51 Bus Line Split Takes an Unexpected Turn

Keith and Miles Suddenly on New Route
Saturday, April 3, 2010

When AC Transit’s 51 line is split in two at the Rockridge BART station beginning Sunday, March 28, northbound 51A buses traveling along College will turn right onto Keith Avenue, left on Presley Avenue, left on Miles, and left back onto College to begin the southbound portion of the route. (For details on the Line 51 split, see maps at www.rockridge.org or www.actransit.org.)

AC Transit Bus at Keith and College intersectionSelected local residents were recently informed of the proposed route in a letter from AC Transit. Many living along Keith, Presley, and Miles Avenues were troubled by the potential impacts of traffic, noise, mechanical vibration, road damage, and pedestrian safety of the buses, as well as what they perceived as the lack of adequate notice on the part of AC Transit and the lack of opportunity for public comment. Resident Michael Weiss said, “This is not a well thought out solution to AC Transit’s budget issues, and it will certainly infuriate the residents, who already suffer for the location.”

Responding to resident’s concerns, Zac Wald, a staff member for City Council President Jane Brunner, rapidly organized and hosted a meeting to bring together Rockridge residents, representatives from RCPC and RDA, BART Board member Bob Franklin, Oakland Transportation Services staff with AC Transit Director-at-Large Chris Peeples, Deputy Director Nancy Skowbo, and several Transit Service Development staff.

The residents on lower Keith, in particular, said they feared the buses would exacerbate existing traffic and noise problems stemming from the BART parking lots and the avenue’s heavy use as a feeder to Highway 24. They also expressed frustration that residents had not been informed or consulted at an earlier stage of the routing and scheduling decisions. Residents sought adoption of an alternate route, or for AC Transit to sign on to a contractual guarantee to pay for any damage to their homes, streets, or underlying infrastructure such as sewage lines.

“As you can see from this complaint, the residents of Keith Avenue are vehemently opposed to the proposal to relocate the 51 bus off of College Avenue onto Keith Avenue, a residential street, and the proposal to add a bus stop in front of Cactus Taqueria’s dining room windows,” Weiss said to transit company representatives.

AC Transit, in turn, detailed its reasons for choosing to split the 51 line at the Rockridge BART station, despite concerns raised last year by several Rockridge residents and the RCPC. The company argued that the Rockridge BART station is located about midway along the current 51 route, just south of the segment most prone to causing bus delays and bunching along College Avenue in Berkeley. Company representatives said concerns over congestion and equity suggested the Miles-Forest-Shafter circuit, currently used for Line 7 turn-arounds (and soon to be used by 51B and 49 buses) not be used by the 51A buses as well.

Although a proposed split of the 51 line at Rockridge or elsewhere was discussed in several public meetings and documents last year, AC Transit admitted the specifics of the route buses would use to turn around were buried in an obscure appendix. They also acknowledged shortcomings in the public notice for the proposed changes, stemming in part from the fact that Keith Avenue was included on a list of streets with already existing bus service, namely the 59 line. That discontinued line, however, passed by approximately every hour, in contrast to every eight minutes or so for the planned 51A buses.

“It is disturbing that AC Transit would make a change with such a drastic impact on residents without sufficient advance notice and an opportunity for public comment. A notice informing us of what sounds like a done deal, and merely two weeks ahead of time, is insufficient notice to affected residents,” said resident Karisa Bohon.

AC Transit did not address the contractual guarantee against possible damage, but did pledge to look into interim solutions more palatable to local residents, possibly involving routes through BART parking lots, which would involve only short segments along Keith, Miles, and Shafter. Company representatives also pledged in the longer term to find routes which neither utilize Keith Avenue nor unfairly impact other residential streets by June 2010.

One suggestion was to make use of the Claremont-College intersection, although how that might work was not immediately evident. Interim adjustments may be made as soon as possible, while permanent route changes to avoid Keith will take place in June after public school terms end.