Oakland City Council Endorses BRT Routing for Further Study

station.jpgImage: AC Transit

Bus Rapid Transit in the East Bay cleared an important hurdle yesterday as the Oakland City Council cast a unanimous vote in support of adopting a "locally preferred alternative" route.

The route through Oakland would travel primarily on International Boulevard and Telegraph Avenue as part of a future AC Transit BRT corridor through Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro. As a full-featured BRT line, it would include dedicated travel lanes for buses, level boarding, and fare machines at stations for pre-paying.

Compared to the existing 1R Rapid bus line that runs along the same corridor in Oakland, the proposed BRT line would offer more rider amenities and much faster travel times. Traveling southeast on International Boulevard from downtown Oakland, for instance, riders could make it to Seminary Avenue in 20 minutes, a 5-mile journey. On the 1R today, a 20-minute ride from downtown only reaches Fruitvale Avenue, a 3.2-mile trip. Overall, travel speeds are expected to increase by 18 percent compared to AC Transit Rapid buses.

012010_image001.pngClick to enlarge: Bus Rapid Transit would mean big travel time savings in Oakland.

"Last night’s vote at the Oakland City Council meeting shows that AC Transit has effectively listened to the community and come up with a plan that really works for Oakland," said AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson. "Oakland’s community leaders understand that BRT is good for local traffic concerns, businesses and the environment."

The vote yesterday was to endorse a locally preferred alternative route for further study, which allows the project to move towards the Final Environmental Impact Report stage. Bruce Williams of Oakland’s Transportation Services Division said the vote was "critical," but not final.

"We’re not asking for endorsement of the project to be constructed at this point — that will be at the conclusion of the environmental review phase," he noted. "We fully understand the proposals before you have substantial parking and traffic impacts that would need to be mitigated before the project would be acceptable to Oakland."

Several of the Oakland City Council’s eight members voiced particular concerns about the loss of parking and traffic impacts.

"It’s questionable whether that much parking can be eliminated without affecting the businesses, unless they make a commitment to replace that parking near those businesses," said Councilmember Jean Quan.

Councilmember Pat Kernighan said she wasn’t ready to fully endorse the full BRT plan, but supported moving forward with studying it. "Some people are worried this will be like putting the freeway through the middle of the neighborhood. I think this is really quite different," said Kernighan. "I look forward to the study identifying both the positives and the negatives of these various alternatives."

One such option is the so-called "Rapid Bus Plus," which would add some of the amenities of BRT — level boarding, station fare machines, NextBus displays along the line, and full signal preemption — but without dedicated lanes. That option will get a full evaluation as part of the environmental review process, said Williams, but would be a big step down from true BRT.

AC Transit officials were heartened by the news of the vote.

"Our local leaders in Oakland have really stepped up to support this innovative and cost-effective project, which is now one step closer to benefiting the region," AC Transit Board of Directors President Rocky Fernandez.

Berkeley’s City Council is expected to vote on a locally preferred alternative on April 27, followed by a San Leandro City Council vote on May 17. AC Transit planners hope BRT construction will start by 2012 and BRT will be up and running by 2014.

  • i, for one, am ecstatic that Oakland will not allow bikes on this main corridor. now if we can only get those crazy SF supes to follow suit.

  • Brian

    The idea of “Rapid Bus Plus” won’t fix the problems. It will end up like the so-called Rapid 3 line from Santa Monica to Downtown LA, which is always stuck in traffice because it does not have a dedicated lane.

  • david vartanoff

    Why don’t I believe their ##? The 20 minute circle does NOT mirror my experience and I use the 1 or 1R frequently at varying times of day. Recent trips from Alcatraz SB to 14th 18 min mid afternoon and PM rush. However, returning from an AC BOD mtg, on a 1 lcl circa 7:30 PM 17th & B’way to Alcatraz 13 min. The current “all in one — no local” plan will ADD stops.

  • Joel Ramos

    It’s not so much the “speed” of the trip, but the reliability of service that is what makes BRT so valuable. Dedicated lanes are necessary to keep transit reliable. Otherwise, transit struggling in traffic is eventually what leads to the delays of buses now, which typically ends in bus bunching (a significant waste of precious transit dollars!).

  • Nick

    I love how Bay Area transit agencies (and the MTA in particular) can have the best graphic designs for their proposed projects. Yet little actually gets accomplished due to lack of funding, EIR complaints, and NIMBY obstructionism.

    Funny that Long Beach can sketch a bike boulevard on a piece of scratch paper and the next time you look it’s being built.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    I just don’t understand why parking is so sacred to some people. Is it that bad if you can’t park right in front? It’s understandable if one needs to be close for disabled or ADA access but for able-bodied folks the necessity of convenient parking doesn’t fly. Walk a little more. Bought too much stuff? Bring your own “old lady” cart.

    The number of people that BRT and new bike lanes will bring in will offset the loss of parking. Streets are for transportation (and Sunday Streets!) not for the storage of cars.

    According to the staff report about 33% of on-street parking spaces will be taken out. I wonder how AC Transit will mitigate that. Where are they going to find the space for parking lots? The neighborhoods off of International, especially around Fruitvale are dense established communities.

  • @Rogue Cyclist. Exactly. This point always seems to drop out–improved transit, cycling, pedestrian facilities accomplish and realize their own parking mitigation. I think the reason people who complain do not get this is that they do not think they themselves, or others like them (the car-owning public) will ever step foot on one of these buses–because those buses are for the poor and a few other suckers–and so the same number of parking spaces will still be needed. But we know this is simply not true. A lot of car-owning people will transition to transit with developments like this.

    The amount of street space, both lanes and parking, as a ratio to the number of vehicles compared to SF in Oakland is incredibly high.

  • I think AC could mitigate the loss of parking by offering free transit passes to employees of businesses on the routes. I hope they consider that in the FEIR.

    I also would like to thank Joel Ramos (who commented above) for the incredible work he has done supporting this project.

  • the greasybear

    Dedicated lanes? Planner, please.

    Time after time, we’ve seen the Bay Area’s scofflaw motorists “dedicate” bike and bus lanes to themselves. Absent consistent police enforcement or strong physical barricades, motorists will pay no more heed to a bus-only lane than they do to laws against red light running, illegal turning, illegal parking, speeding, wrong-way driving, bike lane obstruction and all the other various and sundry outlaw motorist practices.

    Planners should get real: either plan for barricades and police officers to keep dedicated lanes free of jerks in cars, or plan right from the start for BRT to run in mixed traffic and find ways to make it work.

  • That rendering looks pretty separated, but I could be wrong. They should raise up the dedicated bus lanes a couple inches so that cars feel a change if they try to move over. Maybe a rumble strip all the way down the side to go along with it.

    But you are right greasybear, I dodge so many cars using the bike lane as a parking lane it is ridiculous. It’s so common that I get excited on days that I don’t have to deal with some idiot.

  • david vartanoff

    @ Joel et al, Reliability depends on well implemented line management and a good deployment of queue jump, signal priority, and off bus fare control. AC’s recent study of the 1R details the ‘trouble spots’ on the current operation. No surprise, downtown Oakland — where NO curbed off lanes are planned — is a major delay point as are downtown Berkeley, and the Cal Campus/Telegraph shopping strip. AC should implement “rear door loaders” at 3 stops in Oakland and the ‘BART’ stop in Berkeley, which would speed up/increase schedule reliability not only of the 1R but also other routes at the stops. (see AC’s 51 study which also cites the Berkeley BART/Center and Shattuck SB stop as a delay point) Having started this post this AM, I then used the 1R for yet another RT to downtown Oakland –SB Alcatraz 9:23, 14th/B’way 9:37 return 1:23, 1:48. But, the PM trip was leapfrog w/ another 1R whereas if line management were functioning, one bus could have carried all the passengers and the other could have skipped 40 blocks to get back on schedule. And while riding it was very clear that NO signal priority was functioning as we kept hitting reds.

    So what should line management accomplish? In the traditional transit agencies of last century, an inspector(Muni) or supervisor(AC) drives around and observes the flow writing data on a clipboard. Today w/ radios/cellphones/laptops and Nextbus, a single worker can “see” all the buses on the route, notice bunching, arrange to have one of the bunch run ‘out of service’or ‘short turn’ to get back in sequence,

  • Karen Smulevitz

    East Oakland is not as high density as one might surmise. After leaving a meeting in which local residents protested the loss of parking associated with BRT, we walked out to International Boulevard, where within a block were three vacant lots, each large enough to provide more parking than would be displaced. Of all the objections raised, and many concerns are genuine, parking should be the easiest to mitigate, if the will exists to do so.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    @Karen- You’re right, I was over generalizing and clumping in all of East Oak with Fruitvale. There are all kinds of abandoned buildings and empty lots along the corridor. Personally I hate parking lots and see them as wasted space and resources, but if that’s what it takes to get BRT, then I’ll leave it to the higher ups to tackle that issue.

  • Karen Smulevitz

    RC, I agree. Parking lots are ugly and should be out of sight, but maybe we can think of them as training wheels for the mind until more people give up cars for transit.

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