AC Transit and city staff members met with community members Monday night to discuss planned changes to the 51B bus line as part of a larger project to improve transit flow across Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley.
The line 51 bus project aims to reduce passenger travel time, mitigate air pollution and enhance public safety on the 51A and 51B bus lines. The proposed changes come with a $10.5 million federal grant allocated by the state as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Transit Performance Initiative.
Monday night’s meeting specifically focused on proposed changes to the 51B line in Berkeley, including relocating bus stops from the near sides to the far sides of intersections, changing traffic-signal timing to accommodate buses and adding bus-only lanes on University Avenue. The plan also would remove certain stops and add wider sidewalks at some stops for the purpose of accessibility.
With a weekday ridership of more than 19,000 people, the 51 bus line is the most widely used line in the AC Transit system, as stated in the AC Transit presentation given Monday night.
According to the presentation, the changes would save approximately seven minutes of travel time in each direction — north and south — in Berkeley. Currently, the travel time in Berkeley in each direction is about 36 minutes.
“I’m really upset,” said Berkeley resident Merrilie Mitchell in response to the proposed changes. “I ride the 51 all the time. But they’re going to be taking out stops, and when they take out stops, less people will ride the bus, and then they’ll lessen the number of buses.”
Berkeley resident John Sporich believes the city and AC Transit should consider creating a new bus line that would run down University Avenue only, from the Berkeley Amtrak station to the UC Berkeley campus.
“The buses on University Avenue are always packed with people during peak hours,” Sporich said. “The buses going down College Avenue, on the other hand, barely have any people … there’s no reason a bus from University Avenue should loop all the way down College.”
However, the design proposals, for which development began early this summer, are still in the beginning stages and are subject to revision after AC Transit reviews comments from the Berkeley community. More finalized proposals will be presented to the public around late September or early October, said David Fyfe, a consulting engineer for the project.
Additionally, the city’s public works department has to review the proposed changes and will recommend the ones it approves of to the city’s transportation commission on Oct. 17.
If the city approves the plans, construction is expected to start in January 2014, and the entire project is expected to be completed in July 2014, according to the presentation.
“Things need to be changed,” Sporich said. “It’s maddening — none of the buses actually follow a schedule.”
Another meeting is planned Thursday night at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts for residents who could not attend the first meeting.