Carrying more than 19,000 passengers a day, Line 51 is one of the busiest public bus routes in the East Bay. The route travels along major streets through Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley. But the service has been unreliable, with bus-bunching, late and overcrowded buses and severely clogged streets.
AC Transit has a plan to end all of that -- and it's a good one.
Known as the Line 51 Corridor Delay Reduction and Sustainability Project, the project's primary objective is to increase the speed and reliability of the service. But it will also improve the pedestrian experience and the streetscape with bus bulbs that add public space and shorten street crossing for pedestrians. And with a three-to-one tree replacement policy, neighborhoods will be even greener once the project is done.
Amazingly, it does all this without impacting other users of the street, whether in cars, on bikes or on foot. It could be called a complete streets proposal that includes:
In 2008, AC Transit, Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley outlined the problems in a Line 51 Service and Reliability Study. The study found that 30 percent of the scheduled travel time -- approximately 24 minutes in each direction of travel -- was delayed due to external factors such as traffic signals, motorist's parallel parking or blocking bus stops, and so on. Eighty percent of the delays -- approximately 19.5 minutes in each direction of travel -- were caused by having to stop at traffic signals.
This study resulted in recommendations to split Line 51 into halves to quarantine the reliability issues unique to Berkeley.
So, in March 2010, two lines were created: Line 51A from Alameda to Rockridge BART and Line 51B from Rockridge BART to Berkeley Marina.
As a result, on-time performance improved from 66 percent to 80 percent on some segments. In fact, the improved reliability on the Line 51A allowed AC Transit to extend the route to Fruitvale BART station, giving Alameda connections to BART stations on both northbound and southbound trips. But still there are delays because most of the recommendations from the 2008 report (i.e. signal improvements, stop relocation, bus zone lengthening, etc.) never occurred.
Now AC Transit is moving to implement the 2008 recommendations with many changes that will be invisible to the public -- such as signal coordination and updating hardware that controls signals.
Most of the visible changes (stop relocations, bulb outs, etc.) will have low-cost/low-impact while greatly improving safety and travel time.
In 2012, AC Transit received $10.5 million from MTC's Transit Performance Initiative funding to implement many of these improvements.
It is a multimillion-dollar investment in Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley that includes a new conduit that each city can lease to communications companies for a profit.
With its much-needed improvements, the project, no doubt, will lure more motorists out of cars and onto buses. In the end it means less traffic, less fuel consumption, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and, most importantly, an improved quality of life for us all. It's a win-win, for sure.
Speak up for the project at the 7 p.m. Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Joyce Roy, an Oakland resident, is a retired architect and transit advocate.