The past few months have been unbelievably busy, so I never got a chance to write a post covering the discussions that have taken place in the past several weeks in the East Bay, regarding the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) of AC Transit’s bus rapid transit project. I trust that many or most readers have followed this in the news.
In a key decision on April 20, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved Oakland’s segment of the LPA, which comprises the great majority of the full BRT route. Oakland’s LPA includes dedicated median transitways on Telegraph Avenue (south of the Berkeley city limit to 20th Street) and on East 14th Street (south of 14th Avenue to the San Leandro city limit), with some shared and mixed flow lanes in Eastlake and along Broadway in downtown Oakland.
On May 17, the San Leandro City Council also approved its own segment of the project LPA. The San Leandro LPA proceeds south of the Oakland city limit, featuring dedicated lanes and station platforms in the median of East 14th Street as far south as Sunnyside Drive, where it transitions to mixed curbside operation for the southernmost segment of the route, then terminating at San Leandro BART station.
Berkeley, naturally, went its own direction. On April 29, the Berkeley City Council fell short of endorsing the build alternative in Berkeley. With Councilmember Max Anderson absent from that meeting, the resolution failed as 4 pro-BRT votes were matched by 2 votes against the project and 2 abstentions. Berkeley’s rejection of full-build was accompanied by adoption of a diluted LPA, which discards the dedicated transit lanes and replaces them with mixed curbside operation and potential queue jump lanes. The lack of dedicated lanes, when taken in combination with other proposed non-BRT changes (mainly converting one-way streets near the University campus to two-way operation), could transform the Berkeley portion of the route into a slow, unreliable northern appendage — hampering reliability on the rest of the line, despite dedicated facilities in Oakland and San Leandro.
This split of support among the three cities — exacerbated by the revelation that AC Transit might eliminate 1R rapid bus service north of downtown Oakland to close its current budget deficit — created fresh concern about what the next step should be for BRT. Despite staff including 1R truncation as one potential measure to address the budget, AC Transit prefers to preserve the full 1R route. Still: would Berkeley’s refusal to accept dedicated lanes accordingly deprive Temescal and North Oakland of the transit, pedestrian, and bicycle improvements that would accompany the full-build BRT? Would AC Transit instead reduce the scope of the BRT project by cutting it off at MacArthur BART, or even downtown Oakland?
There has been an encouraging and re-energizing development this week. Berkeley Councilmember Anderson, who was not present at the April 29 meeting, has indicated that he would support full BRT. Councilmember Arreguín, who abstained on April 29, has also indicated that he would support full BRT. If so, the 4-4 vote on April 29 would become a 6-3 vote endorsing BRT. The agenda has not yet been set as of the time of this writing, but the current plan is for Berkeley to revisit BRT at its June 22 meeting.
The AC Transit Board of Directors intended to adopt an LPA for the whole project on June 9, incorporating the local preferences of the three cities. However, the Board continued the item and delayed its decision on BRT until June 23, just one day after the Berkeley meeting. This will give the Berkeley City Council an opportunity to reverse its prior decision. The way forward is not crystal clear if that vote gets delayed, or if Berkeley insists on substantial changes, but the process should be straightforward if Berkeley promptly approves the build alternative on June 22.
BRT will be a stronger, more reliable, and more heavily patronized project if it includes dedicated transit facilities in all three cities. The Berkeley Councilmembers are encouraged to join their colleagues in Oakland and San Leandro by approving the build alternative.