Bay Area’s First BRT System Coming to the East Bay By 2016

Transit riders in the East Bay will get a boost in 2016 with the arrival of the region’s first Bus Rapid Transit corridor, connecting San Leandro and Oakland. The project recently reached a major milestone with the release of its final environmental impact report (EIR). AC Transit will begin fielding public feedback on the EIR next week, and construction could begin as soon as next year.

The project will speed up service on AC Transit Rapid Bus Routes 1 and 1R, primarily along International Boulevard from San Leandro BART Station to downtown Oakland. The BRT line is projected to increase transit speeds 39 percent, reduce automobile travel by 21,000 miles each day, lower operating costs, and spur transit-oriented growth along the roughly 14-mile corridor.

“BRT will bring a whole new level of efficiency, which will translate into quicker rides, more comfortable and more reliable rides that will attract more riders and dramatically improve this service that riders currently experience along the corridor,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner at the Oakland-based TransForm who also sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors. San Francisco is currently developing BRT routes on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, but the East Bay project is expected to open first.

East Bay BRT will be “the first significant amount of infrastructure investment in east Oakland for over 35 years,” said Ramos. The route currently sees over 20,000 riders per day, and although BART runs parallel to it, Ramos pointed out that BRT improvements will create a more attractive option for those who can’t easily walk to a BART station or only want to travel locally.

“The bus service actually serves people who live between BART stations,” he said.

The BRT buses would feature doors on both sides to allow boarding at both center medians and curbside stops. Colored bus lanes, bus signal priority, and off-board fare collection will create and quicker and easier riding experience. In many places, the project would also add bike lanes, and streets should see calmer motor traffic with fewer vehicle lanes. The proposal will cost about $190 million.

The proposed alignment. Image: AC Transit

While the exact alignment is still being finalized, Ramos said the route will likely run between the San Leandro BART Station and 20th Street in Oakland. Although the design favored by cities along the route (known as the “Locally Preferred Alternative”) included an extension to downtown Berkeley, AC Transit is leaning away from it “due to business’ concerns about loss of parking and neighborhood concerns about traffic diversion,” according to the East Bay Bike Coalition.

Ramos said that because car congestion would likely create a bottleneck in the BRT system without dedicated lanes, the route would terminate at 20th Street, and Berkeley-bound riders would have to connect via a local bus (though that service would receive some improvements like off-board ticket machines).

Through TransForm’s efforts to boost the project’s outreach in recent years, Ramos said the planning process has included input from an especially broad demographic, such as non-English-speaking and lower-income communities who are typically excluded.

“Everyone we spoke to, for the most part, was excited about the project,” said Ramos.

East Bay residents and commuters can submit comment on the project EIR until March 19, and AC Transit will hold a series of public meetings in Oakland and San Leandro beginning February 23.

  • Anonymous

    Berkeley MIMBYs killed the northern arm of this route. Shameful performance by the car-hugging liberals.

  • ZM

    Tell me about it….  As someone who regularly bikes through North Berkeley, it’s shocking how much a highly “liberal” group of people can hog the road and drive EVERYWHERE.  It’s really changed my views on some things, such as: what’s worse, people who claim to know better and still do nothing (people who claim to be against congestion and climate change, yet still drive everywhere and fight against transit and bike/ped infrastructure) or those who simply deny it and at least act according to their principles.  

  • Anonymous

    I thought it was going to have dedicated lanes all the way to the Berkeley border. I guess not….

    Dedicated bus lanes on Broadway in Oakland could help all the bus lines that go through there.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the graphic above is correct. The EIR shows dedicated lanes along Telegraph through Oakland as well, at least until the Berkeley border. People who typically don’t care for busses should think of this project as a “streetcar without the tracks” to understand the concept.

    That being said, the proposed bike lanes are all pretty narrow and almost all alongside parallel parked cars. There have been some interesting proposals to increase the amount of available street real estate such as a single lane of traffic for the BRT to run both ways, since two lanes would only be used when busses are passing one another, and most of the time would lie empty as wasted space. Separate lanes running both ways would only be needed at bus stops or at complex intersections, as in all other spots one of the busses could easily merge out of the BRT lane to pass with minimal delay.

    I hope there will be enough community interest and turn out for the project to encourage the planners to take creative solutions like this seriously.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, the graphic is incorrect. The dedicated lanes start on Telegraph in North Oakland between 66th and 65 Streets, very close to the Berkeley border:

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the EIR shows the maximum that they can build.  They can build it because they have studied its environmental impact, but they do not have to build it all. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are right.  The article is incorrect to say: “Although the design favored by cities along the route (known as the
    “Locally Preferred Alternative”) included an extension to
    downtown Berkeley, AC Transit is leaning away from it.” 

    I was at the meeting where the Berkeley city council voted against this route and adopted a Locally Preferred Alternative with no dedicated bus lanes in Berkeley. 

    I should add that Mayor Tom Bates was a strong supporter of the BRT plan from the beginning, but he couldn’t overcome combined business and NIMBY opposition. 

    My take on the politics is that my crowd of urban environmentalists usually have a pretty good chance when we are opposed by neighborhood NIMBYs.  In this case, the usual NIMBYs were joined by a very large group of Telegraph Ave. merchants and street vendors, so the opposition was too large for us to deal with.

    It was a shamefully hypocritical decision on the part of the Berkeley City Council, who essentially said: sure, we want to control global warming and to protect the environment, but Not In My Backyard.

  • Anonymous

    From the EIR, very nice: “Bicycles on the BRT Buses. Bicycles will be allowed on the new BRT buses. The BRT buses will have hooks inside the vehicles where 2 to 4 bicycles can be hung in each bus. AC Transit will want to see if any conflicts arise between bicycles and passengers during peak hours before creating a firm policy of peak hour restrictions”

  • Anonymous

    Ah yes, the Telegraph merchants. Their sales tax revenues for the Telegraph corridor have fallen off a cliff. And that was before the recent fire and Andronicos bankruptcy. How did Berkeley ever decide to allow those clowns to dictate the city’s long-range business and environmental policy?

  • Aaron Bialick

    Yes, the graphic above is from the Downtown Oakland – San Leandro (DOSL) proposal, which AC Transit seems to favor. The plan sheets you linked are were drawn up to include dedicated lanes on Telegraph as one scenario, but they don’t seem likely to be built at this point.

    See the EIR’s project alternatives section:

  • Aaron Bialick

    @0c6a1ba3c059e75968ce271f4ea79d78:disqus   I am not sure why there is a discrepancy with the City Council’s vote, but the Locally Preferred Alternative included in the EIR’s Project Alternatives section shows dedicated lanes on Telegraph: 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the info. Unfortunately the DOSL proposal essentially castrates the effectiveness of the plan, turning it into a BRT without so much “R”.

    I can’t seem to find any end-to-end speed estimates comparing the LPA and DOSL alignments. Does anyone know if one exists?

  • Aaron Bialick

    Well, as I understand it, it’s sort of apples-to-oranges, as DOSL terminates before Berkeley, and measuring the travel time would have to include the local bus transfer in place of the Berkeley leg of BRT. I think the two proposals are the same along the rest of the route.

  • Dani

    VTA’s Alum Rock BRT will actually be the first real BRT in the Bay Area…

  • david vartanoff

    AC Transit can barely field scheduled service today–designing a system to require a specialized fleet invites disaster.  The 1R for several months has been “whatever wasn’t broken” rather than the assigned “Rapid branding” buses.   Until realistic and reliable operations funding is assured, this BRT project wastes capital for something they won’t be able to operate.   As I write this the 1 shows a 42 min gap thew 1R 19.  (15 and 12 advertized)  I will be late for class at Cal.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Aaron, the map of the LPA (Figure 2.3-2) shows a bus lane on Telegraph in Oakland (red line) becoming mixed flow north of the Berkeley border (green line).

  • This BRT system will put bike development on ice for 10+ years, until advocates come to their senses and demand protected lanes for bikes instead of protected lanes for buses. [Poor wittle buses.] We need to allow bikes on the most major, most direct routes from Point A to Point B — ‘neighborhood greenways’ and the like are nearly useless — people have places to go and things to do — we deserve to be able to ride on the major corridors.

    It’ll also be a colossal waste of resources — only achieving the reconfiguring of the streets involved in a way that will move the street from 75% motorized transport to about….75% motorized transport — this after blowing up the street and rebuilding it. #smart The added benefit is you stop people from riding bikes, which means they’re either driving or riding the MASSIVEBUS, which means anyone who is not poor is driving.

    The biking and walking environments will be destroyed, and will mimic the ‘great/successful’ BRT corridors of Cleveland, LA, and of course, Bogota — Bogota being the most dystopian of motorized cities that have given people no other choice but to ride massive buses, experience sexual assault and robbery, and generally be degraded at least twice a day. 

    Instead of making untold millions for the car/bus companies, we could give people a real option of getting around on their own — with cycletracks. They’re easy, inexpensive, and don’t act as a hidden subsidy to Big Auto/Big Bus — which is exactly why most ‘progressive’ advocates reject them out of hand. Unlike buses, they actually are environmentally friendly, too.

    Good job for Berkeley trying to quash this disaster brought to us by Volvo, Mercedes, Shell, and car-only advocates everywhere.

    Welcome to the new Telegraph Ave. 

  • Kevin

    Cycling and Mass Transit are not competitors like you are implying. You
    seem out of touch with the residents of East Oakland, many of which
    don’t have the money to afford a bike, much less maintain it. Yes, there
    are some pretty rad shops in the area serving working class people of
    color, but they aren’t enough to get everyone on bikes to compare to how
    many people can be moved with BRT.

    I find it bizarre that you would equate BRT with car-dependence. Yes,
    they are using diesel powered buses, but they are much more efficient in
    space and energy when moving lots of people compared to a 2 ton car
    that only moves one person. After the creation of BRT many more people
    probably wont have to buy a car or can sell the one they have, if all
    they need is on the corridor. In this vein it seems like Berkeley shut
    down the dedicated BRT lane through the city to protect car-dependence,
    not decrease it.

    Plus lets not forget the popular perception of biking as a white upper
    class activity – who have the luxury of living near were they work
    (bikeable distance), having health insurance in case they get maimed and
    can count on police being (more so) on their side.

  • Cycling and mass transit are not competitors, but Cycling and BRT are. If you create a massive BRT highway in the middle of an existing road, you not only destroy the livability of that corridor, you also prevent the creation of any cycletracks — thus, you prevent cycling. It’s a very simple formula. 

    If you want to continue to prevent cycling as a viable form of transport, it’s very easy — the auto industry has figured it out — it’s called BRT.

    Mikael over at is savvy to the big-time PR game, too — it should really be required learning (PR, advertising, propaganda, etc.) for any citizen of a democratic society. (“Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” –Noam Chomsky) 
    The single greatest threat to automobility is not TOD, it’s not better land-use regulations or no regulations, it’s not the rising price of oil, etc. — it’s one and only one thing — bikes. 

    Bikes not only pull people out of their cars but off of mass transit and of course off of buses — we have the evidence to back this up, unlike the wild claims we hear from BRT proponents who never furnish actual evidence.

    Until the past few years, GM and company didn’t have much to worry about — they could always count on a massive taxpayer bailout, and the fundamentals of the game weren’t about to change — add in rising standards of living around the world and boom — profit city was always sure to be right around the corner again (with a cool $24B donation from me and you and our fellow taxpayers). Then the bicycle started happening in places it wasn’t supposed to happen — coupled with the threat of global warming, etc. — it lasted longer than it was supposed to — this wasn’t the oil shock of the 1970s — this was something new and longer-lasting. The auto industry had to respond, and respond they did — it’s called BRT, and it’s the best thing to happen to the auto industry since the 1956 Highway Act. The top BRT advocates today are being _very_ well compensated for their service. Follow the money.

    People don’t have money to afford a bike? If that were the case, which is it not, would that be the reason you believe that people aren’t cycling anywhere? The data shows two major reasons why people don’t bike, and neither of them has to do with the affordability of buying a bike.

    I don’t get the whole ‘working class people of color’ thing — _nobody_ can bike around safely and conveniently with dignity intact — that’s why _nobody_ does it except the extremely few people who are some combination of risk-tolerant/risk-seeking, desperately poor, environmentally conscious, etc. What’s the bicycle mode share in East Bay on average? Probably about 4%, tops. 

    If you find it bizarre to equate BRT with car dependence, then talk to the auto companies about why they keep giving millions of dollars to the BRT PR outfits like ITDP,, WRI, establishing ‘think tanks’ all over the world, co-opting outfits like Streetfilms, and I’m sure Streetsblog next, etc. You think the auto industry wants to save the world? You think they want to do good? You think they want to cannibalize their sales? I think _that_ is bizarre that you would believe any of this. If you are the head of Volvo and VM and Shell, your job is to sell more and keep margins and profits high — that’s it.

    The reason BRT always uses natural resource-based fuels is because that’s the unholy alliance struck implicitly and sometimes explicitly between the auto, oil, and rubber industries — how are they all going to make money if we start electrifying transportation, or worse, allowing people to walk and bike to work? 

    You think the unholy car/oil/rubber alliance is going to allow even San Francisco, with its long history of electrifying its buses, to electrify its BRT lines? If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. 

    Because once you agree to electrify, then you have to ask, why don’t we provide poor and working class people with dignified, comfortable motorized transportation, like trains/trams/streetcars/LRT? 

    And then you have to admit that either these people don’t deserve dignified, comfortable transportation, or you have to hide behind some techno-gibberish about how bus and rail are really the same (BRT is just ‘rail on rubber’ or something), they’re just ‘technologies’ that move organisms (importantly, not thinking, feeling, sentient, worthy-of-respect human beings) through spacetime and those riff-raff don’t deserve ‘gold-plated transit’ (I’ve never seen gold-plated transit in America.). 

    In one fell swoop, with the decision to electrify BRT, you’d lose extra growth, and possibly even face a threat of shrinkage, for all three members of the unholy alliance — no buses, no oil, and no rubber. Boom. Car sales are going to continue to boom around the world — regardless of wasteful and unrealistic hope-mongering I often see from ‘progressive transportation advocates’ — but all hope is not lost — we just have to be rational and look at the data. If car sales continue to boom especially rapidly in BRT cities, then that alone should compel us to question the narrative provided to us by Daimler and company — maybe BRT is not the answer to all our problems — maybe, in fact, it’s part of of the problem.

    Electrifying and using trams instead of BRT is most important because you save enough road space for bikes (because MASSIVEBUSES are so ginormously wide and unruly) _and_ you give people an actual, dignified, comfortable alternative to the automobile. Simply put, BRT enforces and enhances automobility — we have to resist it at every turn.

    BRT has never moved people out of their cars — there’s just no evidence to suport that claim. We have to be data-driven — we have to look at the numbers being provided to us by the auto/BRT industry, and examine them. The only evidence I’ve seen is the opposite — BRT gets installed, people start buying cars like crazy. Additionally, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that rail moves drivers out of their cars — as I’ve implied. So why not just give people dignified, comfortable motorized transit options? It’s the right thing to do. But more right is to allow people to walk and bike places.

    The whole rich/white stereotype thing is just the auto industry — again, examine the data — it’s been shown to be a wholly-imagined ‘stereotype’ here on Streetsblog more than once — why would you continue to believe it? Just look around next time you’re out in the streets — all rich, upper-class, white dudes? That wouldn’t even be true if you lived in Beverly Hills.

    Finally, people don’t want to be shuttled around — we want to go where we want to go when we want to go there — we don’t want your permission, we don’t want to pay you for the privilege, and we sure as sugar don’t want to wait on some desolate stretch of road for some rolling heap of metal to ship us, like cattle, off to our destination. 

    Dignity. Respect. We require it. We deserve it. We’re gonna get it. And BRT is going to delay it, but we’re not gonna stop fighting until we get it.

  • Anonymous

    There is already a plan for a protected bikeway basically paralleling the BRT route from Lake Merritt through all of East Oakland and beyond. It’s called the East Bay Greenway:

    I am a huge fan of Dutch-style cycletracks but don’t think they are the answer to everything. Not every street has to be all things to all people. I think it is fine that the BRT project takes up a lot of space, as long as there are still cycling facilities incorporated in their plans, as well as parallel bike routes on other streets with better facilities.

    The Oakland BRT is being planned on streets that are not kind to cyclists at all currently, so with auto lane reductions and even non-separated bike lanes included it will substantially calm auto traffic through those areas and at the same time improve conditions for both cyclists (who will now have their own, non-separated lane) and pedestrians. In addition, the proposed BRT plan appears to be kinder to multi-modal bike/bus trips, with no blackout times like BART, and bike hooks inside the busses themselves.

    I bike for almost all of my trips but don’t expect everyone else to be able or willing to commit to cycling as much as I have. That is why efficient and reliable public transportation is so important when encouraging people to go car-lite or car-less. 

  • Downtown SJ Booster

    Sorry guys, but the first BRT system in the region will be up and running in San Jose two years earlier — they’re under construction this year along Santa Clara St….


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