AC Transit WATCH

Response to TransForm

http://transformca.org/bay-area-transportation/brt/east-bay

I am a long time supporter of TransForm, in all of its iterations, and even served as the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area representative on the Transportation Choices Forum from which it sprang some 15 years ago.

Many individuals and organizations look to them to give a critical, professional, analysis of proposed transportation/land-use projects. And they certainly do for BART projects, which have regional visibility.  But they have stubbornly clung to a center-running BRT, picked more than 10 years ago even though a less intrusive one, Curbside BRT, has been adopted in many cities and is even under study in San Francisco.

The Curbside BRT is more attractive and convenient for bus riders and they are, after all, suppose to be the main beneficiaries.

In a recent email TransForm claims if you oppose AC Transit’s center-running BRT you “want to protect current conditions for cars along the route.”  I do not own a car; I am a bus rider, but I am not anti-car.  Cars are a component of Complete Streets.

Many, if not most, of the strongest advocates for the center-running BRT are bike riders and the issue is often put in terms of bikes vs. autos.

It is clear from TransForm’s website that there is a safety problem with bus platforms isolated in the middle of traffic because they list six mitigations.  Stations at sidewalk bulb-outs with pedestrian traffic do not need many safety devices.

Some statements on their website need clarification, namely:

1. “Curbside BRT” eliminates the possibiliy of bike lanes along the BRT route.

Indeed, I don’t understand how bike lanes could work with center-lane stations that remove the equivalent of three traffic lanes in a four-lane road. Where is there room for bikes in this scenario? I would like someone to show me. With Curbside BRT, bikes can ride in the dedicated curbside lane, albeit, a bus will take priority every 5 to 10 minutes.

Additionally even more parking would be removed than center running BRT, because Center-Running BRT has combined stations (where passengers going north or southbound wait together).

That is precisely why so much parking is lost and bikes are squeezed.  As I say above, that is because center-lane stations remove the equivalent of three traffic lanes in a four-lane road. The FEIR states that 28% of parking would be lost and the only mitigation would be to add surface parking lots!  Wouldn’t that be loverly!  No parking need be removed for Curbside BRT because parking is already not allowed at bus stops for either Rapid bus at bulb-outs or local buses at existing curbs.

2. “Curbside BRT” still gets stuck behind commercial loading vehicles, double parked-cars, or cars making right-hand turns or parallel parking,

Both center-running and curbside BRT would be subject to delay by parallel parking cars, double parked cars, and commercial loading vehicles because there is only one mixed-flow lane and cars will use the dedicated lanes (which are not exclusive) to get around them. Curbside BRT buses could also use the mixed-flow lane to get around them but center-running ones would be stuck. And with Curbside, if it becomes a problem, a few parking spaces could be removed to accommodate right turns, and a few for a loading zone on some commercial blocks.

*     *     *     *     *

I think what this says is that even people who have long advocated for BRT have little understanding of the nitty-gritty real on-ground impact the so-called LPA will have on bus riders, pedestrians, bike riders, drivers and, therefore, businesses on these commercial corridors.

There is a choice that will improve bus service with less impact on traffic and no loss of parking while providing significant pedestrian amenities at no cost to the city.

It was the lack of such a choice that drove Berkeley out of the process. I don’t want that to happen in Oakland.

9 Responses to “Response to TransForm”

  1. Hi Joyce,
    Wanted to share this with you so that you wouldn’t just have to take my word for it. The SFMTA has ruled out “curbside BRT” in favor of center-running BRT.

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/transportation/2012/05/bus-rapid-transit-has-green-light-launch

    The SFMTA staff stated (as TransForm staff has stated all along) that there were too many incidents of delays to BRT that would happen with cars crossing into proposed side-running BRT lanes to either make right hand turns or to parallel park, reducing the overall speed and reliability of the system for bus riders, who are, in your words “suppose to be the main beneficiaries”.

    A representative of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee also showed up to speak up on behalf of a Center-lane option over the curbside BRT because of the opportunities for the stations to serve as pedestrian refuges for those who require more time to cross the street.

    You can see video of the discussion at the link below, (skip to Item #11).

    http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=55&clip_id=15117

  2. joyceroy said

    Joel, I think they made the right decision. I was so impressed with its plan, which was attached to the notice of a SF Transit Riders’ Union meeting held last Monday, that I went to it. It was a good decision reached after the study of three build alternatives.

    I was surprised when a friend in MUNI said he thought curbside would be the preferred one because with six traffic lanes, a median one would work.

    A comparison of the Van Ness BRT and the International Blvd BRT is a perfect example of why one size does not fit all.

    Van Ness BRT is a size 12 foot (project) fitting into a size 12 shoe (corridor). Van Ness is a wide boulevard with on-street parking along both sides, six traffic lanes, and even an existing landscaped median in the middle. It is wide enough to retain the parking, four traffic lanes and only remove the median at the stations. The separate platforms are safer because they are only open on the one bus side; the other side has railings/screens or some such barrier protecting passengers from traffic.

    So, the median BRT is the appropriate design for Van Ness. It has a wide enough corridor to accommodate it and enough congestion to warrant it. Presently, it is so congested that buses have to fight their way thru.

    On the other hand, the BRT plan for International Boulevard is an attempt to fit a size 12 foot (project) into a size 8 shoe (corridor). In spite of its name, it is not for most of its length, a wide boulevard. It has only four traffic lanes, on-street parking along both sides and a short stretch with a median. To painfully thread a median BRT thru such a corridor means leaving only two lanes for traffic and/or removing on-street parking. The center platforms open on both sides are a felt and/or real hazard for passengers. Particularly, not only for the elderly and those with mobility problems, but for people with young lively children who have to worry about them falling off the platform.

    Therefore, the Van Ness median BRT choice is a good one for a very congested, wide street like Van Ness but is not appropriate for a four lane corridor like International Boulevard that has so little congestion that some people complain that the buses go too fast!

  3. Joyce,
    Most of the parking will remain along the corridor. Granted, in some places parking will be shifted around to accommodate a new BRT station, but then parking will also be created in some spots as well, where parking is most sorely needed.

    As transit advocates, TransForm supports the idea of narrowing the corridor in an effort to make bus service more efficient, thereby reducing operations costs, and staving off fare hikes and service cuts. To do anything less would continue to cause transit service to get slower and slower, less reliable, and more expensive to operate (resulting in fare hikes or service cuts).

    Granted, BRT may require slowing down traffic along parts of the corridor, but most transit riders will find this to be a good trade off: Faster, more comfortable, more frequent, reliable and ultimately affordable transit is worth slowing down car traffic a bit -especially where in some places it goes too fast, resulting in some of the highest pedestrian injury or fatality rates in the county. For example, the corridor at 66th Ave. is the site of a very large school campus, and the parents, students, teachers and even the school district welcome anything that may calm traffic down from the high speeds that occur there. For those that must go fast, there is the 880.

    Finally, the platforms will only be 18″ high, slightly higher than a standard curb, to be level with the floor of the bus, and to eliminate the need for ramps or steps, making it easier to board for people in wheelchairs, or who have a stroller. The danger of “falling off” will be actually be safer than “falling off” a curb at a bus stop now, whereas if one were to “fall off” the curb, one would land in a dedicated bus lane where a slow-moving vehicle (coming to a stop) would be arriving every 5 minutes, as opposed to landing in a curbside BRT lane where a bus would be coming every 5 minutes as well as cars making right hand turns or looking for parking. It was for this reason, and others (such as reduced crossing distance) that the Pedestrian Safety Committee in SF supported the center-lane BRT option, and not the “no-build” nor the “side-running” BRT options. Slower traffic means safer streets.

  4. joyceroy said

    When I read Denis Cuff’s article on the BRT in the Tribune (4/27/12) in which he said there would be an estimated “loss of 600 on-street parking spaces,” I thought a decimal point was missing. But I checked with the FEIR, and that is the correct number! It may be less than half, that is, as you state, “Most of the parking will remain along the corridor.” But that is a significant loss for a struggling commercial corridor. And you do know AC Transit’s solution, don’t you, to locate sites for surface parking to be built by others. For 600 cars!? Does that fit the community’s vision for International Blvd?

    Narrowing the corridor doesn’t make bus service more efficient. It just increases competition for space between all modes of travel. And what happened to the concept of Complete Streets?

    Any dedicated, right or center lane, for buses even if it can’t be exclusive, will cramp the style of car traffic. But, it is the speeding buses that can be the scariest as they jump lanes. So putting buses in their place can create a more orderly traffic stream. We do not need faster buses, just more comfortable, accessible, frequent and reliable. That can be achieved with the shorter route, only San Leandro to downtown Oakland, easy to access buses, prepayment and stops at bulb-outs with level, or near level, boarding to decrease dwell time.

    The platforms are only 18” high?! That’s the height of a chair seat! A standard curb is only 6” high. But it is not as bad as that; floor height of low floor buses, according to FTA standards, shall be no more than 15 ½”. Even then, falling off a15” platform is quite different from falling off a 6” curb! Unlike the bus platforms on Market St. and proposed for Van Ness, which are one sided, these are open on two sides. This is particularly hazardous in East Oakland where many people do not have cars, and travel with small children.

    It is interesting that you got bicyclists to buy-in when the so-called Locally Preferred Alternative will impact them on the 12th St. bike route since buses will run on 12th Street until 15th Avenue. The right lane with bulb-outs BRT does not have to make that detour; it can keep on International Blvd all the way.

    Finally, Joel, can you tell me if there is a BRT anywhere in the world, other than in Cleveland that removes two center traffic lanes from a four-lane roadway?

  5. Joyce,

    Yes, some parking spaces will be removed, but only near the proposed BRT stations, not all along the corridor. Along some blocks, some spaces will be added. On other blocks, where there is already too little parking, some parking lots will be built to mitigate the removal of parking. I only know of two locations where that may happen:

    1. At Allen Temple Baptist Church to reduce impacts on Sunday services
    2. in the Fruitvale District where parking is already scarce.

    Along the rest of the International Blvd corridor, much of the parking is underutilized, and sits empty anyway. In East Oakland, much of that parking sits in front of boarded up, blighted storefronts. Along the entire corridor, however, AC Transit has committed to making sure that there is a 15% availability rate of parking after the project is built. Which, according to parking experts like Donald Shoup, is really what you want anyway.

    It may be easy for you to say that we don’t need faster bus service, because you’re not having to depend on it to get to work every day, take kids to school, etc. It’s really too slow, and the slower it is, the more expensive it is to operate. This then translates to service cuts. Additionally, simply shortening the lines would require multiple transfers (which takes time) for people trying to get across town. I have spoken to passengers who ride along the corridor from as far away as Fremont, because they can’t afford daily BART tickets and they can’t find a place that may be affordable enough to live within Oakland. Finally the dedicated lanes are less about speed and more about frequency and reliability, which, as you said, is really key. The dedicated lanes allow for more efficient operations, which free up more resources for more frequency. Dedicated lanes also keep the buses out of traffic, allowing for reliability. The buses will never need to exceed the speed limit, even in the dedicated lanes. They will be free of traffic, though, which adds up and slows the bus. You and I know how slow this can be when it took us 45 minutes just to get to 90th Ave. from downtown. We could have driven to Fremont in that time frame. Oaklanders deserve better, and so do people who we would expect to leave their cars at home.

    Regarding the height of the platforms, they will only be as high as the floor of a bus, which, by your own citation can’t be higher than 15″. The goal is to make the buses as accessible as possible with level boarding. I don’t even think the floor of the buses are 15″ high, and ADA standards keep that difference (between the floor of the bus and the platform) mountable with a wheelchair. Finally, if safety of falling off platforms becomes an issue (and it hasn’t on any of the BART platforms where it gets much more crowded), guard rails can always be installed (Problem solved! Maybe I should get into architecture!).

    Next, BRT is supported by the San Francisco Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Walk Oakland / Bike Oakland and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition because it will bring the resources to repave the street and to implement bicycle and pedestrian facilities (something that regular rapid buses or adjustments to current service cannot do). BRT brings the resources needed to implement Complete Streets, including wheelchair ramps, more signalized, mid-block crosswalks, more landscaped median, lighting, bulb-outs, and new pavement to repair our potholed streets. All of this makes for a safer, more enjoyable walking and biking experience.

    In addition to the Complete Streets, the TOD you call for is only possible where transit that is linked to regional access comes frequently and reliably (like BART) at least every 15 minutes. BRT allows this to be possible, whereas the current rapid service does not. Sure, it does come -eventually- but not very reliably, and sometimes much less frequently than every 15 minutes.

    Finally, BRT has been implemented all over the world, and on some of those routes, it gets more narrow than others. The best place to see this is in the Cleveland Euclid corridor, as well as in Eugene Oregon. I know you’ll say that Cleveland has parallel routes for traffic to have go on to, but I would respond that so does International Blvd, starting with i-880, San Leandro Blvd., Foothill, Bancroft, and finally Macarthur and the 580.

    Joyce, BRT brings operations costs way down, which saves precious resources for increased amounts of service, or to maintain current levels of service in spite of reduced revenues. TransForm would be delighted to support a better, more affordable way to make transit more sustainable. It’s really what we want. BRT, as we see it, is a means to an end (economically sustainable transit). If you have a better idea to keep transit sustainable for the next 25 years, in light of growing operations costs, decreased revenues, increased traffic and growth and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, please share it with us. I’m sure that the local, regional and state jurisdictions such as the ACTC, ABAG, MTC, Caltrans and the FTA (who all support BRT) would welcome a more efficient, affordable solution to making transit sustainable. However, BRT seems to be the best solution on the table. So much so that every major city in America is putting together proposals for it, including San Francisco and San Jose. Even the State of California’s Strategic Growth Council supports it, as indicated in their recent grant of a million dollars to the City of Oakland to implement policies that will bring sorely needed improvements to the corridor in anticipation of BRT. Please show me where one BRT has been unsuccessful in achieving operations cost reductions or which has failed to meet ridership gains. Again, in the end, that’s our goal.

  6. joyceroy said

    First of all, you do not need to repeat the BRT liturgy to me. Remember, I was one of the original members of Friends of BRT. I am in favor of BRT, but the only version that AC Transit studied is inappropriate for a corridor with only four traffic lanes.

    It seems you cannot come up with an example, other than Euclid Ave. in Cleveland that dedicates two lanes out of four for buses. Eugene, Oregon was able to accommodate BRT by adding two lanes to four lanes. And for its Springfield-Area Extension “the most congested portion of the new route will not have separated lanes.” The district spokeswoman, Lisa VanWinkle, said, “The roadway is built up already. You’d either have to take a lane away (from cars) or widen the roadway. Both of these have significant impacts, too significant to get the support of the affected jurisdictions.” (From the Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland, OR, 6/4/09)

    As a member of the Geary Boulevard BRT Community Advisory Committee in San Francisco, you certainly know about Curbside BRT since that is one of three alternatives being studied. Transform could have taken a leadership role by introducing it in Oakland and Berkeley.

    As far as parking goes, who is going buy the property and build the surface parking lots? AC Transit isn’t. And they are considered blight downtown, but is it OK on International Blvd? You say that, “In East Oakland, much of that parking sits in front of boarded up, blighted storefronts.” Yes, and without street parking, they are likely to remain so. Besides the lack of parking, sidewalks next to traffic without the barrier of parked cars are not pedestrian friendly. It would be like walking along a freeway.

    Yes, “it took us 45 minutes just to get to 90th Ave. from downtown,” but you missed a little detail, it was on the #1, a local. Try comparing a #1R, Rapid from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. I have, and even at rush hour, it took 35 minutes, the same time according to the DEIR, it supposedly will take after we spend about $200 million on AC Transit’s center lane BRT! Greater speed is not the way to sell BRT for International Blvd, but either version can deliver greater frequency and more reliability.

    And much of that reliability will come from ending the line in downtown Oakland. You seem unaware that the DOSL decision has been made. For why that makes sense, see (and read) “Splitting #1 line.”

    How will the LPA “implement bicycle and pedestrian facilities?” AC Transit says there is no funding for sidewalk improvements and its route along 12th Street to till 15th Ave. would conflict with the 12th Street bikeway.

  7. Joyce,

    Regarding any parking or bicycling infrastructure, they can be built by AC Transit as they would be part of the mitigation for the project.

    Regarding Geary, yes, the SFCTA is studying a “side running” BRT option, but, like they recently realized for the Van Ness BRT project (which is further along), the “sidelane” (Curbside) BRT option will likely be dismissed because of the anticipated delays to BRT caused by parallel parking or right turning vehicles.

    If we are going after frequency and reliability, there simply isn’t any comparison to dedicated lanes versus curbside. As a transit advocate, I’d think you would agree that frequent, reliable transit is a priority for building ridership. It’s why BART can stay on time so well.

    Regarding the Cleveland and Eugene models, it’s true that they don’t have dedicated lanes all along the route, and neither will we (on Broadway, for example, and at 66th Ave. where there will be too many conflicts). Also, In places where we have one way streets (11th and 12th, downtown) , we will indeed have “curbside” BRT.

    However, where Eugene and Cleveland can, they do build center running BRT and they are along tighter corridors (w/ now less than four lanes). Simply follow the route on Google Maps (street view) to see.

    https://maps.google.com/maps?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&q=Webster+Ave.+and+East+167+St.,+New+York&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89c2f449b11aa9f5:0x1b1d44cbea4158d3,Webster+Ave+%26+E+167th+St,+Bronx,+NY+10456&gl=us&ei=BDriT_GYCsTO2AWE3PS_Cw&ved=0CAwQ8gEwAA

    BTW, New York is also getting ready to implement dedicated lanes in several narrower corridors. Look at the renderings here, as posted on Streetsblog:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/category/issues-campaigns/buses/

    Joyce, on our trip, you may recall that we hopped on the first vehicle that pulled up (a “1″) and not a single 1R passed us…so if we would have waited for a 1R, it would have taken even longer.

    Let’s meet and go for another bus ride, shall we? I have a hard time believing that we can get to 90th Ave. in 35 minutes, during rush hour, including the wait time for the 1R. We’ll start the clock 5 minutes after we watch a 1R pull away, which would be when the next vehicle would arrive if we had BRT. Again, it’s the frequency and reliability that is most important, not so much speed (although, that is improved as well). Just call me anytime around rush hour when you’re near 14th and Broadway, and we’ll do this again.

  8. joyceroy said

    I took your invitation to accompany you on a 1R bus ride seriously so I emailed you immediately and suggested we do it the next day, last Thursday, or Friday. But I received no response, so I did it on my own.

    I had wanted to test my experience when I attended the San Leandro Council meeting in May 2010 at which they were deciding on inclusion in the BRT FEIR. I took the 1R from the Downtown Transit Center at 20th St. about 6:15 pm. Their staff report included data from the DEIR that claimed after BRT was implemented it would take only 35 min. from Downtown Oakland to San Leandro. But that was the time it just took me, 35 min.

    So, to find out if that was a fluke, I did a couple of re-runs and here they are:
    6/21/12:
    DTC to SL starting at 4:59 pm: 54 min. (Congestion in Fruitvale)
    SL to DTC starting at 6:17 pm: 39 min.
    6/22/12:
    DTO to SL starting at 6:28 pm: 46 min
    SL to DTO starting at 7:55 pm: 59 min (#1, #1R does not run that late)

    The FEIR says the travel time will be 40.2 min. Only one of my runs beat that. The only portion of International Blvd where traffic impeded the bus’s speed was at Fruitvale. Altho AC Transit makes a big point of speed, we both know saving a few minutes is not going to attract new riders. It is frequency and reliability that will, and since traffic congestion is not the big problem, dedicated lanes are not going to improve reliability. As we found with the 51 line, shortening it and insisting buses pull-out of the starting gate on time and there are no missing runs, will greatly improve reliability and frequency.

    And how many ways must I explain that if International Blvd were a wide six-lane blvd like Van Ness and Geary (most of it), a median transit-way would work fine. But it isn’t.

    As far as “Regarding any parking or bicycling infrastructure, they can be built by AC Transit as they would be part of the mitigation for the project,” tell me where that is in the FEIR?

  9. Joel Ramos said

    Hi Joyce,
    I’m sorry I’ve not been able to get back to you more promptly, and as soon as I get a couple hours to kill, I’ll let you know and we can “sail” down International Blvd. and back together.

    Yes, I’m sure that shaving a few minutes off of the total travel -by itself- time won’t attract new riders. However, frequency and reliability in addition to a 30% shorter travel time will (turning a 30 minute trip, including wait time, into a 20 minute trip).

    Can you tell me a bit more about how long you had to wait for the 1R to arrive before you boarded? Ideally, you would have started the clock from when the previous one left, to account for maximum wait times. In my experience, while there have been times in-between buses where I’ve only needed to wait a few minutes, I regularly wait over 10 minutes, and I have waited up to 25min. for either a 1 or a 1/R to arrive, only to then have (to my disgust) 3 buses pull up. This type of reliability is unacceptable for anyone who has a choice. It’s also an irresponsible waste of transit dollars.

    And what was the capacity like on your rides? Did it look like the bus could accommodate 50% more riders, the way BRT would be able to do? In most of my rides around the rush hour, it’s standing room only, and I’ve spoken with people in wheelchairs and with strollers who are frequently passed by buses because the operators don’t have the room to accommodate them. Again, this is unacceptable.

    Next, I would remind you that BRT is proposed to accommodate level, all-door boarding, which significantly reduces the time required for many people (especially people in wheelchairs or with strollers and or grocery cars) to board the bus. This would be made possible via platforms that AC Transit would only be able to build as part of the Federally funded BRT proposal that is on the table. This would also create a huge time savings which, coupled with the savings garnered from dedicated lanes (which increases over the years as traffic gets worse), significantly reduces the time a bus spends idling (read burning money) at the curb waiting for people to get on or off.

    Joyce, these little time savings here and there add up, reducing net operating cost per boarding (adjusted for fare revenue) by approximately $0.76 just by year 2016, going from $2.26 to $1.49 per boarding. This savings would increase over time compared to the per-boarding cost per passenger for a “no-build” option. Any other proposal, especially without dedicated lanes, ends up costing more to provide service. That would translate to more service cuts or fare hikes in the future.

    BRT would provide reliable frequencies every 5 minutes (reliably) during peak hours, and every 10 minutes off-peak, at reduced operations costs. This, combined with time savings is what will attract new riders.

    Finally, the bicycle improvements are discussed in the staff report, where they discuss 5 miles of new bike lanes, new bike parking near the BRT stations, and the creation of a new policy to allow bikes on-board the buses.

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