This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Alameda County (Oakland and Berkeley, CA) is looking at BRT. On the plus side, they can get the whole 16 miles up and running in 4 years for just $400M ($25M/mile is dirt cheap for a transit project). The downside is that, to make it work, to make it truly BRT, you need a dedicated lane, meaning you’d have to remove a general purpose lane.
The key point of controversy is the same thing that makes BRT so effective – the dedicated lane. Telegraph Avenue and East 14th would both lose a lane for car traffic in each direction. Congestion on both streets has grown increasingly frustrating in recent years for both automobile drivers and bus riders. With buses stuck in unpredictable traffic, their average speed has declined 10 miles per hour over the past 10 years. Opponents of the project claim the loss of a lane will make traffic unbearable, while proponents note that the increased speed and reliability of the bus will finally create a viable alternative to private car travel. The Draft EIR found that the removal of a lane would not significantly increase congestion, since the new bus is expected to take a significant number of drivers off the road.
And this is where it starts to fall apart. Grade-separated transit (light rail, monorail, subway, etc.) creates brand-new rights-of-way. Buses, usually, do not. They have to either (a) share with cars, which reduces their speed, or (b) build exlusive new rights-of-way, which makes them nearly as expensive as light rail.
Alameda County is trying an option (c), which is to steal lanes from general traffic. As you can see, it isn’t going over too well, no matter that the EIR finds otherwise. Taking lanes is never an easy sell.
But the fissure here is useful in illumnating the various sides of the debate. As Rob Johnson (whom I assume is the same Rob Johnson from Transportation Choices Coalition) wrote in a comment at the bottom of this too-clever-by-half Crosscut article,
It seems as though all light rail critics in this region are quick to support bus service when comparing the two, but their support dissapears when it’s actually time [to] fight for more bus service increases.
They’re all for more bus service, but only when it’s a matter of trying to deflect attention away from rail.