Debates continue over bus route changes, Estuary bridge sites
On Wednesday, November 15, the City of Alameda Transportation Commission discussed proposed changes to local transit service under AC Transit’s Realign effort and heard the latest updates on the Oakland Alameda Estuary Bridge Project.
Community concerns over bus route changes
AC Transit external affairs representative Maria Henderson and transportation planner Crystal Wang presented the proposed bus service changes in Alameda being considered for implementation in August 2024 under two contrasting scenarios: “Balanced Coverage” and “Frequent Service.”
Following AC Transit’s overview, City of Alameda transportation planner Brian McGuire provided staff feedback on the concepts.
“We are an AC Transit city, a bus first city. We have limited connections to the mainland, so good AC Transit service is crucial. It’s also needed to meet growth,” McGuire said.
As such, he asked that the agency not give up on serving the Northern Waterfront, which would see Line 19 service continue at hourly frequency under the “Balanced” scenario but eliminated under the “Frequent” scenario.
McGuire also cautioned against eliminating Transbay Line OX and replacing it with an extended Line W, suggesting that this could result in Transbay buses becoming standing-room only by the time they reach Webster Street.
The recurring theme of much of the public comment about bus route changes revolved around making tradeoffs. Under the “Frequent” scenario, Line 20 would replace Line 21 and be transformed into a route connecting Bay Farm Island, South Shore, and Alameda Point with Downtown Oakland. But Eric, a Bay Farm resident,noted that the move would sever Bay Farm from Fruitvale BART, Park Street, and Oakland Airport.
Bennett supported a “one-seat ride” between Alameda and Downtown Berkeley on a new Line 51, which recombines Line 51A and Line 51B and eliminates the transfer at Rockridge BART. However, both McGuire and another speaker, Zac, reminded those present that Line 51 was split back in 2010 to address bus-bunching and poor reliability—undoing the change could exacerbate these problems.
Many commissioners welcomed the idea of a new crosstown route from Bay Farm to Alameda Point but wondered whether such an alignment—“Frequent” Line 20 or otherwise—would generate enough riders at this point in time. However, Chair Samantha Soules and Commissioner Saravana Suthanthira both expressed disappointment that no bus service is proposed for either West End ferry terminal.
To lessen the blow if Line 19 were to be discontinued, Commissioner Scott Weitze suggested that Transbay Line O could be rerouted away from Santa Clara Avenue and onto Lincoln Avenue. In response, Wang noted that the move would require significant cost to install new bus stops and remove parking.
All commissioners echoed the call for transparency and for additional data that inform the agency’s decisions to be released.
AC Transit will make a presentation to the Alameda City Council on Tuesday, December 5 and will hold general workshops to gather additional feedback on Thursday, December 7 and Wednesday, December 13.
Estuary Bridge update
Later in the meeting, Senior Transportation Coordinator Rochelle Wheeler provided a progress update on the Oakland-Alameda Estuary Bridge Project. The proposed bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which would connect West Alameda with Jack London Square in Oakland, is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle trips through the Posey and Webster tubes while improving multimodal connectivity and encouraging mode shift.
Twelve proposed bridge alignments were scored based on their ability to achieve the project purpose and meet key design and environmental goals, particularly given key infrastructure and easement constraints in and around the Estuary. Of these 12 alignments, the top three scoring alternatives have been selected for further evaluation in the Project Initiation Document (PID), the project’s current phase.
Public comments were mixed. A few commenters expressed excitement for an Estuary connection that caters to active modes, but others balked at the multimillion-dollar price tag.
Several residents from the Bay37 development, located at the northern end of Fifth Street, felt that City staff did not thoroughly engage the community during the public outreach process. Two of the three alternatives propose a bridge landing at Bohol Circle Immigrant Park, “which would bring thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians into our backyards,” said Chris, a Bay37 resident.
“The placement of the bridge terminal has a significant impact on our community,” said Scott. “I’m not advocating for or against the bridge, but I want you to just pause and engage with us.”
In response, Wheeler acknowledged that only the Bay37 developer was involved in early rounds of outreach. Commissioners urged City staff to double down on efforts to engage with residents moving forward.
“We need feedback from those on the ground,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Johnson. “They need to be part of the sausage-making process every day.”
Following the completion of the PID phase, the City must find a project sponsor to continue into the Project Approval & Environmental Design (PAED) phase. Construction of the bridge could begin as early as 2030.