Letters for the week of July 25-31, 2007

Readers conclude that we're all wet when it comes to Bus Rapid Transit.

“Bumps in the Road,”Cityside, 6/27

Wave goodbye to Godot
I was pretty stunned by Kathleen Richards’ ill-informed piece on Bus Rapid Transit. Richards misses the point: Bus Rapid Transit is all about frequency and reliability. No one’s claiming that shaving ten minutes off the trip from Oakland to Berkeley in and of itself will entice new riders. What delivers new riders is not having to wait so long for the bus to arrive in the first place. By Richard’s own admission, dedicated bus lanes would help a BRT bus come every three to five minutes during peak periods, down from fifteen minutes for the existing “Rapid.” That’s huge — not just for myself, but for every other “rider of choice” I know. If dedicated lanes allow buses to sidestep traffic snarls and accidents, and minimize my time waiting for Godot at the bus shelter, they’re absolutely worth it.

The environmental benefits are pretty evident as well — to deny them based on a narrowly drawn Environmental Impact Report that didn’t even consider the effect of reduced carbon dioxide emissions is intellectually dishonest. Ultimately, BRT is a no-brainer for neighborhoods like Temescal, where I live. While in many ways different, Temescal is similar to other neighborhoods up and down Telegraph and International in that it has an excess of road capacity — a reflection of Highways 24 and 980 stealing its role as an intercity connector decades ago. If we’re truly serious about addressing global warming, it’s worth giving buses priority access to some of that excess pavement along Telegraph and International — especially when that pavement is far less important to local business success than creating unique, walkable neighborhood districts.

If we’re serious about working within the world as it is, it’s hard to find a less-intrusive and more cost-effective way to begin addressing climate change than with BRT — dedicated lanes and all.
Robert Hickey, Oakland

Where were the supporters?
Your article about Bus Rapid Transit quotes Willard neighborhood activist Mark Celsor as saying: “You have progressive voices on one side excited about inexpensive housing and increased urban bustle, with established homeowners on the other side concerned that the same factors will have a negative impact on their property values and quality of life.”

It is important to understand that these neighborhood activists do not represent all “established homeowners.” Neighborhood groups tend to attract people who want to protect their neighborhoods’ self-interest and who are not interested in broader regional or environmental issues.

I have owned a home for over twenty years, but I am not a member of a neighborhood group because I am not attracted by their narrow agenda. I am a member of the Sierra Club, which supports AC Transit’s plan for Bus Rapid Transit, because I care about the global environment. I think there are many established homeowners in Berkeley who feel this way.

Environmentalists support Bus Rapid Transit because it will reduce automobile dependency and help counter global warming. In addition to the Sierra Club, Friends of BRT and the Transportation and Land Use Coalition actively support this proposal. Why did your article quote several opponents of the plan without quoting any of these supporters?
Charles Siegel, Berkeley

A system to be proud of
I was disappointed that the Express‘ coverage of Bus Rapid Transit overlooked many of the benefits of AC Transit’s proposed project. First, BRT offers the same level of convenience and time savings as light rail for a fraction of the cost. The proposed BRT would significantly reduce the average trip time between Hayward and Berkeley by up to 35 percent. A rider whose daily commute decreases from 45 minutes to 30 minutes gains two and a half hours of extra time per week to spend with family or friends. For the 24,000 passengers who ride buses on this corridor every day, this amounts to a tremendous collective time savings and should not be overlooked as we consider the project.

Next, dedicated bus lanes would improve the reliability of transit in this corridor. Reliability is one of the most important factors for transit users and the best way to attract future users. Dedicated center lanes enable buses to avoid traffic jams, turning cars, and double-parked vehicles. Being able to move smoothly through streets is a major contribution to bus rapid transit’s quality of service. Even a “Rapid” bus is only as rapid as the traffic it travels with.

Additionally, with road design enhancements, the streets along the route will continue to serve drivers. Caltrans and the Federal Transportation Administration approval depended on the project delivering this level of service. The BRT project would protect existing neighborhoods as it improves mobility along major travel corridors.

Finally, BRT would prevent the combustion of 1,000 gallons of gasoline every day as riders choose transit over personal vehicles. Considering that each gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, BRT would prevent over 5.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year from being released into our atmosphere. With transportation responsible for half of the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas emissions, these reductions are significant.

BRT offers the East Bay a new way to make our communities more livable. It combines state of the art technology, reliability, and convenience in a cost-effective and environmentally beneficial transportation option. I urge residents and city leaders to work with AC Transit to create a system we can be proud of.
Carlie Paine, Oakland

Editor’s note
Actually, that would be 7.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Consider the benefits
In her analysis of Bus Rapid Transit, Kathleen Richards makes a number of elementary mistakes. In computing time savings of BRT, she needs to include the entire door-to-door travel time — i.e. travel time to the bus stop, wait time (headway), and the vehicle travel time. She only considers the latter. Thus, her contention that BRT would be generally slower than BART does not account for BART’s miles-long station spacing and longer headways.

She makes the same mistake in her comparison against existing “Rapid Bus” service. The BRT alternative greatly increases frequency of service. Even before boarding the bus, a rider will have saved as much as ten minutes. For the relatively short trips envisioned, this in itself represents substantial time savings.

Most importantly, she fails to account for reliability of service — which can only be provided through exclusive bus lanes. Chapter 1 of the Draft EIR (“Purpose and Need”) makes clear the importance of bus lanes: “Improved speed alone would generate more than a 15 percent increase in boardings, while improved speed and reliability would increase boardings by over 50 percent.”

BRT would bring the speed and reliability of a light rail system to more than forty thousand daily riders, and remove over five thousand cars from the road. To be sure, BRT project presents many challenges with regard to parking mitigation, but to suggest BRT offers “questionable benefits” is a specious argument.
Eric McCaughrin, Berkeley

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Please provide your full name, address, and daytime phone number, although we’ll only print your name, city, and affiliation. Send letters to [email protected] or Letters, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608. Letters are edited for length and clarity.


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