|BRT at Bancroft, near Sproul Plaza. Courtesy
AC Transit, extracted from this video clip.
This past July, the Berkeley City Council voted to place Measure KK on this November ballot, thanks to the efforts of a vocal, persistent group of Berkeley NIMBYs whose goal is to prevent AC Transit from building dedicated bus lanes in Berkeley (only one to one-and-half miles long) as part of its bus rapid transit project on Telegraph Avenue and East 14th Street. The BRT project, estimated to cost $250 million for a roughly 17-mile corridor, would upgrade service on the 1/1R line, which is AC Transit’s most popular trunk line, carrying roughly 10% of its daily ridership. Running buses in a dedicated transitway that is wholly separated from automotive traffic, when combined with signal priority and Proof of Payment, will allow AC Transit to make better use of a fixed amount of resources; it will also ensure line reliability, thus creating a superior and dependable riding experience that will attract more riders.
If passed, Measure KK would require that a “designation plan” be prepared whenever a lane is planned to be reserved for transit vehicles or high-occupancy vehicles — not just for this BRT project, but also for all similar future projects carried out in Berkeley. The language of the measure is vague as to what exactly must be contained within a designation plan; but, at a minimum, it is required to describe how reserving an HOV lane could affect “drivers, transit riders, pedestrians, bicyclists, businesses, parking and emergency access.” The process of creating a designation plan would itself be required to include extensive public hearings. Once the designation plan has been completed, the City Council would then submit it to voters for their approval. No transit-only lane could be reserved unless its corresponding designation plan was approved by voters.
The extra expense of carrying out these procedures is hefty — each designation plan could cost $250,000-$500,000 to prepare. On top of that there would be $15,000 for placing the plan on the ballot, and $350,000 or over $700,000 to hold a special election, depending on whether it is conducted by mail or at polling places. Moreover, the need to prepare a designation plan and get it approved by voters would add considerable delay to BRT planning and implementation, not least because it would make it more difficult to line up the diverse array of funds needed to build the project. But still another potential problem lurks behind Measure KK’s vague language: if modifications are made to the project after the official close of the planning process, it is possible that such changes could trigger still another “designation plan” and another vote, thus compounding the delay and project cost.
Measure KK, by instituting ill-advised planning from the ballot box, seeks to inappropriately undermine and usurp the authority that California Vehicle Code § 21655.5(a) confers upon the City Council — that is, the authority to reserve lanes for high-occupancy vehicles (of which transit-only lanes are a special case) on its city streets. Measure KK also violates the transportation element of Berkeley’s General Plan, which quite clearly and unambiguously provides for the construction of transit-only lanes on major corridors, including those that would be served by the proposed BRT route. If Measure KK passes, this language in the General Plan would have to be amended to be less supportive of transit. Furthermore, given 2006 Measure G (in which an overwhelming 82.3% of Berkeley voters supported the 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050), it would indeed be counterintuitive for a self-proclaimed “progressive” city like Berkeley to approve Measure KK, particularly during a time in which ever-clearer recognition of the climate change crisis has encouraged cities across California to pursue superior transit.
This BRT project has already been (and will continue to be) thoroughly analyzed and vetted both in EIR and at community meetings. Any future projects would certainly be subject to treatment just as robust and as thorough. Measure KK needlessly adds extra delay and expense that would jeopardize improvements to transit. Berkeley voters are strongly encouraged to support better transit in the East Bay by voting NO on Measure KK.