Oakland City Council Gives Final Approval to East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the 9.5-mile East Bay Bus Rapid Transit line that will run from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. The vote in Oakland follows a similar approval by San Leandro’s City Council on Monday.

The dual approvals mark a huge victory for advocacy groups and AC Transit, which first recommended BRT in 2001 as way to improve transit options on heavily traveled corridors. The East Bay BRT is expected to be completed in 2016 at a cost of between $152 million and $172 million, and will include seven miles of dedicated bus lanes in Oakland along International Boulevard with 33 stops, most located no more than one-third of a mile apart. Once finished, it will be one of the longest BRT routes in the country, and one of the few constructed in such a densely populated urban area.

“It’s tremendously significant,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner with TransForm. “It’s an indication of Oakland being a forward-thinking city… improving infrastructure to make travel, conducting business, accessing services, or even living along the corridor, more sustainable, more enjoyable, and more liveable.”

Before the vote, Tina Spencer, Oakland’s director of planning and service development, told the council: “The issue is slower transit, and it really creates an unsustainable condition. It’s a downward spiral. More congestion equals more delay, which contributes to unreliable service, fewer riders, which leads to less revenue, fewer riders and finally, service cuts.”

International Boulevard is one of the busiest and most important corridors in Oakland, with many homes and businesses, as well as near-by hospitals and medical centers, civic centers, shopping complexes and churches.

The bus routes that serve the area are the 1 and 1R. With 25,000 riders a day — one-tenth of AC Transit’s total ridership — they rank among the agency’s top five busies. But for the people who rely on them, the 1 and 1R are a huge source of frustration, with inconsistent and crowded service. Once completed, BRT is expected to relieve that frustration by increasing average bus speeds from 9 mph to 13 mph. During the week, buses will be scheduled to run every five minutes during the day and every 10 minutes at night. The more consistent service is expected to increase ridership by 70 percent, to 17,100 patrons per day by 2035. That, in turn, is projected to reduce car travel by 11,300 miles per day.

The BRT corridor will begin at 20th Street in downtown Oakland and run to the San Leandro BART station on the northern edge of San Leandro. AC Transit has promised to continue reaching out to residents and businesses along the route.

In addition to dedicated bus lanes, the route will also include traffic signal systems that hold green lights for approaching buses. Plans also include street improvements, such as new bike lanes, center medians, crosswalks and lighting at every stop. Supporters say these changes will help reduce crime in an area that sorely needs help, and benefit public health.

As Celia Harris, project director with Human Impact Partners, an organization that assess the public health impact of transportation policies, told the Oakland City Council:

First, BRT is likely to bring in other economic development as others cities have seen…and if that happened here, it would lead to more retail and jobs for East Oakland… Second, a well-lit BRT line, running in the middle of International Blvd. will increase visibility of people waiting for the bus, and also attract more riders. Both of these will lead to more eyes on the street, which are likely to decrease crime… Thirdly, the BRT line will improve health by reducing collision-related injuries and death, and encouraging more physical activity.

The final project is a scaled-back version of the original plan, which was to run from downtown Berkeley to San Leandro. Berkeley was dropped from the project when local merchants objected to the loss of parking.

To win approval in Oakland and San Leandro, AC Transit modified the plan to accommodate input from residents and businesses. One big change is that the new buses that will load passengers from either the right or left sides. This means buses can stop from either direction at a central, elevated platform in dedicated BRT lanes, which leaves the curb lanes for parking.

There will still be a loss of parking to construct the dedicated BRT lanes, though Ramos of TransForm said it leaves the majority of spaces intact, and much of what exists is underutilized. AC Transit has promised to work with merchants in the San Antonio, Fruitvale and Elmhurst neighborhoods, the three neighborhoods facing the highest impact, to supplement the area with additional parking.

The mood of the City Council was tense right up until the vote, with objections to the loss of parking and concerns about AC Transit’s efforts to guarantee local jobs. The East Bay BRT is predicted to generate between 500 and 700 jobs. Council members voted to introduce an amendment that called for the encouragement of “prime and subcontractors to voluntarily hire Oakland residents.” They also added an amendment that calls for the compensation of businesses that suffer losses during construction due to loss of parking.

  • Anonymous

    Great news, but is there any chance of the Telegraph Ave section of the route being built out, or is that permanently on hold?

    Also, cue Peter Smith in three, two, one…

  • Qualified woo!

    Does the left-right boarding mean that normal buses won’t be able to use the dedicated lanes and stops? If so, that’s a real loss for the utility of the route.

  • Oakland has been doing a lot of projects lately: rebuilding the lakefront, adding bulb-outs on Park Blvd, Lakeshore, and Grand, and more.  But all of these projects are proceeding just glacially.  I hope ACT puts some actual people on these projects so we’re not still waiting for BRT in 2020.

  • Anonymous

    Did they consider doing either a crossover stop setup (
    http://www.humantransit.org/2012/06/request-for-information-busways-that-cross-over-at-stations.html) or staggered side platforms (
    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/05/02/proposed-van-ness-brt-design-would-combine-the-best-of-both-options/) so they wouldnt have to buy a fleet of buses with doors on the both sides?

  • Thanks for the article, Judy AND Streetsblog! The picture is obsolete, though. The system will now have dual-side door buses with Center-Boarding stations. I would suggest using the picture on the cover of the FEIR or at our website here: 
    http://www.transformca.org/bay-area-transportation/brt/east-bay

  • Woops! My bad, thanks for pointing that out. Changed it.

  • david vartanoff

    Nice idea, bad details.  AC Transit touts buses every 5 minutes on this route in the rider hostile express stop only plan.   At present they can’t even run the advertised schedules because the last decade of funding cuts has decimated maintenance.  This results in current Rapid services being run with “whatever isn’t broken” thus having the BRT set up for special buses is asking for trouble.   But as a former AC BOD member said to me “the East Bay deserves a marquee project” so let’s spend the money.    

  • Charles_Siegel

     And thanks, Joel, for all your great work on this project.

  • CBrinkman

     Yes, thank you and congratulations Joel.  I know how hard you have worked on this.  What a great contribution this will be to public transit.

  • Andy Chow

     I am not a fan of the dual side door either. Since AC Transit has decided to go back to front door wheelchair ramp, dual side buses mean that there would be one front and one center ramp, offering inconsistent experience. Of course not counting in the loss of seats (which can’t be gained back by say lengthening of the buses) and reliability issues associated with a unique fleet.

  • david vartanoff

    Andy,  you remind me that means TWO ramps have to be working correctly to roll the bus.   Not to mention the extra cost at purchase.   If we are to believe any of the MTC gloom and doom transit sustainability study (which I do) operation funding is the most vulnerable part of each agency’s budget.  (The Feds are mostly willing to buy toys for the agencies, but no money to use them)   Over the years, transit properties have traditionally assigned new buses to high profile routes letting older, less reliable ones cover lower priority routes.  Having decrepit specialty  units for the “premier service” is not a viable plan.

  • keenplanner

    Love it almost.  Too bad AC caved under a couple of ill-informed selfish whiners in Berkeley.  They spoiled that end of the route.  Pisses me off. 

  • Jim Trenkle

    @014d815e337305dccb0b861fe6cdb3e3:disqus I don’t think a wheelchair ramp is even required, as these are “at height” entrance and exit.  Am I missing something?

  • Brunosuras

    It seems like a great plan now but i’d like to see it for myself afterwards. I just want to know what will happen to the line 1 since it’s 1 and 1R. I’ve emailed AC three times about this and they never replied. But one thing I do hope is that there are no Van Hools for this plan.

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