Artist rendering of the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit along International Blvd.at 99th Ave. looking west in Oakland, Calif..(Rendering courtesy of AC Transit)
Artist rendering of the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit along International Blvd.at 99th Ave. looking west in Oakland, Calif..(Rendering courtesy of AC Transit)

OAKLAND -- Plans to build a rapid bus corridor in the East Bay have never lacked passionate opponents, who have forced AC Transit to abandon old plans and opt for new strategies.

On Tuesday, about 50 merchants along International Boulevard added their voices to the opposition. Not all of them want to stop plans to build a $200 million, 9-mile Bus Rapid Transit corridor along the length of International Boulevard, from Second Avenue to the San Leandro border.

But they want help from AC Transit to cushion the blows that the project will impose on the broad boulevard lined by nearly 1,000 businesses -- restaurants, produce markets, clinics, cellphone shops, hardware stores all crammed tightly next to two-story houses and apartment complexes.

"It's too late to stop the project. But they can compensate us," Hugo Guerrero, owner of Hugo's Tours and Travel, said Tuesday at a rally on a corner of International Boulevard and 20th Avenue. He stood in his doorway looking into the middle of the street where a raised BRT platform would split the block in two. Ribbons of bike lanes would run alongside the busses. Just over 100 local bus stops would be replaced with 45 BRT stations, set about a third of a mile apart.

The merchants would lose hundreds of parking places to make room for it all.

Supporters see the possibility of the BRT to reignite businesses along the strip.


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"We cannot continue to have International the way it is now," Oakland District 5 City Councilmember Noel Gallo said Tuesday at the rally. He stood surrounded at one point by shopkeepers denouncing the plans with signs that read "A BRT for Everyone" and "Justice for Merchants."

Even critics say that some businesses will thrive. But Vicente Sol predicted his appliance store on the corner of 20th and International would not be one of them.

Without parking in front, Sol said he would not be able to load and unload the heavy refrigerators, dryers, washers and other appliances he sells.

Sol said AC Transit officials visited him about a year ago to study the problem. But they never followed up with suggestions, he said.

Likewise, Guerrero and other longtime merchants in the Fruitvale District -- some who have been operating for nearly half a century -- said the agency promised solutions to compensate for lost parking and other potential disruptions caused by the construction and narrowing traffic from four lanes into two.

The follow-through, they said, never happened.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," said Maria Campos of Hispanic Services on International Boulevard and 32nd Avenue. "We are the ones who will suffer the consequences."

In addition to consulting help, loading zones and solutions for lost parking, the merchants are asking for $1 million to help businesses find strategies to cope with the impact. Another $5 million would compensate businesses that lose customers or have to move because of the transit corridor. They also worry about the safety of pedestrians when so many parking places are removed.

There is a lot of good in the BRT, said Andy Nelsen of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, one of the organizers of Tuesday's rally. And the city of Oakland and AC Transit have pledged to help them, including $3 million in Community Development Block Grant money held by AC Transit, according to Gallo.

"We're heading in the right direction. But we're not there yet," Nelsen said. "We still have to close the gap."

The next step happens 10 a.m. Wednesday when Gallo and fellow councilmember Rebecca Kaplan take plans to minimize the disruption to the AC Transit Board of Directors meeting.

Then the plans will go to the Oakland City Council for approval, possibly in May.

Wednesday's meeting will be held at the AC Transit General Offices, 10th Floor Conference Room, 1600 Franklin St.