OAKLAND -- A new type of speedy frequent service, described as a railway on wheels, has been approved by the transit board for parts of Oakland and San Leandro.
Board members approved the $153 million project Wednesday, saying they expect it to increase ridership, cut pollution and lure motorists out of their cars on a heavily used 9.5-mile long bus route. It extends from 20th Street in downtown Oakland to the San Leandro BART station.
The first segments would open in late 2014 and the last in early 2016.
"I think it will be significant improvement in travel," said Chris Peeples, a member of the Alameda Contra Costa Transit District board.
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and San Francisco Muni also plan bus rapid transit projects, but the AC Transit one would be longer and may open sooner, transit planners said.
AC Transit voted 6-0 in favor of the project.
More than 40 people spoke Wednesday at the public hearing. Most favored the project, saying it will boost public transit and attract more business and people to areas along the route. Critics questioned whether it was worth the cost and the loss of on-street parking spaces.
The bus-only lanes and bus stations on elevated street medians would be developed along 80 percent of the route for fast loading and unloading of passengers.
Buses would arrive every five minutes during weekdays at stations spaced an average of 0.3 miles apart, making bus travel faster and more reliable, planners said.
The route generally follows Broadway and International Boulevard, although no bus-only lanes would be developed on Broadway.
Once up and running, the new service is expected to attract an extra 5,900 riders a day to AC Transit -- about 2,500 who will switch from travel by car to the bus, according to the agency's environmental report on the project. The report also estimates the loss of 600 on-street parking spaces, but AC Transit planners said the agency would acquire new spaces to offset the loss.
The original project proposal went all the way to the UC Berkeley campus, but Berkeley was dropped from the project because of complaints by neighbors and merchants about losing on-street parking spaces.
The AC Transit Board also decided to eliminate about 5 miles of the route north of downtown Oakland to save money and avoid worsening traffic congestion at six intersections mostly along Telegraph Avenue.
That longer route would have cost $205 million, $33 million more than AC Transit has lined up for the project, officials said "I think the route has been whittled down to something that makes sense," Peeples said.
Joel Ramos, community planner for the Transform public transit advocacy group, said the project should become a model in the Bay Area for using bus rapid transit to relieve traffic congestion and accommodate development along busy corridors.
"Our cities are growing," Ramos said. "It's going to be very difficult to accommodate future growth with our existing transportation system."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.
Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a high-speed, high-frequency bus service that costs much less than rail service. It is referred to as a rail system on wheels.
AC Transit buses would arrive every five minutes on weekdays. Bus-only lanes would be developed along much of the route, and traffic signals would give preference to buses.
Bus stations would be developed on elevated medians for quick passenger loading.
AC Transit schedule calls for awarding the BRT construction contract in early 2014, opening the first segment in late 2014, and having all parts operating by early 2016.
Source: AC Transit