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!


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