|Courtesy Flickr member in2jazz.|
The Berkeley Daily Planet mentioned last week a problem point in the planning of the proposed East Bay bus rapid transit route, which would run from Berkeley to San Leandro via Telegraph Avenue, downtown Oakland, and East 14th Street. The issue concerns the new street replacing the expressway around Lake Merritt, which connects downtown Oakland to East 14th Street and Lakeshore Avenue. One component of Measure DD is to replace the messy twelve-lane expressway and its speeding cars with a slower six-lane city street, improved pedestrian and bicycle access, and also to add a new park on the west end of Lake Merritt. Of course, buses as well as cars would move more slowly through here, and the combination of having half the traffic lanes and the introduction of new pedestrian signals could cause delays in excess of two minutes at rush hour. Rebecca Kaplan, vice president of the AC Transit board, noted: “That is enough of a delay to destroy the entire purpose of [bus] rapid transit.”
As is often the case with the Daily Planet, the language of the article is cast so as to make BRT seem like a failure. The article references quotations of indignation about the lack of dedicated right of way on 12th Street, and in doing so, it misleadingly makes it seem as though this fact is a brand-new development. It’s not. The EIR, in fact, has already indicated mixed flow for this stretch of road, and it has long been known that bus-only lanes would be suspended here. So the BRT project is not all of a sudden a lost cause because of this “revelation”, as the tone of the article would imply.
In any event, Berkeley NIMBYs are almost foaming at the mouth in glee at the news of this snag, hoping that a difficulty in Oakland could mean the end of the whole project. To date, complaints have been raised in Berkeley and San Leandro, at either end of the proposed route — but the majority of the line and its riders are in Oakland, where there has been little to no complaint about the “destructive chaos” that will allegedly ensue after BRT is built. The Daily Planet continues to print reader letters containing rants that are disconnected from reality:
It’s time for AC Transit to change its approach and begin to work with the people in the communities it serves to find out what transit improvements they would prefer—instead of just working with insiders who stand to benefit from the construction of BRT. Either that, or it’s time to consider recalling the entire AC Transit Board.
Oh? So what exactly does “working with the people in the communities” mean? Does it mean granting the NIMBY community its every desire, at the expense of the greater East Bay? Does it mean leaving bus service in its current sorry state and continuing to punish transit riders? Does it mean that we allow a few short-sighted NIMBYs — whose priorities are largely driven by their ability to drive and park their own car with ease — to jeopardize a project that would improve mobility and help to redefine and revitalize the East Bay’s most colorful and distinctive neighborhoods and activity centers, many of which are directly served by this corridor? If so, I could hardly blame AC Transit officials for wanting to ignore the communities, but the fact is, they have not been ignoring them at all. They simply happen to disagree with the Berkeley NIMBY contingent, but I can hardly blame them for that.
But let’s return for a moment to the snag near Lake Merritt. In terms of the proposed BRT route, the problematic stretch of 12th Street lies between the International/5th Ave stop and the 11th-12th Street/Madison stop. Local buses not using the transitway would align onto the slower reconstructed 12th Street so that they could directly serve the new boulevard, and signal priority could be investigated to aid the smooth passage of those buses. But since the rapid buses would merely drive on 12th Street without stopping, could they just avoid this stretch altogether? Consider the following idea for a possible reroute:
The pinmarks represent BRT stops, and the light blue box outlines the problematic stretch of 12th Street. Marked in red is the default route that has been studied, via 12th Street. Marked in yellow is an alternative route. Under the alternative, buses headed north to downtown Oakland would turn left onto 4th Avenue, use East 10th Street and 5th Avenue to jigger around Laney College, and then turn north onto 7th Street/East 8th Street, right on Farallon, left on 8th Street, right on Oak Street, before turning left onto 12th Street towards Broadway. In the other direction, buses coming from downtown would follow 11th to Madison Street, turn right on Madison, left on 7th/East 8th Street, and then left on 5th Avenue, all the way to East 14th. Both 4th and 5th Avenues have two travel lanes, so to preserve dedicated BRT, both streets would be turned to one-way operations: 5th Avenue eastbound and 4th Avenue westbound, each with one bus lane and one car lane. This alternative is a bit convoluted, but if 4th and 5th Avenues are turned into one-way streets, bus-only lanes would be possible for almost the entire stretch of the route.
The 7th Street route is about 1/2 mile longer than the 12th Street route and under normal traffic conditions, would add a couple minutes to travel times — so it’s not ideal at all times of day, but it would be more reasonable if traffic backups on 12th Street really will be that substantial. A halfway solution in terms of both time and distance, marked in purple on the map, is East 10th Street. East 10th was considered in the EIR but was ultimately rejected because of street constrictions and lower predicted ridership. The 7th Street route is more convoluted, but it almost entirely avoids buses running mixed with cars. Mixed flow is something I like to avoid on principle, but it is especially worth bearing in mind here — if traffic really will be that bad on 12th Street, enterprising drivers will look for alternate routes, and at least some will probably end up on East 10th Street. This will adversely affect any buses running in mixed flow there.
A compromise solution that perhaps makes the most sense is to reserve the 7th Street alternative for peak hour trips or to avoid traffic jams, and then use 12th Street as the default route the rest of the time. Notice that because there are no BRT stops in this stretch, there would be no rider confusion as to which stops should be used at which time of day, and no additional station infrastructure would need to be built.
Admittedly, this alternative travels the less picturesque back end of the lake, and certainly, the 12th Street route is more direct and intuitive — not to mention faster, except in actual traffic jams. If planners can make 12th Street work, that would be preferable. But if these traffic jams turn out to be daily events, and if it causes rapid buses to bunch up just as local buses do now, then BRT will be no better than a regular bus, and reliability along the greater line will be affected. If that is the case, might it not be worth it to investigate an alternative route? Having buses bunch up at traffic snarls undermines the whole point of bus rapid transit.