September 13, 1991
Berkeley City Council
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: "Berkeley's Bottom Line -- A Talking Paper for the I-80 Negotiating Team"
David Jones, the apparent author of this paper, is a Rod Diridon-style transit advocate: talking transit, while voting for more highway construction. (Coincidentally, Rod made another of his great speeches just this morning, about how we need to stop building highways and shift to transit, then joined the MTC Work Program Committee's unanimous vote of support for the 1992-96 TIP, with its enormous list of freeway expansion projects.)
He begins by advocating "a transit-oriented project that improves air quality" and an end to "business as usual". Then he contradicts this auspicious beginning by advocating adding two more lanes to I-80. Even though they are "HOV" lanes, they constitute added vehicle capacity, and thus can only encourage more traffic and worsen air quality in the Bay Area. Don't forget that HOV lanes function in that capacity for only a few hours a day. The rest of the day (65% of auto travel is not work-related), we will have a very business-as-usual 10-lane freeway through Berkeley.
At my request, the Transportation Commission in its August meeting reaffirmed its opposition to any capacity increase on I-80. We are unanimous in our desire to reduce, not increase, traffic through Berkeley. We have already passed the saturation point in traffic and parking demand. Neighborhoods are clamoring for more parking (for themselves only) and less traffic (from other people only). In order to preserve what little quality of life we have left in Berkeley, we must begin shifting our priorities away from accomodating the needs of cars and auto users, and toward pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. This cannot be accomplished through giving more ground to the automobile. Actually, we should be starting to regain the ground we have already lost!
The "gateway" concept is nothing new. In fact, we already have it. All we have to do is do nothing! Current "bottlenecks" will do just fine, thank you. All these tricks with language are just that -- tricks to allow just one more highway project to go ahead. MTC is saying "Just let us do these few more highway expansion projects, and then we'll be good and stop doing it. Promise." HOV lanes get turned into mixed flow lanes. Extra right of way gets turned into more lanes. Construction cost and time estimates balloon into double their original size. In a word, Caltrans cannot be trusted. Emeryville found out the hard way. West Oakland, an even harder way.
Berkeley does not have to sign any freeway agreement. Period. Caltrans would be forced to try to squeeze 10 lanes into its existing space, while violating common sense and federal highway regulations by eliminating the shoulder. The public and the Federal Highway Department wouldn't allow the project to be constructed. Can you imagine an accident where ambulances and fire trucks could not get to the victims?! The thought is horrifying. And yet that is what Caltrans is prepared to attempt. If we let them.
No amount of word play will make freeway expansion environmentally acceptable. Or even financially acceptable. It is well known that transit provides more transportation (and fewer negative effects) per dollar. It also provides more jobs, and higher quality jobs. If we want to "improve" I-80, let's convert it back to an expressway, with lights and at-grade crossings (for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit, as well as cars) at Ashby, Gilman, and University. Then our waterfront can achieve its best possible use, and we can begin righting the balance and breaking our deadly auto addiction.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.