FMG Architects

Alan Tobey has been following the plans for Bus Rapid Transit in Berkeley closely. Below he reports on the latest developments (read his previous post on the subject here):

Students of Berkeley politics at their most melodramatic will have an entertaining opportunity next Tuesday evening when Berkeley City Council takes up its choice of a local “build alternative” for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project planned for Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro —  though the Council will not yet consider approval of the project itself.

The build alternative selected will, along with “no build” and “rapid bus plus” alternatives, be studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for their potential environmental impacts, including any potentially effective mitigations.  Only after that FEIS is approved by AC Transit, the three city councils will have the chance to decide this fall what, if anything, to actually build.

Despite the restricted focus  of Tuesday’s topic, BRT opponents are fervently gearing up to advocate stopping the project itself. At the meeting, public speakers are therefore guaranteed to be mainly  negative and mainly off topic — ignoring the actual build-alternative agenda item in favor of “kill BRT now” demands.

Over the nine years of debate on BRT, the main “rational” opponents have included neighborhood groups concerned about traffic, merchants concerned about parking, and citizens not wanting transit-based restrictions on auto lanes.   They usually point to the inadequate 3-year-old draft environmental study as evidence for their objections and are skeptical about promised improvements and mitigations, even though some unworkable alternatives (such as a “transit mall” on upper Telegraph) have long ago been abandoned.

Recently, this group has been joined by more-irrational opponents with overall anti-government political agendas.  At the last council session on BRT I met one proud member of what he called the “BRTea Party,” who said: “I’m opposed to the government telling me where I can’t drive my car”, and who saw BRT as just one more battle against Big Brother and “creeping socialism”.

This faction connects in Berkeley with long-running minority opposition to activist City Council decisions about development in general — a group which typically garners only 20-25% of the vote on ballot measures such as 2002’s Measure P (down-zoning major streets) and 2008’s Measure KK (“vote of the people” if closing a traffic lane for transit).

Supporters of BRT generally don’t see what all the fuss is about at this point.  They see the project as a rational, incremental transit improvement with few downsides and are awaiting the “much-needed” FEIS, which they expect will answer most critics’ concerns. And they see opponents as prematurely reaching emotion-based verdicts prior to seeing the actual evidence about an actual specific potential project. Supporters will certainly be present Tuesday, but since they will mostly speak quietly and to the topic at hand they may be harder to notice.

Two commissions and city transportation staff have given the City Council alternative build choices for different segments of the BRT route in Berkeley. Some of those choices directly address some of the community concerns and may be adopted for that reason.

Tuesday will therefore be the public debut of the BRTea Party view of our local transit world — a “Night of No” pep rally against our “unresponsive” big government.  Giving Berkeley, without doubt, another traditional evening of heat without much light.

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