Commission nixes controversial bus stops

Commission nixes controversial bus stops

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s Transportation Commission gave its blessing to a list of changes meant to improve service along AC Transit’s Line 51A route but withheld it for controversial proposed stops in front of a Santa Clara Avenue church, a hair salon and also, Maya Lin School.

The commission signed off on a bus-only lane, a pair of “bus bulbs” and traffic signal changes on Webster Street that will give buses priority for passage, along with a list of bus stop moves or eliminations meant to make passage both faster and safer. But they nixed proposed stops at Santa Clara Avenue and Caroline streets and Santa Clara Avenue and Grand Street that would have seen buses stopping directly in front of Christ Episcopal Church and Dan Francisco’s hair salon.

Nearly three dozen people turned out Wednesday, most of them to voice their opposition to the proposed stops in front of Christ Episcopal and Dan Francisco’s. A handful of others requested that a stop at Santa Clara and Everett that wasn’t included in the proposal be eliminated, something the commission agreed should be studied.

“Our primary role in the church is to make sure the space is open and welcoming to the community. I feel that restricting space in front of our church restricts that,” the Rev. Stephen McHale of Christ Episcopal Church said.

McHale and others said they were concerned that a bus stop in front of the church would force them to wheel coffins down the street after funerals and cause problems for attendees of weddings, services, the church preschool and other activities.

“There’s a lot of activity on that corner,” parishioner John Brennan said.

Others spoke out against a proposed stop in front of Dan Francisco’s, saying it would take up spaces where seniors and disabled people might park and pump exhaust fumes into the salon. And opponents of some of the proposed stops said they fear the stops will bring noise, crime and graffiti.

“To move the bus stop in front of his business would be terribly detrimental to his business and his clients,” Alan Pryor said of Dan Francisco’s owner Dan Valenzuela.

Commissioner Sandy Wong, who is also a school district administrator, voiced another concern about the proposed stop next to Maya Lin: safety. Bus stop opponents said they were concerned the stops could present a hazard, particularly at Maya Lin, where like most schools parents sometimes double park when they drop off and pick up their children.

“That’s not something as a parent I would want,” Wong said of the proposed stop, which would have parked buses next to the school’s play yard. “It’s a safety issue. It’s a concern.”

Onetime City Council candidate Jane Sullwold questioned AC Transit’s rationale for the stop changes. She said that the bus service claimed the stops were being moved to save time but, when confronted with a report saying they didn’t offer a time savings, claimed they were being moved for safety reasons.

“The move of the bus stop is a hypothetical improvement,” said Sullwold of the planned relocation of a stop to Santa Clara Avenue and Caroline Street.

But a handful of speakers offered support for the bus service’s plans.

“The incremental improvements AC Transit is trying to get here will make a difference,” said Jon Spangler, a former member of the commission.

Spangler called AC Transit’s drivers professionals who he said were less likely to have an accident than a regular driver. When asked, Alameda Police Sgt. Ron Simmons said the stops have been the sites of graffiti, loitering and an occasional cell phone theft, but that buses that are clocked by his radar gun don’t really speed; he didn’t have accident data to share.

AC Transit representatives said they would not proceed with stops the Transportation Commission declined to recommend, though Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen said the commission’s decisions could be appealed to the City Council; they said they hoped to have the planned bus changes designed by December and to begin construction early next year.

“I took copious notes,” said Robert Del Rosario, AC Transit’s director of service development and planning. “The truth is, we do need bus stops to pick up passengers.”

Separately, the commission approved an already-planned-and-advertised change to the schedule and stops for the city’s Estuary Crossing Shuttle. Starting on November 1, the shuttle will no longer stop in front of the College of Alameda; that stop will be replaced by a pair of stops in front of the Starbucks on Atlantic Avenue and Webster Street and another across the street, at Atlantic and Constitution Way.

City staff said that the changes were needed to ensure shuttle runs were completed in 30 minutes or less, as required by some of the agencies that provided the grants that are paying for the shuttle service; in a report to the commission, they said that the shuttles’ rising popularity and traffic congestion were slowing them down. The changes would also allow drivers to get their mandated rest breaks, the report says. The shuttle handles 400 boardings a day, 150 of them in front of the college.

But some questioned the decision to eliminate the stop in front of the college, saying the increased distance could be challenging for its students – and particularly, the school’s disabled students – to navigate. The Peralta Community College District – of which the College of Alameda is a part – was one of the entities that helped secure grant money to fund the shuttle service, and staffers said that the district could be asked to help fund the shuttle service when its existing funding lapses in 2015.

"Moving the stop to Starbucks would increase the distance to the College of Alameda by 750 feet and require passengers to cross both Appezzato and Webster. The College of Alameda has approximately 350 students with disabilities for whom the new location would create a hardship," wrote Steve Gerstle, a faculty member who opposed the move. He also chastised the city for its apparent failure to solicit rider input before making the change.

Nguyen acknowledged that concerns but said attempts to discuss the changes with College of Alameda representatives were unsuccessful, and no one from the school appeared to discuss them Wednesday night. He said the city had received "some communications opposing this," but they weren't provided when a reporter requested them Thursday.

He said that ultimately, the service will need to double the number of shuttles it runs – from one to two – to be successful.

“That’s what we will work toward,” he said.

Comments

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Fri, Oct 25, 2013

All houses of worship conduct life-cycle ceremonies such as funerals. If one church is exempted from having a bus stop in front of its facility, then all houses of worship should be exempt from having bus stops.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on Fri, Oct 25, 2013

We have worked long and hard at keeping buses and large trucks off of Grand Street, yet we see large delivery trucks all the time traveling on Grand Street. If you live in the area of Grand Street between Central and Otis, send emails and letters to the Transportation Department and Commission that Grand Street is not a "commercial" street.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Oct 25, 2013

Steve, Christ Episcopal Church is a busy place all week long and there are significant other transportation uses competing for the same patch of curb as the proposed far-side bus stop.

The proposed bus stop is the only safe pickup and drop-off spot for the church's Head Start and child care programs, the food pantry, and for all elderly and handicapped passengers needing rides to or from the church.
The parking lot--around the corner on Grand--is undersized and inadequate to the task of serving as a safe alternative pickup and drop-off zone. The same unavailability of alternative sites applies to the need for long-term curbside parking for weddings and funerals, of which there are many every year.

I am less impressed by the claims of limited access at Dan Francisco's since every time I ride by on my bike I see parking spots on Caroline available directly in front of the salon's front door.....