Letters for the issue of September 29-October 5, 2004 

Transit bureaucrats, activists, and other residents of the East Bay rise up to demand the conversion of Telegraph and International to bus-only.

"Devin Satterfield's Culture of Chaos," Feature, 9/1
Like my bad brother
I performed at Liminal as a guitarist, helped construct the two gallery walls that are up on wheels, and lived at Liminal during a time you aptly title the "culture of chaos." I am pictured inside with a group of Oakland artists that created massive undertakings of material and craftsmanship under the duress of salvaged material and little outside support beyond the Liminal space that existed.

Liminal was a refuge for artists, where the brain could contemplate creation, the process. Liminal was a threshold of ideas that would manifest. People migrated slowly in and out like campers around a stream. Devin embodies the diversity of spirits that sought refuge from the world of creation at the Liminal space. He pursued the arena of creating, the process of craft and the substance/sustenance of performance, and in the chaos defining the arena, a space in the form of constant formation, a Liminal space that we all held so precious. Beyond every misperception lurked the invisible forces at the Liminal, people of vision beyond their station, all fulcrums churning for leverage on the stage-door real estate, a wise man is not judged by what he knows alone but by how he incorporates the unknown forces into his process. Wisdom is the ultimate praise for a vision like DEVIN who is like a brother who broke my car, to me, well rounded, all of heaven and hell.

I hope Liminal keeps its doors open and fixes its fan, so that more people can learn to share a wilderness community space.
Dan Laks, Oakland

"Careening Out of Control," City of Warts, 9/8

Imagine no gridlock
I found it absurd that Chris Thompson demands his "right" to an easy drive down Telegraph and International while ignoring the needs of those who do not, or cannot, drive. Many East Bay residents rely on public transportation to get to work, school, healthcare, and childcare, and a quicker bus ride means expanded access to these opportunities as well as more time with their families.

AC Transit's proposed Bus Rapid Transit project along Telegraph and International does not "ignore the lessons" from their San Pablo project, as Thompson claims, but will actually bring a similar service to the corridor by 2006. Rapid service includes fewer stops, distinctive bus shelters, traffic lights that stay green for buses, and real-time bus arrival information. AC Transit is hoping to eventually install bus-only lanes along parts of the route, but cities and communities will have to agree on any improvements before a final decision is made.

Instead of decrying the loss of thirty seconds during his drive down Telegraph, Thompson should imagine himself relaxing on a Rapid bus while it breezes down the road, leaving him more time to research his next article.
Amber Crabbe, Transportation and Land Use Coalition, Oakland


Did he buy a Hummer?
I don't know where Chris Thompson looked for information on AC Transit's Express Bus funding, but if he had looked at page 10 of the Measure B Expenditure Plan, he would see that the $18,000,000 of Tier 1 money for these projects was allocated to either San Pablo Avenue or Telegraph Avenue. There is much more additional Tier 2 money allocated for these and other projects. I don't know why Chris Peeples and Jim Gleich didn't tell him this, since they were on the Expenditure Plan Committee. Undoubtedly it was from being blindsided by an unprepared reporter.

I also don't understand why Mr. Thompson is so upset with the idea of giving back some of the lanes that were originally dedicated to transit back for that use, especially when that use would be much more flexible than it originally was. Most of the streets in the country are dedicated solely to automobiles. Undoubtedly more people travel the Telegraph/International corridor in buses than do in cars. What is the problem with even discussing giving a mere third or less of the street back to the majority of the people who use it? Has he bought a new double-wide Hummer? Or does Mr. Thompson just think the people who use buses are the new minority for him to kick around?
Bruce De Benedictis, Oakland


Consider the benefits
I was surprised and distressed to read Chris Thompson's sweeping criticism of AC Transit's proposal to have dedicated bus lanes on Telegraph and International Boulevard. He seems to disregard the presumed purpose of dedicated lanes: to make bus transit faster, more efficient, and more reliable. Yes, this will impede car traffic, but that's just the "cost" half of a cost/benefit analysis; a more thoughtful critique would have weighed both.

While it may be true that "the concept has barely been tested in cities around the country," this concept has been implemented with much success in cities around the world. A great example is Curitiba, Brazil, a city that's seen as an exemplar for sustainable urban planning for many reasons, one of which is its exceptional public transit system. In the mid-1970s, Curitiba implemented a ground-breaking bus system, one of whose central attributes is its dedicated lanes. The result: the bus system runs extraordinarily efficiently and, although the city has more cars per capita than any other city in the nation (besides Brasilia) 75 percent of all commuters use the bus. Due to this, air pollution levels are some of the lowest in the country. Traffic has diminished by 30 percent since 1974, although population has doubled.

It seems odd to me that Mr. Thompson would bemoan buses getting in the way of cars and creating traffic; a good public transportation system has the goal of making its use so attractive that fewer people commute by car altogether. If dedicated lanes encourage this long-term goal, so much the better.
Kristin Traicoff, Berkeley


It's time to think big
I was dismayed to read Chris Thompson's pat and offhand dismissal of AC Transit's proposal, nearly a decade in the making, to provide a state-of-the-art Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the East Bay. While the reappropriation of Measure B funds (apparently Thompson's real beef) may have been a bad idea, it has nothing to do with the merits of dedicated rights of way for transit.

This corridor is one of the busiest in the country, with more than 40,000 boardings per day (more than the entire San Jose or Sacramento Light Rail Systems). And far from being some off-the-cuff notion as Thompson suggests, the BRT proposal is based on a raft of studies considering various ways (including light rail) of taking East Bay transit service to the next level. BRT is designed to operate like a rail system (fast, frequent service that doesn't have to fight with traffic) at a fraction of the cost. This is the system made famous by Curitiba, Brazil and celebrated in dozens of glowing news articles in recent years.

It's not that AC's proposal is perfect or complete. There remain very tricky obstacles -- chief among them the integration of lanes and stations into local streets. There may be constrained locations where dedicated rights of way aren't possible, and many compromises remain to be hashed out. AC has clearly done a poor job coordinating with local municipalities and considering the urban design ramifications (good and bad) of the system. But AC's proposal leaves a lot of options open, and local communities might do better to put down their hackles and start planning for BRT as an opportunity -- both an enormous service boost and a source of capital funds for streetscape amenities like shelters, trees, and pedestrian safety features.

Thompson takes for granted that cars come first and that buses are the mode of last resort, and he seems strangely content to keep it that way. The East Bay needs to get beyond its suburban attitudes about transportation and wake up to a more urban and more livable future. Free-flowing car traffic is a fantasy, not some kind of civil right. Public transit can and must become a viable choice for many more people, and to do so it must be significantly better. The sooner we acknowledge that and plan accordingly, the less road rage, climate change, and oil war we will create for ourselves.

It boils down to this: We can provide marginal benefits to existing bus service, and attract a few more riders (as the laudable San Pablo Rapid has done) or we can begin substantively to rethink the role of transit in the East Bay, invest accordingly, and begin the process of weaning the mainstream from total car dependence. A real BRT system would be a major step toward the latter.
Benjamin Grant, Berkeley


Dumb and duplicative
"Careening Out of Control" aptly described the downside of AC Transit's proposal to seize two lanes of Telegraph Avenue and International Boulevard for exclusive bus use: First, it would create gridlock on two of the East Bay's last major streets that still function well. And second, AC Transit staff has subsidized it by quietly robbing funds from a "rapid bus" line on San Pablo Avenue that's less intrusive and actually works.

What could be worse? Only that there's no upside -- the whole project is a tremendous waste. AC Transit has chosen an absurd route that runs just two to six blocks beside the existing BART tracks, all the way from Berkeley to San Leandro. Ride it that whole distance and you would save just ten minutes over current bus service. Obviously, BART will remain much faster, so most commuters will choose that nearby alternative. Instead of expanding the East Bay's limited rapid-transit network, AC Transit is proposing only a pointless duplication of BART's route.

San Leandro Mayor Sheila Young's reaction is refreshingly clear: "We don't want it," she told your reporter. "That's pretty simple, isn't it?" Let's hope that Berkeley's and Oakland's elected officials will have the good sense to oppose this silliness just as clearly. And soon.
Michael Katz, Berkeley

And the winners are ...

The Express recently took top honors in four non-daily print categories in the 2003-2004 Excellence in Journalism awards, which are sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists' Northern California chapter.

Chris Thompson topped the Depth Reporting category with "The AXT Way" (3/21/04). Editorial Fellow Malcolm Gay was honored as Best Emerging Journalist. Staff writer Susan Goldsmith won Best Feature Story for "Frank's War" (4/28/04). Meanwhile, "2003 Illustrated," our comic-style year-in-review issue (12/31/03), which involved the work of a dozen or so writers and cartoonists, won the Graphic Journalism category for its co-coordinators, managing editor Michael Mechanic and Slow Wave cartoonist Jesse Reklaw.

Corrections
Last week's Bottom Feeder incorrectly suggested that billboard companies were seeking a roughly $1.24 million break on their property taxes statewide. That figure applied to Alameda County alone. The exact amount in property tax reductions being sought statewide is unclear, but it is no doubt much higher since assessment appeals are pending in bigger counties such as Los Angeles.

The Iraqi civilian body count URL cited in last week's article about the Heavenly States ("Tracking the Fallen") was incorrect. It should have been IraqiBodyCount.net.

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