Public Comment

North Berkeley BART Reconsidered

Michelle LePaule
Wednesday February 13, 2019 - 02:18:00 PM

One thing people hate about politicians is when they hold up a two dimensional solution to a problem and the three dimensional reality doesn’t add up and everyone knows it.

I see that happening now with plans to remove parking at the North Berkeley BART station and replace it with housing. They say that it’s important to cluster housing around transit hubs. The residents there will no longer need to use cars since they can get to work via BART. That’s fine if there is available land with which to do this. But the BART board, with the enthusiastic support of the local government wants to remove the parking lot and replace it with housing.

Full of holes.

For starters, the commuters who are displaced are not going to board up their houses and move in. New people will move into the new building from other communities. I’m sure some of them will BART to work, although not to the grocery store, because they can’t. Meanwhile the previous commuters are left in a bind. 

Someone, I suppose, thinks that these commuters will be pushed into a corner so the only options are to walk, bike or bus to the BART. I imagine that those who live walking distance to the BART, already do walk. A few people bike and some people will start taking the bus. But taking the bus to the BART adds another hour and an extra $5 to the daily commute. That’s an hour people might prefer to spend with their families than on an ARTIFICIALLY CREATED transportation problem. 

A good 25% of the East Bay consists of hills, areas where walking and biking aren’t possible and these areas are also underserved by buses. In a letter to the Berkeley mayor the Sierra Club expressed support for building on the station, but “solutions for people who can’t walk or bike to the station due to distance, topography or other challenges should be considered and provided…” The problem is that while some handicapped spaces could be provided, any other parking would be first come, first served. Those with greater needs have to compete with those of lesser needs. There’s no special parking for “topography” problems. 

So what will the displaced commuters actually do? 

Top choice is hit the highway. Most people aren’t going to choose the path of greatest resistance out of duty. They are going to choose the path of least resistance in an already harried modern life. 

Another choice is to get a ride from your spouse. Instead of the two trips it takes to go to the BART and come home again at the end of the day, spouse gives you a ride to the BART, goes home and picks you up at the end of the day. Four trips instead of two. More congestion. 

Another choice is to take an Uber/Lyft/cab to the BART. In this case someone drives up from the other side of Oakland, picks you up and delivers you to the BART, circles town all day waiting for other fares, picks you up at the end of the day and brings you home, then returns to their home on the other side of Oakland. The equivalent of six or more trips. Ubers may be public but they are not mass transit. They are the least efficient mode of transportation we have. 

If the motivation for the changes at BART stations is about environmentalism and not about developer kickbacks or someone owning stock in Uber, the whole thing falls apart. In addition to the general misery, greater car use and more pollution is in fact what we’ll be getting. Proponents of these changes obsess about the emissions from driving from home to BART, but aren’t looking at the emissions from traveling greater distances on the highway. Pennywise but pound foolish. Imagine that the Koch brothers, in order to maximize their interests in gas and oil, were paying off members of the BART board to steer things their way. What would the BART board do? Answer: exactly what they are doing now, making it more difficult to access BART! 

By not requiring the BART board to regard the input of the citizens in affected areas, the recent decision by the state legislature essentially has just granted the board the right to treat BART property as their personal property. The citizens who have poured billions of tax dollars into creating the BART system are told their likely objections don’t matter. Converting a public space parking lot into privately occupied housing also crosses another line, that of privatization of public land, which this is regardless of who owns it. Creeping privatization is what we have been enduring since the philosophy of neoliberalism has taken hold in this country. The kickoff was during the Reagan years and the epitomization is now in the Trump administration. Once we give up our land, it won’t be retrievable in the future. 

A recent article in the Chronicle tells us that a mind boggling 40,000 people in the BART system are on a wait list for reserved parking. That gives us an idea of what the need is. It is not the business of BART to go into real estate or even to be concerned with housing issues. It’s their business to maximize BART use. 

I propose that the BART triple the amount of parking at the North Berkeley BART so anyone who wants to use the BART can. It will get commuters off the freeway, off the wait list and out of the surrounding neighborhoods. It will get daytime shoppers out of the Sutter-Stockton garage. This IS the green thing to do!!! 

Cars cause pollution and pollution causes global warming, so the obvious thing to do is to ban cars and problem solved, right? The mayor and city council seem to accept this. But if you can’t get away with banning cars, you do the next best thing, which is to ban parking spaces. Then people will “learn to walk” or “take a hike”, depending on your point of view. They seem intent on removing as much parking as possible by hook or crook with no regard to feasibility or individual needs. The good citizens who have purchased hybrid or electric cars are told that it doesn’t make a flip of difference. Not only do they want to build over the North Berkeley BART, they also want to build on what remains of the Ashby BART. The mayor has suggested he wants to “build out” any parking lot he can get his hands on. 

But a few people need cars at least sometimes, if not every day. Who are they? 

  • People with children. That would be most people for a good stretch of their lives.
  • Seniors with bad backs and arthritic knees, a little short of needing handicapped placards.
  • Actual handicapped people.
  • Anyone needing to carry heavy or cumbersome items such as groceries, that you can’t lug on the bus.
  • People living in areas not served by buses and where you can’t walk or bike.
  • Etc.
The young, healthy and unencumbered can walk or bike as long as they live in the flatlands. They are the “winners” and all the rest of us are the “losers”. In Trump’s America, we don’t care about the losers. 

The lot on Berkeley Way will have an apartment house built on it with affordable units, something we can definitely use. We were told that parking would be replaced, we weren’t being ripped off. When the citizens voted to fund the building, suddenly we were told it wouldn’t have parking. “You see, it costs money to underground the lot.” “Yes it does, that’s why we gave it to you.” Once again we are talking about privatization of a formerly public space. If the public parking was replaced, no problem, but if it isn’t then the formerly public lot is being privatized. A lot should be there with a number of CarShare spaces for the occasional use of the future residents who otherwise will have to live completely without the option. It also should have handicapped spaces, EV charging and bicycle racks and the remaining spaces for the usual band of “losers”. 

With this apartment building and any new apartment buildings that are built without sufficient parking, you will find more and more use of Ubers for transportation. As previously noted, they are the least efficient mode of transportation available. Give us back our lot! We need it ourselves. 

A word about puritanism. You hear some people say derisively that people just want to use cars for “mere convenience” as though convenience were a dirty word. Feasibility would be a less loaded term. Puritanism runs deep in the American psyche. “You must suffer for your pleasure.” This puritanism is also manifested in the idea that in order to solve social problems, i.e. global warming, someone has to be made to suffer. I regard myself as a progressive and I feel that the essence of progressivism is to push away from this old puritanism and make things work for as many people as possible. 

The actions being taken are negative, hostile and punitive. It would be better to emphasize positive solutions. The bus system could use a huge expansion. The improvements in bicycle access are a good idea. 

Berkeley is a medium density city and it’s good that way. Our local government seems obsessed with turning it into a high density city. There is no building project too ridiculous to get approval. There is a crisis in affordability in the Bay Area but there is no crisis in insufficient numbers of people. Look at Brooklyn which is a very high density city. First thing to note is that endless building will not bring down housing costs. Brooklyn’s rents are as high as Berkeley’s. Owning a car is impossible so there are few supermarkets. Instead there are little markets scattered around the city. The variety is very limited and the prices high because you have no choice. If Berkeley Bowl split up into a dozen little Berkeley “cups” and were scattered around the city so people could walk to get groceries, you would have the same situation; less variety, higher prices. Brooklyn does have one thing the Bay Area will never have and that’s an extensive subway system, a web, not a single line like the BART. And it’s cheap unlike the BART. Because of the hilly terrain and the monumental costs, this will never happen here. 

97% of Berkeley believes in and understands global warming. The other 3% voted for Trump. People probably do answer to that in many little ways that will never be counted by statisticians. Count your blessings. 

Anyone reading this who agrees with me probably knows that there is a huge momentum towards building out the BART. That’s why it’s urgent to contact relevant parties and let them know your feelings. That would be everyone on the BART board of directors, the mayor and city council of Berkeley and the zoning board of Berkeley. 

Michelle is retired and doesn’t have to commute anywhere. She lives walking distance from the BART. Her motives are altruistic.