Friday, June 29, 2007

Errors About BRT in the East Bay Express

The last issue of the East Bay Express, a local free newspaper, had a generally unfavorable article about AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit plan, "Bumps in the Road" by Kathleen Richards.

The author interviewed several opponents of BRT but none of its supporters, so she got a distorted view of the project. Joel Ramos of Transportation and Land Use Coalition provides these responses to her worst errors:

First, Kathleen Richards leaves out the fact that, with dedicated lanes, buses become more reliable, as they no longer have to fight traffic to get back into a lane after pulling over for passengers. They also avoid traffic jams and double parked cars. Currently, lack of reliability is a key concern of community members we spoke to.

Ms. Richards claims: "But a recently released draft Environmental Impact Report suggests that the benefits may not be terribly significant, given the project's cost."

She's really off here: the project is actually very cost-effective, given it is a fraction of the cost of a light rail system that would give equivalent benefits for the same route length. For example, the Third Street Light Rail project is almost double the cost and only a third of the length, and it is wrought with complications.

As far as benefits go, travel time will be reduced on average of 30%. This may not be significant to Ms.Richards, but when you go from an 45 minute commute each day to a 30 minute commute each day (which is what many people do coming from East Oakland), that's 15 minutes each way, twice a day; 30 minutes saved each day, five days a week, is 2 1/2 hours more time for your family or for other activities. Even more important is the new reliability with the dedicated lanes. Most journalists, Berkeley residents and merchants probably have never had to wait for a bus to get between jobs."$400 million for a few seconds"is again hyperbole

Ms. Richards says "It will create complete gridlock" and "the analysis is totally wrong." This is also rhetoric with no rationale.

The DEIR studies show that, with proper traffic mitigations, the route will not degrade to gridlock. The FTA, Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency all approved the studies. They might know a thing or two about keeping traffic flowing. Possibly 5 of the 88 intersections will get worse than they are now, but it won't be gridlock - and traffic would also worsen BRT, because of increased growth.

Ms. Richards writes: "a customer who rides BRT five miles would save less than five minutes over the rapid bus — and BART, which runs roughly the same route, is far faster than either."

What Ms. Richards failed to report, as stated in the DEIR, is the average speeds of buses have declined by 10mph over the past 10 years. Something needs to be done, and this is an affordable way to do it. However, increase in velocity, is not the main intent. Anything faster than 18 mph or so would be unsafe for passengers and everyone else. A bullet train is not needed here. Getting buses out of the way of car traffic, and getting buses into dedicated lanes is the intent.

Again, the dedicated lanes will reduce travel time by an average of 30%, mostly by getting out of traffic, allowing boarding through multiple doors (cutting time that it takes for each passenger to pay the driver), and and implementing new signal technology. Though most trips on the bus are longer than 5 miles, BART is not competitive because most people don't live near a BART station! BART is also too expensive for many people. If BART were accessible and affordable, there would not be 24,000 passengers using the bus on this route now.

Ms. Richards says: "So some question why the agency is pursuing Bus Rapid Transit rather than expanding or enhancing the far cheaper and less-disruptive system already in place."

In fact, the "Rapid" bus system already in place is not very rapid when the buses are sitting in traffic. Currently, it takes 45 minutes to get East Oakland from downtown during rush hour on the "Rapid." With anticipated regional growth, this will only get worse with time.

Ms. Richards says: "As far as any environmental benefits, Bus Rapid Transit is basically a wash."

In fact, 1,000 gallons per day saved, times 365 days per year, is a significant amount of gas that is saved from being burned! And every gallon of gas produces 20lbs of carbon! Even though the DEIR did not cover CO2 reductions, they are eliminating all this carbon saved from warming the environment! AC Transit's comparison in the DEIR was misleading because they compared the gasoline savings on this one corridor with all the gasoline burned in all of Alameda County, making the savings seem small. But it's hardly a wash!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Photos of Busways in France

Rob Wrenn writes:

I was in France for two weeks in May, in four different cities, Lille, Tours, Paris and Rouen. All had busways/dedicated lanes for some major bus routes; Paris has an extensive network. Rouen has something that is actually described as BRT, while Paris and Tours don't call it that. I took pictures in Paris, Tours and Rouen just to show that what AC is planning with BRT is hardly unusual or untested. What's going on in Paris is amazing with bike lanes, bus lanes, trees and green space being added, while space for cars is reduced.

I also took some pictures of bike lanes, pedestrian streets and other stuff. In addition, there are some older pictures of BRT in Las Vegas, though I think BRT in France is much more relevant to our plans here than Las Vegas' highway-based BRT.

You should be able to view the photos by clicking on the link that follows (or copying and pasting it into your web browser):

Click on "View as slideshow" and click the middle of the photo to get the captions included. There is a little "i" for information. Or click on individual photos. If you do that you will have to click on "different sizes" to see a decent sized version of the photo. "Slideshow" is good because photos are full size. You can adjust the speed of the slideshow too by clicking on speeds at the bottom of the page. Let me know if you have problems looking at the photos.

Caveat: I make no claims to being a skilled photographer.

Sierra Club Endorses BRT

Last week, the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting Bus Rapid Transit, including dedicated transitways and proof of payment.



--The Sierra Club has long sought to reduce the environmental, social, and economic costs associated with overdependence on automobiles for transportation.

--Public transit, walking, and bicycling trips can often substitute for some automobile trips.

--AC Transit has proposed a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project along a corridor including Telegraph Avenue and International Boulevard extending between 15 and 17 miles between Berkeley and San Leandro. The Sierra Club strongly supports the project's goals to: (1) improve transit service and better accommodate existing bus ridership; (2) increase transit ridership by
providing a viable and competitive alternative to private automobile travel; (3) improve and maintain the efficiency of transit service delivery; and (4) support local and regional goals to enhance transit-oriented development.

--UC Berkeley is planning to expand its workforce by approximately 4,000 more employees and 4,000 more students by 2020, and ABAG predicts significant population growth in the Bay Area over the same time frame. As one mitigation of the environmental impact of its projected population growth, UC Berkeley stated in the final EIR of its 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) that it will defer 500 of the 2,300 net new parking spaces proposed in the draft 2020 LRDP until after 2020 if a route is approved and construction begins on the AC Transit Bus Rapid Transit/Telegraph project by January 2010.

--The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's own LRDP projects the addition of 1,000 employees by 2025 who could also use BRT to get to work.

--In its Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the project, AC Transit predicts that the proposed service, which is to run on dedicated bus lanes (described in the EIR as "transitways") along much of its length, will attract thousands of passengers every week who would otherwise drive.

--The BRT system stations will be designed to attract users making trips on foot within 1/4 mile of stations. Localities can work with AC Transit to locate stops where neighborhood service uses are already located or could be located, thus encouraging more non-automobile trips.

Therefore, be it resolved that:

--The Sierra Club strongly supports AC Transit's overall objective of implementing high level bus rapid transit (BRT) improvements along an approximately 17-mile corridor connecting the cities of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro.

--With regard to key points in the DEIR, the Sierra Club affirms that the fullest possible implementation of the transitways and proof of payment (prepayment of fares that will eliminate the need for drivers to collect fares at each bus stop) will be critically important to the project's success.

--In the interest of best serving the needs of the community and of merchants and neighbors along the proposed BRT route, the Sierra Club will continue to study the DEIR and observe the public review process in order to determine at a later date whether or not the Club should take a position on the specific route choices and alternatives presented in the DEIR.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Notes on the N-Judah Line in San Francisco

Notes on the N-Judah Line in San Francisco

We already have a transitway in the San Francisco Bay Area very
similar to the BRT transitway proposed for Telegraph Avenue in
Berkeley and Oakland, and it works very well.

I rode on the N-Judah line in San Francisco from the Van Ness station
at Market out to 46th Avenue at noon on Wednesday, May 30. The
N-Judah stops at UCSF Medical Center and ends at Ocean Beach.

For most of the route along Irving St from Irving and 2nd to 9th
Avenue, along 9th Ave from Irving to Judah, and along Judah from 9th
and Judah to 46th Avenue, the tracks occupy the two center lanes and
there is one car lane in each direction. Judah Street is six lanes
wide, as is Irving Street. There is parking on both sides of the
street. At the streetcar stops, there were generally sidewalk height
boarding platforms a lane in width which required the replacement of
the parking lane with a traffic lane to allow cars to pass.

There is no local service on this route.

There are white diamonds painted on the asphalt between the tracks
every so often - the same as the symbols on HOV lanes on the freeway.
I asked the conductor what the diamond symbols meant, but he didn't
know. Cars turning left pulled into the streetcar lane to make the
turn. The conductor said that sometimes during rush hour cars would
get in the way, and that he would like to see better enforcement.

Between 8th and 19th Ave I noticed one sign that said 'Keep off
Trackway' and another one that read 'Keep off Raised Trackway.'
The signs were posted on light poles on the sidewalk.

A white line was painted on the street to the right of the tracks to
demarcate the streetcar lane.

There were ramps for loading wheelchairs about every third or fourth
stop. I spoke to someone in a non-motorized wheelchair who told me
that he was able to roll downhill to most of his destinations. He
would plan ahead to make sure that he got off at a stop that had a
wheelchair ramp and was located uphill from his destination.

One of the stops of this line is at UCSF on Irving between 6th Avenue
and Arguello. Needless to say, there is a wheelchair ramp at this stop.

At most of the stops platforms are sidewalk-height, and to enter the
car required climbing up two steps. At a few of the stops waiting
passengers stood on the street - there was no platform.

Stops were placed every third block. According to Julie Kirschbaum,
Senior Transportation Planner at the San Francisco County
Transportation Authority, stop spacing on the N-Judah is 1000 - 1200 ft.

I rode the line at noon on a weekday, and traffic was light. The
steetcar was half full. I'd taken a previous trip on the N-Judah
on a Saturday afternoon about a month ago, and again,
there were no congestion problems. It would be useful
to know what's it like during a Friday rush hour.

One interesting feature occurs shortly after leaving the West Portal
tunnel entrance (which leads to the underground along Market): the
streetcar stops at the curb when making a turn at Carl and Cole Sts.
Between the exit from the tunnel that goes under Buena Vista Park till
Stanyan (I think) the streetcar is running on a street with one lane
in each direction and a parking lane on either side of the street, so
it is actually running in the traffic. This goes on for two or three

I was particularly interested in seeing what kind of development had
taken place along the corridor. There are two, three, and four story
buildings. There was a new-looking 4-story building at the corner of
7th and Irving with shops below and either apartments or condos above.
By and large the neighborhood along the Judah corridor looked old and
well-established. There was no sign of any mega-development. The
buildings are reasonably well-maintained.

While not exactly the same as the Telegraph Corridor, the Judah
corridor may be somewhat representative of what we'll see on Telegraph
Ave if the 'Combined' BRT is built. It looks functionally equivalent
to the 'Combined' BRT proposal for Telegraph, since there is no local
bus service and the stops are three blocks apart.

A delegation from the Willard and LeConte Neighborhood Associations
should take a ride on the N-Judah. I think they would be reassured
about the impacts of a BRT on Telegraph.

Len Conly