Michelle Rousey was on her way to the grocery store when the bus she was on missed her stop—or at least, that’s what she thought. To her surprise, the stop she had used for more than 20 years was gone.
The southbound 51A bus stop, previously on the northwest corner of the Broadway and 30th Street intersection in Oakland, was removed early last year when construction of the Sprouts grocery store began. The store is now complete, but the bus stop is still gone. In its place are parking meters lined up on Broadway.
The missing stop has incited political debate and protests from bus riders and community groups urging for its return. Advocates argue the stop is important because it provides access to grocery stores and medical care, services they say are necessary and regularly visited by bus riders.
The stop, in the Broadway Valdez Area near the Pill Hill neighborhood, provided easy access a Grocery Outlet, a CVS and the Summit Bank on the southwest corner. Patients, employees and visitors of the Oakland Healthcare and Wellness Center and Sutter Alta Bates Summit medical offices nearby also used it. Medical complex patients, including some with disabilities, relied on the nearby bus stop to get to appointments. Now they have to get off elsewhere and backtrack.
Rousey, who is in a wheelchair, has to get off at the next closest stop, two blocks away, and convey herself back towards the intersection, something she has been doing for months now. “I have a mobility device that helps me, but when I use it more, it wears and tears just like a car,” Rousey said, alluding to other modes of transportation for the disabled. “The cost of Paratransit is not a lot, but it’s almost like a taxi. We can’t afford it on an ongoing basis.”
Camille Holser, 75, avidly used the stop to go to CVS on her way home from Berkeley. She now gets off at Broadway and 28th Street, but it is not easy to walk from there. “I’m just not as young as I used to be or have as much strength or energy as I used to,” Holser said. “I have no other mode of transportation.”
In a meeting Tuesday morning, the Oakland Public Works Committee concluded the bus stop, which had been at the intersection for almost a century, would be reinstated, but it is still unclear if it will return to its original location or be moved south of 30th Street to be in front of Summit Bank. Until a location is decided, bus riders like Rousey will continue using stops two blocks north or south from the intersection.
Oakland City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan and community advocates led the efforts to demand the bus stop’s return. “We need to increase transit ridership, not decrease it,” Kaplan said during a press conference before the committee meeting. “Encourage those who can to use it, and to make it easier, not harder.”
According to Jeffrey Neustadt, principal and CEO of Portfolio Development Properties overseeing the Sprouts venue, the conditions of approval for the stop’s removal were passed in 2013, at least a year and a half before construction at the site began. In the conditions, Portfolio Development agreed to pay money towards the relocation of the bus stop.
With the introduction of Sprouts at the intersection, during a peak traffic hour, 130 cars will turn right onto 30th Street from Broadway going southbound, according to estimates by AC Transit Board President Chris Peeples. This would make it impossible for a bus to stop in the rightmost lane without impeding cars from turning into the store’s parking garage.
Although representatives from Summit Bank, which has been at the same location since 1982, agree the bus stop should return, they have been actively opposing its move in front of their bank. At Tuesday’s meeting, they argued the bus stop would attract bystanders and pose a security risk.
“It’s very difficult to differentiate between someone with evil intent versus and someone who’s just there to wait for the bus,” said David Trevors, president of Guardian Security Agency and security consultant for the bank. “It would also obscure the window,” which he said needs to be readily seen by Oakland police patrolling the area.
“The [bank] windows are glazed,” said Kenya Wheeler, a member of the Oakland Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, as he pointed to a photo of the bank on his phone. “OPD cruisers would not be able to look into the bank anyways.”
Others say that many banks around the city already have bus stops in front or nearby, and robberies have not increased because of them. Joyce Roy, a senior who spoke at the meeting’s open forum, challenged the bank’s position. “I come to that stop to loiter … and I hit people over the head with my cane,” Roy said sarcastically. “It would be pretty easy to do a study of all the banks that have a bus stop in front of them and how many of the bus riders have robbed the bank because it was just pretty convenient to the bus stop.”
Summit Bank representatives also argue the stop would pose a new risk to pedestrians who will have to cross the street to go to Sprouts.
The groups advocating for the return of the stop, including the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, have previously held a couple of rallies outside of the bank. Last Christmas, bank employees were greeted with Christmas cards by the protesters: “Don’t be a Grinch, Summit Bank.”
The Oakland City Council recently voted to allocate money towards the hiring of a Department of Transportation director. Kaplan said the position, yet to be filled, would resolve issues like these before they become a problem for commuters.
Bus riders can expect an update on the bus stop’s location by May, according to the committee’s decision, although it may not be built for a couple of months. Neustadt said his company is still willing to contribute to the cost of the bus stop’s construction.