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Transit advocates are making progress

This blog is about decisions made today that shape the future. I often focus on transit and bike/ped issues because transportation is the fabric of Oakland, and can be the foundation of a healthier and more successful city. Last week, the Oakland City Council took on two vital and controversial transportation issues, parking pricing and the Airport Connector, and transit advocates, in which I include myself, basically lost the votes. But we transit advocates should be very proud of our recent work, because we made a significant difference in the long struggle to create more livable communities, and are poised to build on our success.

Sanjiv Handa and Clinton Killian recently said that bloggers came up with the idea of extending parking meter hours and raising prices. That’s not true, although I’ve blogged about parking for a long time; the city’s parking staff recommended those steps, as well as many more that were not approved by the Council during the many, many public hearings this Spring on parking and the budget. However, bloggers were among those urging the Council to stick to its parking regulations and ignore unfounded claims that parking meters are somehow bad for parking and shopping. But there were actually quite a few people brave enough to come speak at the Council in favor of rational parking regulation, and Councilmembers received many more emails against the meter-hours rollback than some suggested in public statements. We environmental advocates made good and rational arguments, and I am confident they will be borne out by the forthcoming parking study, just as they were by the SFMTA’s recent study. Bike/ped advocates found common cause with good-government and city-service advocates, and by pushing back against the tide of parking outrage, provided an alternative vision of a better-funded and more livable city. Like the Airport Connector, advocates may have lost a battle last Tuesday, but made significant strides and even real progress.

Transit advocates have never before come so close to stopping a wasteful BART boondoggle. BART’s backers, from the asphalt lobby (the Alliance for Jobs and state construction workers’ unions) to the regional heavy-hitters (the Bay Area Council of CEOs, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, BART’s general manager and Board President) were forced to do the utmost to defend their pet disaster, and even came in person to persuade the City Council at midnight. I’m sure they found it quite demeaning. Though in the end the Council succumbed to a combination of political pressure and unfamiliarity with transportation planning, a large and diverse coalition forced cloistered regional policymakers to defend their project in front of accountable local representatives. The hearing brought vitally important public investments out of the proverbial back rooms of mid-morning meetings featuring unelected or unrepresentative officials. BART and its backers had to lie to and bully the Council to get their way, and the veneer of respectability covering BART and the MTC was stripped for all to see. As news coverage and comments made clear, the OAC’s opponents won the war of public opinion. Reforming the Bay Area’s undemocratic, regressive, and sprawl-supporting regional planning is a long struggle, but transit advocates exposed its worst manifestation to a big audience.

And though the Council did not stop the OAC, transit advocates won some real victories. The Council’s resolution for BART to adhere to many of its promises made over the years may indeed secure a better project and more jobs for locals, and even if it doesn’t, it will help people understand BART’s failures. More importantly, many of the Councilmembers who voted for the OAC were persuaded that it was not a good use of scarce funding, and were frankly embarrassed to admit that they had no alternative means to improve airport access or spend transit funds. According to one longtime City Hall policy aide, the OAC vote was “a major wake-up call” to the Council about Oakland’s failure to plan and advocate for transportation needs. The hearing also showed the power of a broad transit advocacy coalition uniting social justice, good-government, business, and quality-of-life activists. Council offices were flooded with phone calls and emails opposing the project, and speakers on the OAC outnumbered even those on parking. Transit advocates not only clearly communicated their position on the OAC and Oakland’s transit priorities, but also demonstrated broad-based community support. There’s now serious talk of creating a Transportation Commission, and in other ways transit advocates’ priorities are starting to move forward.

Last week Oakland announced it received a grant from the Air Quality Management District to start a downtown shuttle connecting Uptown to Jack London Square. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, whose election last year represented a progressive victory over the status quo, was instrumental in securing the grant. The shuttle was explicitly sold to the BAAQMD as a first step toward a fixed-guideway (eg, streetcar or BRT) downtown transit service. Uniting the three downtown BART stations, the bus hubs, the Amtrak and ferry stations, and downtown’s somewhat disconnected districts, is a long-held goal of local transit advocates. With the redevelopment of Jack London Square, and the potential redevelopment of Alameda Point, Oak-to-Ninth, and Auto Row, a downtown transit service not only solves a whole slew of planning problems but can leverage private funds. Thanks to TransForm, who persuaded the AC Transit Board to resist the General Manager’s recommendation to take every last penny of capital funds, AC Transit will only use a portion of Bus Rapid Transit funding to forestall service cuts, and will explore additional means of raising revenue both for existing bus service and for BRT. This creates an opportunity to look at places beyond than the very largest corridor (Telegraph-International) to make significant investments. With an invigorated transit movement and an engaged City Council, there’s a real possibility of planning for the transit improvements our city desperately needs.

The twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake reminds us how great a difference we can make. Thanks to far-sighted San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and dedicated West Oaklanders, highways were torn down, and in their place, vibrant communities now blossom. Enormous portions of West Oakland were basically uninhabitable before Mandela Parkway replaced the cursed Cypress Structure over the strident objections of CalTrans and regional business interests. Transit and bike-ped advocacy isn’t just about getting places, it’s about creating successful, healthy, and beautiful communities. There’s a rising tide of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit activism in Oakland, and it’s not only new groups like Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, but also shares a vision with long-standing advocates in fields as diverse as social justice, public safety, business, and neighborhood preservation. We can’t expect to win huge battles against free parking or BART waste right away, but the steps we’ve made this year are meaningful and form the foundation for future progress.

Posted in actransit, airport, alameda, bart, brt, budget, california, citycouncil, downtown, kaplan, o29, oakland, san francisco, transportation.

14 Responses

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  1. Shannon T says

    Thanks for the step-back perspective on recent transportation happenings – it is important to celebrate the progress we’re making even if the seeds are not yet bearing fruit.

    Walk Oakland Bike Oakland is working hard to build a grassroots community for better neighborhoods and we feel the momentum growing – join us and get involved!

  2. das88 says

    This is a great post dto510.

    There is a apparently a lot to be done in the world of transit advocacy. I just finished a post on another blog ( extolling the virtues of a free shuttle bus that takes workers to BART 3 or 6 blocks away.

    We definitely need to continue organizing and advocating for sensibility in our transportation policies.

  3. PRT Strategies says

    Oakland should also be taking a serious look at Personal Rapid Transit, especially for the AirportBART connection and beyond. There’s more at, a California company with Bay Area roots.

  4. JLD_Oakland says

    A shuttle between downtown and JLS was a condition of approval imposed on JLS Partners by the planning commission when the JLS redevelopment project was approved. It was part of the mitigations for environmental impact and used to offset some of the parking impacts.

    JLSP really didn’t want to do anything about public transit – the EIR kept re-iterating that it was already a transit hub. In the end they conceded to a commute time only shuttle along Broadway i.e. not for guest, only for workers (of which there will eventually be many due to the hundreds of thousands of sf of office space the project includes). So JLSP just got a nice fat grant to subsidize what they were contractually required to provide anyway.

  5. JLD_Oakland says

    Thanks for the additional info Steve, I’m glad that the developer chipped in their part and I’ve very happy to hear that the shuttle will server outside of commute hours, especially on the weekends when there is likely to be demand for it.

  6. dto510 says

    Um, no, Oakland needs real transit, not more Disneyland crap. Part of the point of this blog is that overhead structures are bad.

  7. dto510 says

    We do, and we are making real progress, especially considering that we’re coming more-or-less out of nowhere.

  8. dto510 says

    The momentum really is growing – I called out WOBO because they are a fresh new group that is making a real difference. They’ve mapped hundreds of pedestrian paths for the city, which will allow for their reconstruction! That’s just one example of the great work you all are doing.

  9. Martin says

    Disney and the city of Anaheim are both looking at PRT. And wouldn’t you think that with the crowds they draw, the traffic they generate and the parking they have to deal with, that they might know what they’re doing?

  10. Robert says

    So what is your problem? That they played the game well? or that there is improved transit from JLS to Uptown?

  11. Steve Carney says

    “So JLSP just got a nice fat grant to subsidize what they were contractually required to provide anyway.”

    The AQMD grant does not let JLSP off the hook for subsidizing shuttle service pursuant to the Project EIR. JLSP is making a contribution to the City’s shuttle that is financially commensurate with what they would have spent to provide the shuttle service called out in the EIR.

    The EIR shuttle would have provided peak hour service between Jack London and 12th Street BART with no or few stops in-between. The City’s shuttle will extend to Grand Avenue, operate during peak and non-peak hours, and incorporate 10 or so stops along the route. The deal is a classic win-win for Jack London AND the City.

  12. JLD_Oakland says

    Providing adequate transit isn’t “a game” which is precisely why EIRs exist, to require developers to do their bit in compensating for the impacts they would otherwise externalize. Neither should planning development in a city be “a game”. When a government agency has to step in with funds its basically having the government (AKA tax payer) clean up after the mess. Yay for having the shuttle at last, yay for BAAQMD providing the funds but lets not forget where the funds came from and who “won the game”.

Continuing the Discussion

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