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AC Transit to hold hearings on far cheaper-than-rail BRT plan

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  • 6/4 Oakland Tribune
    Published Sunday, June 4, 2007, by the Oakland Tribune Bus rapid transit a hit worldwide AC Transit will hold hearings this month for its 1 Line proposal By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 5, 2007
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      Published Sunday, June 4, 2007, by the Oakland Tribune

      Bus rapid transit a hit worldwide
      AC Transit will hold hearings this month for its '1 Line' proposal

      By Erik N. Nelson

      It may be difficult for progressive trailblazing Bay Area leaders to
      stomach, but they're learning a lesson from Los Angeles about public

      That lesson is called bus rapid transit and it's on the lips of
      transportation officials from the marble halls of Washington, D.C.,
      to the dirt-paved slums of South America. The place it seems to work
      phenomenally well is through the sun-soaked autopolis of L.A.'s San
      Fernando Valley.

      The Orange Line, as it is known, uses natural-gas powered buses along
      an exclusive busway, with limited stops and passengers paying before
      they board to speed loading and unloading. With stations rather than
      mere stops, it resembles some of San Jose's light rail lines, only
      without the rails or streetcars.

      "The Orange Line in Los Angeles is really one of the first full BRT
      systems to open in the country," explained Bill Vincent, who runs the
      Bus Rapid Transit program for the D.C.-based environmental nonprofit
      Breakthrough Technologies Group. "It has been remarkably successful;
      it was projected to carry 22,000 daily riders in theyear 2020 and it
      achieved that number within the first six months or so, so it
      completely blew away expectations."

      While the Bay Area, with BART, Muni and two dozen other transit
      agencies, might have higher expectations of public transportation,
      AC Transit is betting it can make this international phenomenon work
      in the East Bay.

      The East Bay bus agency is gearing up for a series of hearings this
      month for its proposed 1 Line service, designated after the old Key
      System trolleys that ran between Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro
      on the same route along Telegraph Avenue and East 14th Street (now
      International Boulevard in Oakland).

      While AC Transit has been talking about the idea since the 1980s
      and working on it in earnest since 1999, "the whole idea has really
      come of age in America," said Chris Peeples, who has served on
      AC Transit's governing board since the project began.

      Bus rapid transit is unique among transportation alternatives.

      Priorities often divide decision-makers along ideological lines.

      Liberals push for mass transit, conservatives seek highway funding;
      advocates for the poor agitate for more bus service for those who
      can't afford cars, while environmentalists lobby for expensive new
      railways to coax SUV owners off suburban freeways.

      BRT seems to have united some of those competing interests.

      "It combines social justice with Republican interests," Peeples said,
      by improving bus service while at the same time reducing the cost of
      new mass transit construction subsidies that Republicans have sought
      to economize on [BATN: in order to preserve maximum funding for

      "There's been (Bush) administration support for these things, and
      we managed to get into the latest authorization of the latest
      transportation bill," tapping a Department of Transportation program
      called New Starts, usually reserved for rail projects, for
      $75 million.

      The East Bay BRT Project, estimated to cost between $310 million and
      $400 million (the cost of barely four miles of BART tracks), already
      has $175 million set aside from a combination of state and local
      dollars, bridge toll funds and local transportation sales taxes.

      While budget-cutters have endorsed the idea, environmentalists have
      also warmed up to light rail without the rails.

      "Rational decisions have to be based on costs, benefits and potential
      to reduce emissions," said Sergio Sanchez, executive director of the
      Washington-based Clean Air Institute. "BRTs are becoming very popular
      because they have demonstrated their effectiveness in different parts
      of the world."

      In fact, bus rapid transit is the only type of public transportation
      that can earn global warming-fighting credits under Kyoto Protocols,
      which seek international cooperation to cut down on greenhouse gases.

      The United States has yet to agree to abide by those rules, however.

      While AC Transit seems to have this point in history on its side,
      it now has to get through an always-difficult environmental review
      process to keep to its plan to start construction by late 2008 or
      early 2009 and have the line running by 2011.

      Homeowners in Berkeley fret that traffic diverted from bus-only lanes
      will sift through their neighborhoods. Other homeowners worry that
      if the streetscape-transforming concept is successful in their quiet
      neighborhoods, their character might become more dense, more urban.

      Meanwhile, the city of San Leandro has thrown a wrench into the
      process in recent years by declaring its opposition to making lanes
      on East 14th Street car-free. The dedicated bus lanes would snarl
      traffic and cause problems for pedestrians, they concluded, so AC
      Transit is now planning a scaled-back version of BRT once it reaches
      San Leandro.

      San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos is careful to note that he needs to
      convey the position taken by the City Council. On the other hand, he
      thinks the council ought to re-open that debate.

      "We're on a threshold I believe on changing the mode of travel in the
      Bay Area," Santos said. "High gas prices are forcing some people to
      rethink their positions."

      Contact Erik Nelson at enelson@... or (510) 208-6410.
      Read his Capricious Commuter blog at
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