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.