Berkeley ‘forefather’ of transportation justice Bob Piper dies at 86

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Bob Piper, a member of the Sierra Club and a transit and land use activist, died in early March. He was 86 years old, according to Berkeleyside.

Deeply interested in issues of housing equality and equity in transportation availability, Piper served as Berkeley’s director of city transportation in the late 1970s, where he was responsible for overseeing traffic engineering, transit and parking planning. Piper also did work on freight transportation consulting and pricing in the Bay Area.

“He was most passionate about providing opportunities for everyone to have a place that they can call home in Berkeley, as well as ensure that transit is not reserved for the elite. It is available for everyone who lives in the Bay Area region,” said Igor Tregub, commissioner on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board and chair of the Housing Advisory Commission. “In many ways, he was a forefather of what we now call housing equity and transportation justice.”

According to Tregub, one specific instance in which Piper made an impact on transportation was in his work on a ballot measure. The ballot was endorsed by the Sierra Club, and Piper’s comments about transportation equity made it so several additional safeguards were added to the measure.

Andy Katz, board member of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, who met Piper doing community advocacy work in the Sierra Club’s Transportation and Compact Growth committee, said part of Piper’s legacy is the knowledge he passed on to others.

“I learned so much about transportation, finance and policy from him,” Katz said. “I think that he left a number of people better informed in sharing his vision, and I think we will miss his advocacy.”

According to Katz, Piper had a good sense of humor and was often sarcastic in a well-meaning way. Tregub added that Piper’s humor made it easy to talk to him and have discussions.

“The thing that I will remember the most was his somewhat wry sense of humor … that made it easy to have discussions with him and joke about whatever decisions needed to be made,” Tregub said. “Because it was not about the personalities in the room, it was always about the issue.”

Piper had a way of getting people with strong opinions on multiple sides of an issue to move forward and eventually reach a general consensus, according to Tregub.

Tregub remembered how persuasive Piper could be in his arguments. Because of Piper’s extensive knowledge and use of the data he would find, he often persuaded Tregub into doing something other than what he was prepared to do.

Piper had many hopes and ideas for different ways the systems of mass transportation could be improved in the community, Katz said.

“He had a lot of … different visions for improving mass transportation in the Bay Area and in our country. My best memories were listening to him talk about those things,”  Katz said.

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.