Public Comment

Three Better Choices Than Cutting Down All the Trees

By Russ Tilleman
Friday December 20, 2013 - 02:53:00 PM

For the second time in just a few years, I am opposing a transit "improvement" project proposed by AC Transit. As was the case with the previous Bus Rapid Transit project, this Line 51 project doesn't appear to provide any significant benefits. Instead it appears to be the result of misguided AC Transit bureaucracy, useless changes just for the sake of changing things and getting government grant money. The Line 51 project is full of destructive changes for Berkeley. I put together a photo interpretation showing each of the 139 trees and more than 161 parking spaces it would seem to permanently remove. The PDF file is online at 

I am not opposed to public transit or to protecting the environment. So if I am going to oppose a bad project, I'd like to propose some good projects that are better than what AC Transit is trying to do. I have three of them to suggest: BEST, TransitCar and Cargo Tunnel. BEST, or Buses at Evenly Spaced Times, is a form of headway-based scheduling for buses that prevents the kind of bus bunching that chronically disrupts AC Transit service. Transit researchers have proven that headway-based scheduling eliminates bus bunching and provides very high levels of service. And it doesn't require the removal of even a single tree or parking space.  

TransitCar is a proposal by some friends and me to place large numbers of inexpensive electric cars in BART station parking lots, to transport commuters to and from the stations. These cars only go 25 mph and only have a range of around 20 miles, but they only cost about $8000 and they charge from a regular electrical outlet. They can drive directly to locations that aren't served well by buses, and their low cost would allow them to be rented for prices not much higher than a round-trip bus ticket. Cargo Tunnel is a longer-term proposal to automate package delivery. Not by using drones as has been in the news lately, but by installing another pipe under the street containing a small electic delivery cart. Some fraction of automobile trips can be replaced by realtime delivery of things like groceries and mail. In addition to saving energy, Cargo Tunnel can reduce noise, traffic congestion and auto accidents. 

I discussed BEST with one of the planners at AC Transit. The response was basically "that sounds like a good idea, but we don't want to do it." I discussed TransitCar with the City of Berkeley. The response was basically "that sounds like a good idea but the City is not in a position to do anything about it." I discussed Cargo Tunnel with the City of Berkeley. The response was basically "that sounds like an interesting idea, but someone else has to do it before Berkeley will get involved." These are hardly the kind of responses I would expect from organizations which claim to want progress. Trying to do feel-good projects that won't help the environment, like the Line 51 project and Bus Rapid Transit before it, is a waste of time and resources. But BEST and TransitCar can easily and quickly cut greenhouse gases and improve public transit. In the longer term, Cargo Tunnel has the potential to get people out of their cars and improve the quality of life. 

We don't have too much control over what AC Transit tries to do, but we have the right to block them from damaging our city. And if we care about the environment and want Berkeley to be at the forefront of protecting the environment, we should focus on solutions that will really make a difference. If the City of Berkeley chooses to, it can implement TransitCar. All it has to do is buy some cars and park them at the BART stations. And in the longer term, Berkeley could experiment with Cargo Tunnel as well. We could build a small test system down a major street like University, Shattuck or Telegraph, and see if people use it. Deciding whether a project is worth doing isn't rocket science. The only questions that must be answered are:  

—Does the project really save energy or make life better? 

—Is any improvement worth the expense and disruptions involved? 

In the case of the Line 51 project the answers appear to be NO and NO. But for BEST, TransitCar and Cargo Tunnel the answers appear to be YES, YES, YES, YES, YES and MAYBE. 

So why is Berkeley cooperating with AC Transit rather than doing something productive? It appears that Berkeley may have lost any vision it ever had about truly making the world a better place.