New Bus Rapid Transit lanes coming soon to International Boulevard
on December 18, 2014
Red “Rapid” signs adorn bus stops across the Bay Area, and there will be more of these stations coming soon to Oakland. Rapid, in this case, doesn’t refer to a bus barreling 50 miles per hour through Oakland—it refers to a bus line that makes fewer stops, using a dedicated lane and special transit islands for passenger boarding.
Last month, the Oakland City Council passed 5 resolutions to begin the first phase of the $178 million construction of a new Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, route. The plan is to have the bus route completed and in operation by 2016. The new line will go from downtown Oakland to San Leandro via the International Boulevard corridor.
AC Transit currently operates two BRT lines. The 1R goes from UC Berkeley to downtown Oakland and then to the Bay Fair BART Station in San Leandro. The 72R starts at Contra Costa College and ends at Jack London Square. The new line will effectively replace the current 1R. It will run the 9.5-mile stretch along the International Boulevard corridor and end at the San Leandro BART Station. Clarence Johnson, manager of media affairs for AC Transit, said there is currently no schedule or line number assigned to the new route.
The replacement of the 1R will open up a stretch that is not covered between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland, which will be made up by a new line, called “Telegraph,” which will not be a Rapid line. The new 1R and Telegraph lines will be implemented at the same time, and Johnson said riders “Will not lose service while we’re putting in new service. It just doesn’t make sense for us to do that.”
Johnson said that currently 30,000 to 40,000 riders take the existing 1R route daily, and that AC Transit is installing the new lines to streamline future transportation through the International Boulevard area. “That corridor we’re talking about is extremely congested,” he said. “Over the next 20 years, it’s going to be more congested.” Another reason, Johnson said, is for the revitalization of the area, because the bus line will bring with it with new lighting and other improvements.
According to the AC Transit website, each BRT project has five components: dedicated lanes, bus stops that are reminiscent of train stations, new vehicles, frequent service, and a communications system called Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS. ITS is a communication system that AC Transit will use to track where the busses are, control the traffic signals, and provide accurate bus arrival times. This arrival information can also be made available to riders on their cell phones. Dedicated transit lanes—that only busses and first-responders’ emergency vehicles can use—help BRT busses pass traffic. The busses, however, don’t have to stay in this lane.
Merchants and business owner groups along the route have expressed worries to the city council about losing parking spaces and loading zones due to the implementation of the dedicated lanes, the loss of left turn opportunities, long construction times and customer inconvenience caused by fewer parking spots. (Temescal merchants raised similar concerns in 2008, when BRT was first being considered for the Telegraph corridor, although in general the plan has won praise from public transit supporters.) “There’s a number of businesses on that corridor that are auto-related,” said City Council President Patricia Kernighan (District 2), referring to the International Boulevard area, “and they need to be able to get cars in and out of their driveway and also park a car on the street.” With the proposed BRT route, she said, in “some of those places, there are zero opportunities to park cars on the street.”
Johnson said that while there will be no loss of metered or handicapped lanes, overall “There may be some loss in parking. You can’t make an omelet without scrambling some eggs.” Johnson said the parking spot losses would be in areas where parking “isn’t as vital to business operations,” and that some areas might even gain spots. “In the Fruitvale district, there will be more parking spots available,” he said.
Joël Ramos, regional planning director for TransForm, a public transportation group, said that his group is in favor of the BRT project. By e-mail, he wrote that they support BRT, “mostly because it allows transit to be more efficient, allowing the few transit dollars transit agencies have to go further.” TransForm has worked to assuage some of the concerns by connecting different groups with AC Transit and the City of Oakland to make sure that changes could be made and the most people accommodated, he wrote. For example, he wrote, the assisted “a group of parents that wanted to be sure that the construction of BRT included a new streetlight at an intersection directly in front of Havenscourt-Lockwood campus, making crossing the street safer for students where it is currently very dangerous.”
At a November council meeting, Kernighan and councilmember-at-large Rebecca Kaplan presented an amendment to the BRT plan, which was ultimately passed by the council. “We said we would like there to be $2 million in a pot to be used for a forgivable loans and grants,” that some business owners and merchants affected by the construction might be eligible to receive from the city, Kernighan said. That money could be used for physical improvements like sidewalk repairs or following through on recommendations of consultants paid for by the city. Kernighan said money from the city’s Business Assistance & Sustainability Fund could be used to pay consultants to provide “basic business advice that would be helpful to any business,” such as advice on figuring out marketing and business plans or planning for a website.
Kernighan added that the construction periods will be “very brief.” “Rather than tearing up all of International Boulevard for two years,” she said, the plan is to do it in chunks of about 8 weeks each.
Christine Calabrese, acting BRT project manager for Oakland’s Department of Public Works, said that the mitigation, or preparation, phase of construction will begin in early 2016. That includes working on the Fruitvale traffic bypass, doing underground work in areas that will have raised stations, and constructing two off-street parking lots. There will be a lot in Fruitvale at 35th Avenue and International, and one in the Elmhurst area at 8630 International.
Calabrese said that construction on the line itself won’t begin until late 2015 or early 2016, and is slated for completion in the middle of 2017. Full service is expected to begin in 2017.
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