Community members bemoan proposed bus line changes

Community members bemoan proposed bus line changes

Aubrie Abeno

The 51A bus traverses Alameda on the way to and from the Rockridge and Fruitvale BART stations. Bus map from AC Transit's website.

City planners and AC Transit representatives proposed what they believe are improvements to the Route 51A bus line running through Alameda and Oakland at a community workshop Tuesday, but the reception from residents and businesses located in the path of the bus line was far from favorable.

Not unlike previous proposals floated over several decades, the city aims to relocate 51A bus stops from the near side of intersections to the far side. They said placing stops beyond traffic lights and intersections will lessen time buses spend waiting at red lights and stop signs after picking up passengers.

AC Transit split the 51 line’s route in 2010 to improve the flow of buses and their ability to reach stops on schedule; line 51A runs between the Rockridge BART station to the Fruitvale BART station, traversing Alameda via Webster Street, Santa Clara Avenue, Broadway and Tilden Way, while 51B runs from Rockridge BART to Berkeley.

Additional attempts to pare down the 51 line's average 189-minute travel time between Alameda and Berkeley include consolidating lesser-used stops, establishing a bus-only lane, and widening sidewalks to add “bus bulbs” in major Santa Clara intersections. The city will be working with design consulting firm Kimley-Horn & Associates over the next several months to finalize their plans.

The Route 51 Service and Reliability Report, released in December 2008, said that stop lights account for 80 percent of bus delays. As a result, the city also plans to reprogram several traffic signals, extending the duration of green lights and forcing red lights to turn green for approaching buses.

City and public transit representatives said these changes should result in safer passage for pedestrians as well as faster travels times and less pollution due to fewer idling buses. But participants at Tuesday’s workshop begged to differ.

Anne Jensen, interim rector of Christ Episcopal Church on Santa Clara Avenue and Grand Street and a veteran community liaison at town hall meetings, has expressed her concern over placing a bus stop in front of the church every year that the proposal has come to the table – which, according to her and several other residents, happens roughly every six years. The church is active all week long, Jensen said, often holding receptions and weddings out front. She said a bus stop will increase loitering, harassment and littering.

Eleanor Wiley has lived in the city for 53 years and said she has voiced her disapproval over the relocations for almost as long.

“A bus stop in front of your house lowers property value,” she said. “On top of that, I’ll have to pick up after people sitting in front of my house. The bus will obstruct my driveway. It’d be extremely dangerous for me to back out with my car when a bus could be barreling in.”

Nearly every resident at the meeting stood opposed to relocating bus stops at every Santa Clara Avenue intersection. Several small business owners also lamented what they said will be the negative effect the new locations will have on parking options, which are already scarce to begin with.

“What this is going to do is not improve the visibility for those who to back out of these driveways,” said Mary Ahmed, who manages an apartment complex on Santa Clara. “We try to park in our driveways for the properties nearby that have no parking whatsoever.”

Even more residents voiced concerns about the additional noise from buses, the effects of buses’ exhaust pollution in their front yards and homes, and dealing with noise and trash that people waiting for the bus may end up accumulating. Some questioned the city’s motives, claiming many of these proposals don’t address any of the communities needs at all.

The city is currently finalizing their analysis of Alameda’s block-to-block parking situation, and the report is due on the city’s website “any day now.”