse over to Berkeley Bowl, where I have NEVER shopped (my disability prevents me from parking a long way off), I might find what I need. But I prefer to shop in my neighborhood. I have never purchased anything expired or moldy. Of course, if I take it home and let it sit for five days, my produce can become moldy. Joe and Diana have borrowed to the hilt to create an attractive community venue from a eyesore. Opening was delayed more than six months because of environmental issues. You SHOULD have been there last year on June 24, 2006, when the grand opening was a huge community event.

The neighborhood is angry at the union, and that makes me sad. As far as I am able to discern the union was called in when two employees were fired … for CAUSE. The neighborhood can tell the “Healthy Community” group is another one of the union shenanigans. Why doesn’t the union go picket Trader Joe’s? Or Wal-Mart? Those places don’t care about the community or their employees. Joe and Diana do.
Sue Yascolt, Oakland


“Herbivore’s Dilemma,” On Food, 7/18


Don’t damn vegan food
For me, the best thing about being vegan is the cruelty-free aspect of the diet, closely followed by the amazing variety of food. The Bay Area is the vegan capital of the world, in my estimation, with its scores of ethnic, vegetarian, vegan, and vegan-friendly restaurants. Herbivore is doing its part to add to that mix, but if you don’t like Herbivore, please don’t damn all vegan food in the process.

Esta Lewin, South Lake Tahoe

Hold the fish, and the chip
I’ve been to Herbivore about fifty times. I’m a vegetarian, and this definitely satisfies my palate over and over again. The biggest compliment to date was when my mom went there with her friends and without me to dine there. In addition to the great entrées served here, the side dishes, which the reviewer failed to mention, plus the desserts, the best vegan German chocolate cake on this planet, are scrumptious. It might be good to have a vegetarian review a vegetarian restaurant. Or it might be even better to have a reviewer without a chip on his shoulder from his college days review a restaurant.

Clyde Lerner, Sunnyvale


“Genius Tales,” Theater, 6/20


The truth about L. Ron
You recently published a review of Mike Daisey’s Great Man of Genius monologues. Mr. Daisey’s monologue on L. Ron Hubbard consisted primarily of falsehoods concerning Mr. Hubbard, his life, and the religion he founded. As an educated person who has studied Mr. Hubbard’s works and life for 36 years and who has worked with Scientologists and the Church of Scientology for almost as many years, I can state this with absolute certainty.

Oddly enough, the actual events of Mr. Hubbard’s life and his accomplishments are far more interesting and compelling than Mr. Daisey’s tabloid-style perversions. I invite you to decide for yourself. Accurate biographical information is available at LRonHubbard.org
Jeffrey G. Quiros, president, Church of Scientology of San Francisco

“A Flavorful Marketplace,” On Food, 6/27


Veggie power
I was pleased to read about all the delicious vegan and vegetarian options at the Oakland-Grand Lake Farmers’ Market.

Bay Area residents have strong reasons to opt for vegetarian foods. Across the country, factory farms confine approximately ten billion animals a year in atrocious conditions that would shock any caring person. Nearly three hundred million egg-laying hens are crammed into cages that are so tiny, they are not even able to spread their wings. Millions more breeding pigs and calves raised for veal endure lives locked inside crates that restrict them from even turning around. In addition, billions of chickens raised for meat suffer terribly from genetic selection for astronomical rates of growth, which leads to crippling leg disorders.

Not only do vegetarian foods taste great, but they are an important alternative to meat from factory-farmed animals.
Dan Paul, Factory Farming Campaign, the Humane Society of the United States, Washington, DC


“Bumps in the Road,” Cityside, 6/27


Try Rapid Bus Plus
We have the opportunity to get most of the positive features of Bus Rapid Transit at a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the social and environmental damage that removing traffic lanes and parking will entail if we put in BRT.

What am I talking about? Rapid Bus Plus.

AC Transit has implemented a bare-bones version of this today. They call it Rapid Bus. It is a low-impact change of service and did not require an Environmental Impact Statement. The reason its environmental impacts are so low is that it travels in the same traffic lanes as autos and it uses the existing bus stops along the route.

Rapid Bus has two features that separate it from the 40L buses it replaced. The first feature gives buses traffic signal priority, which means buses will be slowed as little as possible by the lights along the route. The second feature is real-time bus arrival information at the stops. Unfortunately AC Transit has put this second feature into only a very few stops, not even all the stops that they themselves identified as major transit pickup and dropoff locations.

Rapid Bus Plus is a much more fully featured version of Rapid Bus. It would start with the two features already in place for Rapid Bus and would add the two features of BRT that AC Transit acknowledges will most cut transit time and add ridership: proof of fare and greatly reduced time between buses.

Rapid Bus Plus has the advantage over BRT of maintaining the mixed-use roadway where both autos and buses can share the lanes rather than implementing a transit-only lane. It also maintains the current level of parking for businesses and residents by using the existing bus stops. AC Transit almost evaluated this alternative in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report, but chose not to do so.

Let’s start by looking at how much time AC Transit believes BRT would save when compared to Rapid Bus as currently implemented. AC Transit projects the savings in trip times between downtown Oakland and downtown Berkeley at only seven minutes.

Jim Cunradi, AC Transit project manager for BRT, stated at a recent meeting in Berkeley that the BRT system was not designed as a long-haul carrier to compete with the parallel-running BART system. His vision of ridership is for the average trip to be a fraction of the full seventeen-mile BRT route, in the range of three miles or less. When you consider those short travel distances, the effective time savings on an average BRT trip is about four minutes when compared to the same trip on the current Rapid Bus.

However, AC Transit’s projected reduction in time looks only at the time spent on the bus. It does not take into account the additional walk time to reach the more widely spaced BRT stops, and likewise the additional walk time to reach the destination from the more widely spaced BRT stops.

The extra walk time from an average rider’s house can be calculated if we assume an extra two blocks to reach the BRT stop at a reasonable walk speed to add approximately two minutes to the trip. Similarly, the extra walk time from a BRT stop to the desired destination (allowing that AC Transit located the stops at the most-used destinations) can be assumed to be half the extra walk time calculated to arrive at the BRT stop, adding approximately one minute to the trip.

When you look at total trip time, the average person using BRT is going to save approximately one minute per trip. Its no wonder the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report shows such a minimal shift of riders to BRT from the current Rapid Bus. The average person is not going to look at a one-minute differential as a compelling reason to shift to BRT if they have not already shifted to Rapid Bus from the previous 40L line based on an even greater time savings.

Let’s look at how Rapid Bus Plus with its enhanced features can gain ridership at a fraction of the cost of BRT.

At the same Berkeley meeting where Mr. Cunradi stated that since BRT is meant primarily for shorter trips along the corridor, he also stated that the key to further improvement in bus speed is proof of payment. (my emphasis)

The reason the proof of payment system speeds up the travel time is that it greatly decreases the time needed to board and discharge passengers at the stops by eliminating the bottleneck at the fare box. This system allows all bus doors to be used for loading and unloading simultaneously. This decrease in wait time at each stop would cut the actual trip time difference between Rapid Bus Plus and BRT to less than one minute.

Throughout much of Europe, transit systems use a low-tech system for proof of payment. They rely on local vendors along the route to presell tickets and a unique punch system on-board the bus to validate proof of payment. This low-tech, low-cost system has been shown in practice to gain that next big jump in speed described by Mr. Cunradi.

To implement this feature, AC Transit would only need to implement the widespread sale of tickets in local merchants along the entire corridor and especially around the transit stops. This could well be a plus for the merchants, as it would bring additional patrons into their stores who might not otherwise have bought anything there.

The on-board portion of the low-tech solution is when riders board their bus, they punch their ticket with a simple hole punch located near each of the doors. The punch validates their ticket for that trip. That’s their proof of payment. Each bus and date has a different physical punch pattern, to prevent fare beating. It’s that simple.

Another significant factor in actual trip time is the time spent waiting at the stop for the bus to arrive. A big step in increasing the ridership of Rapid Bus Plus would be the decreasing of time between buses from the twelve-minute headway implemented for Rapid Bus to something approaching the projected BRT headway of less than five minutes. If you shorten the wait time, essentially making it equal between BRT and Rapid Bus Plus, then the actual overall trip times calculating for walk time to and from the bus stop, wait time at the bus stop, and travel time on the bus would look very similar.

Another factor involved in waiting at the bus stop is knowing when the next bus will arrive. Real-time bus arrival information is important because if people waiting at the bus stop know how soon the next bus will come, it lowers their level of frustration and perhaps even allows them to run an errand knowing they will not miss their bus by doing so. It lets the riders be in control of what they do, an important factor in decision making about what mode of travel to use. This feature, partially implemented currently on Rapid Bus, is based on installing GPS transponders on the each of the buses and using real-time computing of bus arrival at the individual stops to post the information in each bus kiosk. It would be fully implemented in Rapid Bus Plus.

One of the major complaints about sending buses out in mixed-use lanes is their tendency to clump together. We’ve all waited for the bus to come, and when it finally does arrive there are two buses running in tandem. Since in Rapid Bus Plus each of the buses carries a GPS transponder, it would be a simple matter to use off-the-shelf mapping technology to stop the buses from bunching up. Someone in the AC Transit office could easily check the location of each bus on the route and could then communicate with the drivers to adjust their speed so that bunching does not occur, or is at least minimized.

With limited dollars available to address congestion problems, it is important that any analysis that is done goes beyond simply estimating how vehicles, both autos and buses, are affected by the proposed improvement. It is also necessary to estimate how neighborhoods, households, and businesses will be affected.

AC Transit’s analysis of BRT on neighborhoods and business is woefully lacking. They barely talk about what the removal of 75 percent of the current parking along the northern section of Telegraph Avenue will do to the merchants who rely on it for their clientele. AC Transit’s vision of mitigation for the merchants is the installation of parking meters in residential neighborhoods bordering the BRT route.

This “mitigation” affects both the residents whose already very limited parking is further decreased, and the businesses whose customers must park further away, perhaps much further away, and then walk carrying their purchases. We have seen the results of a reduction in parking along Telegraph Avenue in the past two years. A restriping of Telegraph to accommodate the center raised islands and the full-width bike lanes caused the removal of a significant number of parking spots.

The effects on local business sales were emphatic and immediate. Businesses such as the Looking Glass photographic store complained immediately that many of their clients needed a convenient parking spot to run into the store and drop off film for processing. With the removal of parking due to the restriping, they saw an immediate drop in sales and an increase in client complaints.

There was also a definite impact on the deliveries to the businesses along the Avenue. Businesses such as Le Bateau Ivre restaurant no longer could have their deliveries take place from curbside. They found that double parking became the only way to get deliveries done in a reasonable amount of time. They, too, saw an immediate drop in sales and an increase in client complaints from the reduction in parking.

The reduction in the number of parking spots on Telegraph that is proposed for the BRT system is much more significant than the reduction that took place during the restriping. The impact to small businesses that depend currently on convenient on-street parking spaces, even with parking added down the blocks into the residential neighborhoods, will likely be even greater.

The final step in increasing the effectiveness of Rapid Bus Plus could be the use of raised curbside platforms at the major transit stops. These are by far the most expensive and environmentally disruptive part of the plan and would only be warranted at stops where large numbers of people board and unload — a very small fraction of the total number of stops along the Rapid Bus Plus route.

This feature is the final one in the BRT plan that would help to speed loading and unloading. Such curbside platforms are already envisioned in several of the BRT alternate alignment routings. The raised platforms make the boarding process much easier for the handicapped, the elderly, and those pushing carts and strollers. This will significantly speed up loading and unloading at the highest usage transit stops, thereby increasing the overall speed on the line.

We have a unique opportunity today to create Rapid Bus Plus in our community. AC Transit has laid the groundwork in its implementation of the limited Rapid Bus service. There are many reasons that Rapid Bus Plus would benefit the community, including the low cost of implementation, the low environmental impact of its infrastructure, and the greatly increased speed and reliability of the buses on the line. We can do all this at a fraction of the cost projected for the implementation of BRT.

If you agree that this is something that Berkeley should have, make sure the council and the mayor know it’s important that we have good rapid transit in our community and that there is a cost-effective way to make it happen.
Vincent Casalaina, Berkeley

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