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East Bay goes green with Bus Rapid Transit

A newly planned high-speed bus system is predicted to add 700 jobs to Oakland’s economy and improve residents’ daily commutes.

A simulation of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stop on East 14th St near Estudillo Ave in downtown San Leandro. The proposed BRT route runs from downtown Berkeley to San Leandro BART. (Source: BRT summary report)

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project is a new system that combines the rapid-transit style of light rail with buses. It will have dedicated bus lanes in the middle of the street that will allow for a 28 percent increase in speed compared to existing AC Transit buses. Construction on this project will begin in 2014 and reach completion in 2016.

AC Transit invited public review and comment at a Feb 23 community meeting by the Fruitvale BART station. The meeting opened with a short video that provided photo simulations of what International Boulevard would look like with the BRT buses in place. Then project manager Jim Cunradi gave a short presentation that highlighted BRT’s potential benefits, like job creation and local economic development.

The meeting included display boards detailing project info like stops along the BRT route and public transit needs along the BRT corridor. BRT staff were available to answer community members’ questions.

Community feedback

Joyce Roy, a retired architect and Oakland resident, has been following the BRT Project for over a decade. Although she originally supported the project, she is now against it.

“The people who drive cars do not know how bad of a project this is for them,” said Roy, referring to the fact that bus lanes placed in the middle of the road will limit car lanes to one lane on either side of the bus.

Having bus stops in the middle of the road rather than on the curbwas daunting for Roy. Her main concern was accessibility for seniors and those with mobility issues.  Having to cross the street to get to the BRT stop would be another obstacle for the disabled community, in addition to the existing bus problems, like high seats that require climbing a step to sit down.

“It’s just an athletic challenge for people your age, but it’s a pretty serious challenge for a lot of seniors,” Roy said. “A lot of them decided to stop riding buses because of it.”

Adam Dankberg, an AC Transit consultant, supported the progressive nature of the BRT project. He said the new layout of the roads would create safer corridors for pedestrians, including senior citizens.

“It’s true that cars will be getting somewhat closer to the street, but by only having one lane of traffic if you are crossing the street it’s improvement,” said Dankberg. “There’s less conflict between the vehicle and the pedestrian. In a lot of cases, putting in bike lanes can provide that buffer as well.”

The proposed vehicles will be hybrid-electric buses as opposed to the regular articulate buses now used by AC Transit, allowing better accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

“We’re going to have new pedestrian signals to cross the street,” Dankberg said, “so there’s going to be a lot more crossings on International Boulevard than there are today to protect pedestrians.”

Joel Ramos, an Oakland resident who is dedicated to making each corridor more livable, said, “What BRT does is it attracts investment because there’s all this activity coming on and off the buses. It’s more walkable. You get this link to frequent, reliable transportation that businesses and institutions can depend on, so they invest in it. They don’t have to spend so much money on parking, and they get the kind of real estate and exposure that it delivers in return.”

According to Ramos, creating a livelier community will simultaneously benefit the economy by encouraging the growth of small businesses.

This project will not only directly provide about 300 construction jobs, but it will also provide an additional 400 supporting jobs (like retail) as a result of the surplus foot traffic in each corridor.

The proposed route would primarily use Telegraph Ave for the nothern portion and International/East 14th for the south. (source: BRT summary report)

What about Mills?

The closest BRT stop to Mills would be on 58th and International, two miles away from campus, Dankberg said.

Cunradi emphasized the importance of community feedback — and that includes Mills students.

“The ideal is that Oakland would come to us and say ‘We’d love you to do BRT on MacArthur. Mills is far from BART, the buses are slow,” said Cunradi, whose daughter Laura is a Mills teaching credential candidate. “MacArthur would be the best next transit investment.”

Mills students are pushing for safer and faster ways to navigate themselves around Oakland.

Mills senior Jillian Harris worked closely with the BRT Project last summer as a part of her internship with the Oakland Public Works Agency.  She thinks that the BRT Project will push fellow students out of the notorious Mills bubble.

Harris said she would prefer to use her bike to help reduce CO2 emissions, but she finds the hills and deteriorated roads a challenge, so often times she resorts to driving.

Mills is known for its strong sustainability effort and would support any progression toward a greener community, said Linda Zitzner, the Assistant Vice President for Campus Facilities. The BRT Project claims that it would encourage drivers to use the faster transit system rather than their cars, reducing congestion in the street as well as CO2 emissions.

“A few Mills people may be able to commute on the BRT and thentransfer to a bus to Mills,” Mark Henderson, public policy professor, “but even people who can’t take BRT to Mills should see less traffic congestion for their commutes.”

It could also relieve the parking issue we have on campus, Zitzner said. The Campanil reported last semester that there are more parking permits issued than there are parking spaces.

In regards to campus parking, Zitzner said, “We are almost to capacity.”

“I hope that if BRT happens, it will show Mills students what the city of Oakland is capable of,” Harris said.

First years Ashley Ongsarte and Cheryl Reed enjoy taking a break from campus life. Although they do not have to commute to school, they still use the AC Transit frequently.

“I leave campus because it gets kind of boring sometimes,” Ongsarte said.”And sometimes I have to run errands.”

Reed agreed with her classmate.

“I get so tired of being in this little Mills bubble,” she said, “and I really want to get off campus, explore and do different things.”