Archive for July, 2010

In voting against AC Transit’s BRT project, Berkeley has played up its stereotype as a community of affluent hypocrites. It unearthed ugly, negative stereotypes about bus riders that was shocking to hear in Berkeley of all places. And it exposed insurmountable political roadblocks to the Complete Streets agenda.

The BRT proposal went far beyond improved bus service. It was a textbook example of the ‘Complete Streets’ concept. The Plan would have incorporated Class II bike lanes, traffic calming, and ped safety improvements. The Plan addressed many problems in the blighted Telegraph Ave corridor, particularly the lack of landscaping. And, yes, it was genuinely popular with the electorate. Voters overwhelmingly favored BRT proposal by 80% in at least two citywide referendums (three if Measure “G” is counted).

But the high approval ratings was not enough as City Council killed the project anyway. It is a political variation of the 85% rule.

The “85% rule” in this instance refers to the crazy requirement in CA vehicle code that the fastest 15% of cars on the road sets the speed limit. The political analogue to this rule holds that the most extreme 15% segment of a population holds veto power over major policymaking.

Getting near unanimous support for any program is incredibly difficult. Consequently, the 85% rule holds Berkeley Bike and Ped Plans in check. The city government is in complete dysfunction bending over backwards to placate every single nutjob and nimby.

It is truly a sorry state of affairs. Whereas Berkeley was once a leader in the slow streets movement, City Council has actually banned the use of speed humps, in order to appease a militant faction of disabled activists. The most effective tool in the traffic calming toolkit is gone.

Or consider the hazardous condition of sidewalks in the Gourmet Ghetto. They become so overcrowded that it spills over onto the traffic median. A common-sense plan to expand sidewalk real estate was derailed when diehard nimbys made their usual ‘FUD’ complaints.

So what needs be done to turn things around? For starters, Berkeley has to elect more adults to City Council. Unfortunately, that prospect appears unlikely to happen in the 2010 ballot. So for now, Complete-Streets advocates will have look longingly at cities like Portland and New York and daydream what might have been.

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BART’s Oakland Airport connector is back from the dead. And it has tapped an unusual funding source to make up the shortfall: high-speed rail funds.

The new funding plan, approved with an 8-1 vote, patches together grants, loans and cost savings to replace the lost stimulus money. BART expects to make up the $70 million shortfall with $20 million in state transportation funds and $5 million in grants from the High-Speed Rail Authority.

Ok, $5 million is not a lot (1% of the overall OAC boondoggle). But the whole point of the California High-Speed rail project was to divert travel from planes to trains, not the other way around.

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Due to drastic cuts in California State budget, AC Transit has proposed yet another round of cutbacks in bus service. Already, the agency is way beyond “cutting into bone”. Whereas the State’s roads and highways have benefited from Federal Stimulus largess, no such program has come to the rescue of local bus agencies.

When the State Legislature passed a law allowing local counties to increase their Vehicle License Fee (VLF), a huge opportunity presented itself for financial bailout of the beleaguered bus agency. So, how has Alameda County proposed to use this new VLF funding mechanism? Yep, to fund more road construction:

Alameda County voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to pay an extra $10 in their vehicle registration fee to fix potholes and fight traffic gridlock…The ballot measure, which needs a simple majority vote to pass, would raise about $11 million per year from the 1.1 million vehicles in Alameda County. Transportation officials said they need a new stable money source to help improve the poor condition of city and county roads hurt by declining state assistance and shrinking tax revenues during the recession. “The bulk of the money from this measure is going to go into local roads,” said Mark Green, Union City mayor and chairman of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency board.

To put in perspective, $11 million/year is the size of latest round of cuts, and represents a 7.2% reduction in service. It is also worth comparing Alameda County CMA to other counties. Sonoma County really puts Alameda to shame. Sonoma County proposes to spend 60% of VLF funds on transit service, and 12% would go towards walking, biking, and safe-routes-to-schools program.

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