Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

NIMBY Say What?

Posted by Roobs on September 10, 2010

Just the other day at the website: Next American City, Yonah Freemark, an Urban Leaders Fellow, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote a column talking about one of my favorite subjects: The East Bay Bus Rapid Transit project.  As readers will have figured out, I am very much in favor of this project and have written two posts about the issue: Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT and Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT

I take issue with Freemark’s columns, specifically his most recent entitled “Opposition to a Bus Rapid Transit System is More than Just NIMBYism“.  The biggest and most frustrating part is that many of the arguments against BRT in the East Bay are either false or based off false assumptions that do nothing to further legitimate debate.

In his three part column (currently at two),  Freemark quotes former Berkeley Willard Neighborhood Association president, Vince Casalaina and both seem to suggest their biggest concern is with greenhouse gases.

“If you’re going to put a quarter of a billion dollars into it,” he said, “It better do something about greenhouse gases.” Casalaina points out that the diesel bus line could actually reduce ridership on the mostly parallel BART rail line, which is electrically powered and therefore arguably cleaner.”

The part about this criticism I never truly understood is that, in the same breadth that many critics of BRT use to say that they care about the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they also say the one thing they are most afraid of losing is “driving lanes”, the ability to drive your car and park when going to the stores they are trying to protect.

Freemark writes:

Increasing land values could mean higher rents and eventual displacement in favor of national chains. One or two-story buildings that now are ideal incubators for local shops could be replaced with denser development, sending the original renters out. And the biggest concern of all is that the existing demographics of the people in the area, the group of individuals who currently patronize the businesses here, will be replaced with another one that is less interested in the existing stores. People who currently come to Telegraph Avenue in their cars might feel less willing to do so in the future now that priority is given to buses.

Freemark frames his argument in very standard cautionary terms when it comes to gentrification in general – the idea of new development increasing property values and, in turn, increasing rent where the original occupiers can no longer afford.  But again, both Freemark and those whom he spoke to advocating no-build of the BRT system seem to advocate priority for the automobile, which anyone can tell you is rather odd.  Especially coming from a city like Berkeley which enjoys touting its green credentials.

In my previous post, I point out that the argument that most people who shop on Telegraph Ave and Downtown Berkeley drive is actually false.  City commissioned studies by UC Berkeley in 2002 actually point out that the vast majority of shoppers take alternative means of transportation, including taking the bus and walking.  60% of workers, 73% of shoppers use non-auto means of getting in.  A second study in 2007 again showed 63% of visitors use non-auto means.  So why keep making the argument that if cars are not allowed to park, then businesses will die?  They apparently don’t park there to begin with.

Here are the bullet points of that previous post:

  • BRT is Consistent with the Passage of Measure G, the City’s Adopted Climate Action Plan and the Defeat of Measure KK
  • BRT Would Reduce Greenhouse Gasses
  • BRT Would Improve Conditions for Cyclists on Telegraph
  • BRT Would Have Brought More Customers to Vendors
  • BRT Could Spur Economic Development on Telegraph
  • Majority of Shoppers, Workers and Residents Don’t Drive Into Downtown

Additionally, Freemark’s first column was rather dismissive of transit advocates’, such as Joel Ramos of Transform, arguments in favor of the project and ignores many of the pesky little facts that pop up to dispute many of the criticisms of protesters, such as the false assumption that more visitors drive to shop than take transit.  You can read a PDF of BRT facts in Berkeley.

Also, the talk that the construction and implemetnation aspect of BRT would somehow destroy businesses is a universal crticism of BRT, especially in the United States.  However, given this common critique, you would think that the Berkeley NIMBY’s would be able to point to an actual example of BRT somehow destroying the world as they know it.  But unsurprisingly, they can’t.  I guess none of the below examples of BRT offer an example of the small businesses failing, at least, not well enough for opponents to use as their examples.

Again, from my second post on Berkeley BRT, here are more examples of BRT systems in existence:

  • Euclid Line – Cleveland, OH
  • Las Vegas MAX – Las Vegas, NV
  • Silver Line – Boston, MA
  • EmX – Eugene, OR
  • Orange Line – Los Angeles, CA
  • Univ. Minnesota Transit Connector – St. Paul, MN
  • Ardmore Busway – Philadelphia, PN
  • The Busways – Pittsburgh, PN
  • Independence Blvd. – Charlotte, NC
  • Ottawa Transitway – Ottawa, Canada
  • York Univ. Busway – Toronto, Canada
  • Metrobus – Mexico City, Mexico
  • Optibus – Leon, Mexico
  • and many more, not even including those currently under construction or in development…

Further, this talk about the cost of the project is a bit disingenuous.  Yes, it will cost around $250 million to  build, but lets put this into context.  One, much of the cost is paid by the Federal Government and not coming from local cash strapped municipalities.  Two, the large price tag is in large part due to the repaving of the East Bays NOTORIOUSLY bad and pot-hole ridden streets.  AC Transit, with funds from the Feds, would pay for this repaving rather than have Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro pay for it out of their own treasuries, which they would have to do anyway if BRT doesn’t go through.  But hey, I guess that’s a better use of funds, right?

Though this project has progressed forward, despite Berkeley’s objects, these continued type of criticism of the project is not fruitful to a debate because it ignores figures that are easily available.  It also goes against the very creed of green advocates who call for things like, better public transit and increased density in other cities… just not their own.  I don’t know about you Freemark, but that sounds like NIMBYism to me.

Roobs is a former 6 year resident of Berkeley and former Berkeley Waterfront Commissioner.  He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Los Angeles pursuing a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning at UCLA.

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