Advocates Rebuff Merchant’s Absurd Argument Against East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit

In an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune yesterday, local business owner Randy Reed laid down a whopping piece of misinformation: For businesses, he wrote, enhancing East Bay transportation options with Bus Rapid Transit will be no different than when construction removes all of the car parking on a street.

Reed, who led the charge in killing the Telegraph Avenue leg of the East Bay BRT route, got the piece published just as the project faces two critical hearings next week (see below for the schedule). Based on this new op-ed, Reed isn’t content to just squash transit improvements in his backyard — he also doesn’t want to let residents on the rest of the Downtown Oakland – San Leandro route reap the benefits.

Here’s what Reed calls the BRT “test run” that forms the backbone of his screed:

We have tested the effect of removing all street parking in our area, and it was devastating to our business. A test was run with city staff several years ago to see what happens with lane closures and parking removal on Telegraph from 43rd to 45th streets.

The problems were tracked: When the street was repaved; when ramps were installed on the corners; and when sidewalk repairs were performed.

Staff concluded that it would be disastrous.

Two local advocates offered up some fantastic rebuttals in the comments section. I’ll hand the mic over to Streetsblog’s own Oakland-based intern Robert Prinz, who is also the education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition:

Maybe you would have a point if removing all street parking was actually part of the plan. Removing a few spots, sure, but the bulk of curbside parking spots will remain. The BRT planners I have talked to bent over backwards to keep as much parking as possible, to the detriment of other parts of the plan.

What is really going to happen is the reduced scope San Leandro-Oakland BRT is going to be built, it will be a huge boon for the communities along that corridor, and then the Telegraph merchants with a collective case of selective memory loss will start lining up to ask for an expensive extension into their business districts.

The reality is that there is no amount of curbside parking that will satisfy the future demand for potential shoppers along Telegraph, so if a merchant really wants to maximize their exposure to potential shoppers they should be fighting FOR better transit and bike/ped facilities, not against them. To argue otherwise is very short sighted.

Reed encouraged readers to push for a “curbside” BRT alternative, which can hardly be called true BRT, since it would actually stick buses between the parking lane and car traffic lanes, subjecting transit service to frequent blockages from motorists.

TransForm Community Planner Joél Ramos (who is also a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors) elaborates:

“Curbside” BRT is not an option, as it would increase operating costs to deliver service along the corridor. Also, construction of BRT won’t be too much more complicated than repaving the streets, which has recently been done along some portions of the corridor with no detrimental impacts to businesses, and is sorely needed along other parts of the corridor, but for which there is no funding. BRT will include repaving the street, curb to curb.

Finally, there is no way any “test” could have ever worked because transit would not have been improved enough to get people out of their cars. No real alternatives existed during any “test” that would replicate the trade-off for a reduction of travel lanes. Besides, If BRT really doesn’t work, we can always restore the lanes with minimum costs. My guess is that it will work, though, as it has in every other place where it has been implemented, and is why both San Jose and San Francisco are planning their own BRT projects for the Van Ness, Geary, El Camino Real, and Alum Rock corridors.

An agreement on the center-running alternative passed the Oakland Public Works Committee with broad support this morning, and TransForm is calling on supporters to speak up at two final meetings next week to ensure a fast, reliable transit corridor comes to the East Bay:
  • Monday, July 16th @ 7pm – San Leandro City Council, Civic Center, City Council Chambers, 835 East 14th Street.
  • Tuesday, July 17th @ 5:30pm – Full Oakland City Council, Council Chambers on the 3rd floor of City Hall
  • Dave

    Rees also led the charge against safe bike access on Telegraph Ave 12 years ago. He’s only sees cars in his small world.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am waiting for BRT to be built in San Leandro and downtown Oakland, so the hysterical opponents of BRT in Berkeley will see that the sky does not fall. 

    Despite its reputation for being progressive, Berkeley has been retrograde on this issue.  I expect that, in a few years, it will see how well BRT works and will want to follow the lead of San Leandro and get BRT extended to Berkeley.

    I should add that mayor Tom Bates did an excellent job of supporting BRT in Berkeley, but he could not get the more backward members of the city council to go along.

  • RandyReed

    There is nothing like being mis-represented by hateful people to further their political agenda.  

    I am in favor of better mass transit and have stated that.
    I was an early supporter of BRT and stated that.
    I am also a bike rider.

    What I am upset about is the lack of respect in the development process.
    I was upset by the lack of respect for the existing business and property owners when the bike lanes were proposed for Telegraph 12 years ago and I have been upset about the lack of respect in the BRT development process over the last several years.

    In regards to the bike lane proposal, businesses were not even going to be consulted before the plans were to be approved.  They planned to remove some of the street parking and two lanes of traffic without even meeting with street front businesses to discuss the process. This was disrespectful.  The process would affect many parties, positively and negatively.  All should have been included.  Business were not included until we forced a “wedge” into the process.  This was not appropriate, inclusive, or professional.  It turned out that an EIR had not been done as required by law.

    In regards to the BRT, AC Transit has attempted to run rough shod over the local businesses.  We are being treated as an after thought – as though we should just accept whatever is to be done to us without complaint – just fold up and go away so that the BRT can go forward.  If we go out of business, then gosh we are just the wrong kind of business.   

    Just as pedestrians, bike riders, and bus riders need to be considered in the process, existing businesses need to be included and considered in the process.  It needs to be a rational and inclusive process.  

    As I stated before, if the advocates – who so willingly bash me for demanding to be included in the process – were faced with the possibility of loosing what they have worked for for 30 years – their business, their savings, their source of income, they might not be so rude and dismissive.

    Our business is not just me.  We have over 50 blue collar employees who have families.  We live and work in the community, we are part of the community, and deserve to be include – not marginalized as a mere obstacle to “progress’.

  • Charles_Siegel

     “In regards to the BRT, AC Transit has attempted to run rough shod over
    the local businesses.  We are being treated as an after thought – as
    though we should just accept whatever is to be done to us without
    complaint – just fold up and go away so that the BRT can go forward.”

    Nonsense.  There were years of public meetings where everyone got a chance to comment, including businesses. 

    You are really just saying that you are against any plan that includes dedicated bus lanes, and you expect AC Transit to accept what you want without complaint – even though removing the dedicated lanes eviscerates the project.

    PS: If you are writing Op-Eds, you should learn basic English usage.

    “In regards to is an error.”  See http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/regards.html or use google to find many other sites that explain this error.

  • mikesonn

    As I like to say, Berkeley (and Palo Alto, etc) are only as green as the latest Prius.

  •  It took you 8 words to get in an ad hominem attack. And you call Aaron hateful?

  • keenplanner

    It’s always the selfish malcontents who are the most vociferous.  The hundreds or thousands of commuters who would benefit from this well-planned project will now not gain the time savings the project was designed to provide. It also will fail to lure drivers out of their cars because the benefits will be questionable. 
    Telegraph merchants are still laboring under the misconception that drivers are the bulk of their customers.  Wouldn’t it make sense to provide 50 “blue collar” employees relief from having to spend a a large percentage of their income on car ownership?  They would have over $5000 a year to spend at local businesses.
    You can continue to support the car infrastructure, which is hostile to pedestrians, bicyclists, and main street type commercial zones, or you can support modern, transit-oriented, people-scaled development.  The kinder a street is to cars, the more hostile it is to pedestrians and cyclists.  There is no in-between. 
    The sad thing is that Mr. Reed, and his neighbors are blind to the benefits of transit and bike lanes.  Perhaps he should travel (on BART, hopefully) over to Valencia Street in San Francisco and ask the merchants (who initially objected to adding bike lanes using the same “rationality” as Mr. Reed) if they would like to go back to 4 lanes of traffic, more parking, and no bike lanes.
    Buses are not a political agenda.  They’re transportation for people. 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t hear anyone saying that the interests of businesses along the BRT corridor are not important, and the fact that the route was effectively cut in half due primarily to concerns voiced by business owners shows that they are possibly even being over-represented in the planning process. However, I don’t think it is asking too much for businesses to be able to compromise on the plan, just like every other interested group has been doing, instead of working to shut down the project altogether (or at least castrating it into ineffectiveness).

    Please note, Randy, that nobody is bashing you personally, they are just bashing your ideas. With all due respect, while most business owners are very good at running their companies, they often have no clue about their customers’ transportation needs and about how people are arriving at their stores. If what people really wanted above all else were parking spots, then why are so many Oakland shoppers heading over to San Francisco?

    I’m certainly not rich, but by not driving a car I have a lot more discretionary income burning a hole in my pocket than I would otherwise. Also, as a non driver I am a lot more likely to shop at the local store down the street as opposed to someone who will more likely hop in a car and drive further to a big box store with a enormous parking lot out front. Local business owners who appreciate this dynamic and learn to adapt are the ones who are going to stay afloat despite a changing economy and transportation network.

  • TN

    In all fairness to Mr. Reed, his company sells safes and steel security doors. His company’s customers aren’t going to come to shop at his business via foot, bicycle or bus.

  • Mr. Reed, raising the issue of “misrepresentation” probably isn’t the best defense in your case.

    @TN: That’s all the more reason to reduce demand for parking at other business by improving access by transit, biking, and walking.

  • mikesonn

    @4aea702b6e9b764973427eb7d17e95e2:disqus Does he offer delivery? How many people are pulling up, shopping, and then walking out to their car with a safe or steel door? What precludes them from shopping via walking, transit or biking?

  • TN

    I don’t know what Mr. Reed could do to alleviate a parking shortage for his business. When I was at school at UC, my housemates and I once went down to the business to buy a security door for the funky house we lived in. We strapped it to the top of our car to drive it home. A delivery fee on top of  the sales price would probably have made us look at other places to shop. (It was quicker and more effective for us to do it ourselves than beating on our landlord to do it.)

    I support BRT. But it doesn’t do any good to pretend that the effects of the street reconfiguration are going to be uniformly good for all businesses. There may be an overall gain. Some businesses will gain customers. Some will lose customers. And some will either close or relocate due to the reconfiguration. Every infrastructure project effects various people and businesses in a neighborhood differently.

  • Anonymous

    It is really hard to imagine how BRT would reduce parking availability for Mr. Reed’s business. Not only does his business have a large off-street parking lot, but AC Transit has always said it would mitigate parking loss as part of the project.

    Incidentally: before BRT there was a plan to stripe Class II bike lanes on that stretch of Telegraph. The only automobile impact would have been the removal of some inconsequential left-turn pockets — the merchants opposed even that.

  • Sprague

    Very well said, keenplanner.

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