AC Transit WATCH

Introduction

Posted by joyceroy on March 16, 2012

This is NOT the official AC Transit site.  For their site go to www.actransit.org .

Intro to ACTRANSITWATCH.COM blog

 This blog is produced and maintained by a retired architect who, as a dedicated transit rider, has closely followed transportation issues in the Bay Area for over nineteen years.  But after close observation of AC Transit’s actions over the last six years, my focus has been primarily on AC Transit.  And since I am very active and do not own a car, I am a professional transit rider. —Joyce Roy

[BTW: My policy for comments is the same as the East Bay Express— anonymous comments will not be published.]

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 Bus Rapid Transit

This inaugural blog is devoted to Bus Rapid Transit because the cities of San Leandro and Oakland are under pressure from AC Transit to quickly approve the only alternative they have been offered and many questions are unanswered:

If the project goes over budget, where will the additional funding come from: the cities, or AC Transit, thereby impacting service?  They do not have a good record on working within a budget or time frame.  The first dry run that used BRT funds was the Uptown Transit Center on 20th Street.  It was about 50% over budget and one year late. And ended up having to retrofit the canopies because the rain came pouring in!

Does the public really understand the impact of the project?  AC Transit held seven marketing meetings with about 200-300 attendees altogether.  Questioning the project was discouraged.  Most of the public who are not transit wonks or bus riders may just dismiss anything proposed by AC Transit assuming it only affects bus riders. 

What exactly is the scope of the project?  What are the cities responsibilities and what belongs to AC Transit? That needs to be clearly spelled out in writing. For instance, the EIR/EIS states AC Transit will only repave the portion of the roadway at the station locations, but a staff member claims, they will repave the whole corridor. Which is correct?

What are the on-the-ground impacts of the changes in the corridor for all modes of travel? To better determine that, conduct a test by taking away the two center lanes, most left turns and most parking for a week. Announce the test to the public and the media.

Cities must address those issues before any decision is made.

 Oakland and San Leandro need an independent evaluation by their own staff and to hold well-publicized public meetings that encourage discussion.  In addition, an entire Planning Commission meeting should be devoted to BRT. This is necessary because unlike in Cleveland, which AC Transit points out as an example, the city was the lead from the beginning.  In our case, AC Transit is trying to foist its single alternate, their LPA, on the cities.  Even though it is the cities that own the roads, they have been brought in as an after thought. And AC Transit simply assumes the cities will buy into their alternative.

NOTE: A study by the Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, shows that an bus agency can get more bang for the buck, i.e., better service, by making incremental  improvements throughout the system rather than focusing on one corridor.

http://transweb.sjsu.edu/mtiportal/research/publications/documents/2704_book%20(6.15.10%20with%20Covers).pdf

AC Transit Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Proposal 

AC Transit has issued the final EIR/EIS of the BRT and has held public meetings to market it.  I have attended six of the seven meetings. You can access the hype presented at the meetings:

http://www.actransit.org/wp-content/uploads/BRT-Exhibit-Boards.pdf

To illustrate the hype here is a couple of false assertions:

1) When it begins operating in 2016, it will be 23-30% faster. Presently, the 1R, even at rush hour, is as fast as the proposed BRT.  According to the DEIR, the time for BRT between downtown Oakland and San Leandro would be 35 minutes.  That is the same time as the current 1R, as I learned when I went at 6:30 pm from downtown Oakland to a San Leandro Council meeting. That seems logical because International Boulevard is not a congested corridor and buses, as they bounce along, are rarely slowed by traffic. (BRT is usually proposed for congested corridors where it can really make a difference.)  Bus service can be speeded up by decreasing dwell time. Two ways to do that is to have stops at bulb-outs and providing buses that are not a challenge to enter.

2) At the lively, and best attended, meeting at Allen Temple Arms, one of the project salesmen tried to sale the unconvinced crowd by stating repeatedly that the AC Transit BRT “was ranked #1 in the nation!”  The FTA (Federal Transportation Agency) does not rank projects.  It only rates them and here is the uneven rating for this BRT:

LAND USE RATING: Medium

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT RATING: Medium

Transit-Supportive Plans and Policies: Medium-Low

Performance and Impacts of Policies: Medium

Overall Project Rating: High

Project Justification Rating: Medium-High

Local Financial Commitment Rating: High

Site for the EIR/EIS here: http://www.actforme.org/data-resource-center.php

The most glaring inadequacy of the EIR/EIS is the lack of any alternative to a Center-lane BRT other than No Build, even though the Oakland City Council requested a Curbside BRT be studied.  If fact, the Berkeley City Council would probably not have opted out if there had been such a choice.

But the Center-lane BRT is called the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) even though there was no other choice.  It is AC Transit’s Locally Preferred Alternative, not necessarily any city’s.

Another lack in the EIR/EIS is any drawing that would show what a typical street would be like with two dedicated lanes and a bus stop in the middle of the road.  When I asked a staff engineer if such a drawing was in the EIR/EIS, he did not understand the question and pointed to the small scale drawings of the corridors.  I had to show him the drawing below for ‘Typical Rapid Bus Stops for Curbside BRT’ before he understood and his response was, “Oh, we’ll do drawings like that after approvals.” (I wonder if I could ever have simply shown a client a small scale plot plan and asked for their approval for construction before further drawings?)

This is when I realized the basic problem with the present BRT plan—it is designed by traffic engineers.  Their over-arching concern is buses, and their movement, not bus passengers.  More about why this plan gives bus riders short shift later.

The Curbside BRT Alternative

 First, a thousand words, that is, the picture:

See Curbside BRT page (until I can figure out how to insert it.)

This shows that instead of the dedicated lanes being the center two lanes, they are the traffic lanes closest to the curb and the buses stop at bulb-outs so they do not lose time pulling to a curb and then merging into traffic.  Their location at the far side of a signalized street takes advantage of transit signal priority.  The bulb-out would be longer than shown (ran out of paper) to accommodate both the Rapid and local buses, 100 feet on Telegraph for 40-foot buses and 140 feet on International for 60-foot buses. Local only stops would be at existing curbs so the Rapid can bypass them.

There would be no loss of parking or left turns but some slowing of auto traffic, traffic calming etc.

Like the LPA, the bus lanes are dedicated as indicated by a different colored pavement and “BUS ONLY” inscribed in the paving, but are not exclusive. There is no barrier or change of level between them and the mixed flow lanes.  So just as people drive on streetcar lanes, when traffic is heavy, or when making a left turn, or an ambulance or fire truck passes through, more than buses will be using the dedicated lanes.  But buses, just like streetcars, will have priority.  Even the Cleveland dedicated BRT lanes, which they label “Exclusive Bus Lanes,” are not.  In fact, they are the same color as the other lanes and only divided by a double stripe.

Only streets with at least three traffic lanes in each direction could have dedicated exclusive lanes for buses separated by a barrier from the mixed flow lanes.

The Curbside BRT easily accommodates local buses without slowing down the Rapid because their stops, which are at the existing curb, allow the Rapid to bypass them.  In fact, the existence of local service means the Rapid will be faster since the stops can be about every half-mile instead of one-third mile with the LPA.  The 8-ft bulb-outs can slope up from the existing sidewalk to provide level, or near level, boarding.  Greater accessibility of these stops will attract more riders, particularly those with mobility problems.

Any corridor with local buses will have increased ridership with the addition of express buses, which is what Rapid buses are, but will ridership still improve if the local service is eliminated?

The Curbside alternative will improve bus service and attract new riders, and, in addition, is superior to the so-called LPA for all modes:

Autos will flow freer since right and left turns are not impacted.  Although buses stopping at bulb-outs will have some calming effect on traffic, it would not tie it up in knots searching for parking or for the less congested residential streets.  It is such stopping and starting traffic that produces the most air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Bicycles can share the lane with the least traffic and which is next to the sidewalk, the Curbside dedicated lane.

Pedestrians will have an improved walking experience and their sidewalk will become a mini-park (or permanent “parklet”) every half-mile.  There would be about 55 mini-parks in Oakland and San Leandro, plus about ten more if Berkeley joins, all at AC Transit’s expense.  Another plus for pedestrians is that all curb parking will be retained.  New Urbanists contend that people feel safer on sidewalks if there is parking between them and traffic.  A pedestrian cum bus rider can get a coffee, buy a paper (do people still do that?) or chat with friends while waiting for their bus.

Businesses benefit from improvements in the streetscape encouraging more life on the streets, as well as the retention of curbside parking.  They can expect more bus riders as patrons because the curbside-stop mini-parks encourage lingering and looking.

Bus riders will have service that is safer, faster and more convenient.  The “parklet” stops will not only make bus riding more attractive, but the choice of locations is flexible enough that it can be based on the needs of the bus riders, i.e., near major activity centers and transfer points. When stations are in the center of the street, they have to be shoehorned into sites that conform to the configuration of the street.  For instance in Temescal, the LPA could not locate a stop near the #12 line at 51st Street; they are at 47th and 56th Street.

[Placing bus platforms in the middle of a road with only four traffic lanes is a tortured fit rather like trying to shoehorn a #12 foot into a #8 shoe.]

Seniors who would like to give up their cars, or use them less frequently, are the ones AC Transit should cater to if they want new riders.  And their numbers are growing!  They, or anyone with mobility problems, will find fewer bus stops and their location in the middle of traffic a disincentive to ride buses.  AC Transit seems to be aware of the safety problems of the center platforms because they emphasize their security features (e.g., closed-circuit television, emergency phones).

AC Transit discouraged seniors from abandoning their cars for the last nine years with buses they found treacherous.  Now that new easy to access truly true low-floor buses will be provided, are seniors and those with mobility problems, going to be turned off by less accessible and fewer stops?

The International Boulevard Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Plan would be enhanced by the improvement in the streetscape by the mini-parks. Curbside BRT is the Complete Streets alternative; it works well for bus riders, bike riders, car riders, truck riders and pedestrians.

When I ventured on the full exploration of a Curbside BRT, I thought I would find some downside, but I haven’t so far.

San Francisco is studying BRT for Van Ness Avenue, which certainly has enough congestion to warrant BRT, and since it has three traffic lanes in each direction, a Center-lane BRT could work.  They have three build alternatives, two are Center-lane and one is Curbside with Bulb-outs that they call Side-lane BRT.  According to a Muni planner, it appears the Side-lane will be the preferred one.  We had no such choice.

AC Transit dismisses Oakland’s Alternative

 [Even though AC Transit does not own our streets and, therefore, needs the City’s approval to build BRT.] 

The Oakland City Council requested that a BRT similar to the Van Ness Side-lane be included, that is, a Curbside with Bulb-outs BRT.  It is not.  It is only studied as a Technical Report http://www.actforme.org/_pdf/tech/ACT_EBBRT_OBB_0Main.pdf

and it is not an apples-to-apples report.  The deck was stacked against the Curbside by making its lane mixed flow instead of dedicated, not locating all Rapid stops at the far side of signalized streets, using existing Van Hool buses instead of new easy entry buses, decreasing the frequency and not serving all 24 hours.

Furthermore, it stated, “This is a new alternative not considered under the AC Transit East Bay Bus Rapid Transit Project Final Environmental Impact Statement, and thus not eligible for consideration under the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Impact Report (EIS/EIR).”   And why didn’t they?  (See letter from a Berkeley land-use attorney below.)

But one AC Transit consultant thought that the Curbside with Bulb-outs could be implemented without an EIR.  That would seem reasonable since any negative impacts on the corridor would be minimal.

Although the FTA does not require BRT to have exclusive, or even dedicated, bus lanes,  they may object because AC Transit failed to include it as an Alternative.  Since, it is less costly, their funds may not be necessary as the other funding would still be available.

The double-sided buses are very costly, special buses with few suppliers and the extra doors limit seating capacity. Does anyone trust AC Transit with specially designed buses after the Van Hool debacle? The irony is that the rational for buying those buses was that the extra doors were needed for BRT. But their bottleneck entry and step-up seats increase dwell time.  (And would increase it even more if all drivers actually waited for everyone to be seated before moving!)

I see the same kind of hype to market this center-lane BRT as was used to sell the board on the Van Hool as the best bus in the world!  The same limited choice and the same dismissal of riders’ complaints.

See apples-to-apples comparison page.

Berkeley’s attempt to add alternative was denied by AC Transit

If Berkeley could have had an alternative similar to a Curbside BRT, they probably would not have opted out. But AC Transit nixed any alternative other than their Locally Preferred Alternative, i.e., the center-lane BRT.

Here one attorney’s response to that:

Letters to the Editor

Berkeley Daily Planet

Monday May 03, 2010

AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit Environmental Review Process

What a corruption of NEPA and CEQA! Folks, that’s how the process is supposed to work, you start with the draft and if out of it comes citizen formulation of new alternatives, you assess and include them in the final. How expressive of a most unimaginative and unconstructive misuse of the law, frustrating rather than promoting effective public participation.

Antonio Rossmann

Lecturer in Land Use and Water Resources Law at Boalt.(Berkeley Law School).

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