The Citizen

SAN LEANDROOver the past decade, ACT Transit’s $234 million dream bus line that cuts through three East Bay cities, has drifted in and out of vogue, yet even as it nears full funding, San Leandro is still sitting on the fence.

The city has actually never been keen on AC Transit’s planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which would build dedicated bus lanes down the center of E. 14th Street allowing buses to travel nearly uninterrupted from U.C. Berkeley to Bayfair Mall. AC Transit says the route would significantly shave nearly 15 minutes for those traveling from one end to the other. Since 2004, the city’s official position, though, is to end the line near the San Leandro BART station in an attempt to emphasize revitalization of its downtown. AC Transit has long maintained it end near Bayfair.

Former Mayor Shelia Young led opposition to AC Transit during her tenure and current Mayor Tony Santos has also been skepitcal of the plan, which he again voiced Monday night. Santos criticized the transit agency’s lack of alternatives at this point of the decision-making process. “We’re long into this and it seems to me alternatives should have been discussed,” said Santos.

AC Transit has been criticized by some in Oakland and Berkeley for attempting to push their initial plan without consulting the community. In response, AC Transit staged a flurry of local presentations last year in all three communities to uneven success. Some local politicians criticized the events as merely one-sided conversations, while others expressed confusion when they routinely received different answers from AC Transit representatives.

Councilwoman Ursula Reed, whose district would be most affected by BRT, had pointed opposition for the proposal seeing it as a project already sufficient filled by existing transit opportunities with the current E. 14th bus line and BART running parallel. “What we have right now seems to be working,” said Reed. Many businesses and current riders of the existing bus route reside in Reed’s district. AC Transit officials have countered BRT does not have the same function as BART since bus customers can ride the line shorter distances rather than riding fixed distances–station-to-station on BART.

Reed also voiced concern for the planned loss of some parking spots on the corridor which would be eliminated to make room for the loss of a lane set aside for BRT. All the same concerns have been communicated in Berkeley along with the perception the agency should be focusing on the existing ridership during a poor economy instead of cutting routes. “Maybe AC Transit should have taken that funding,” said Santos, “and provided more frequency in service not only in San Leandro, but the entire corridor.”

Councilmen Jim Prola and Michael Gregory said they support the original BRT plan with or without any detours around the downtown area to Bayfair. Both have long been advocates of promoting alternative transit. Gregory espoused the benefits to the environment and to personal health along with urging the city to continue with its long-term transit-oriented policy for its downtown.

Part of BRT’s benefits, supporters say, will get people out of their cars and onto to mass transit. Lowering emissions is one of the city’s priorities according to the Climate Action Plan approved last year. BRT would go a long way towards fulfilling the goal of reducting emissions by 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, although the climate plan may not be funded this year because of the city’s hefty deficit.

While the city appears amendable to listening to alternatives to the initial BRT proposal, most of the council voiced the same concerns they offered last year. The city’s planning commission will discuss the various plan Mar. 25 and the council could make a decision in April.

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