Posted by Cole Judge
That could be Friday’s headline if City Council votes against Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
What is BRT?
Fresno’s bus rapid transit system will have light-rail features at a fraction of the cost, including features such as buses that arrive every 10-15 minutes; enhanced stations with real-time transit information, lighting, ticket vending machines, canopies and electronic displays; modern, comfortable buses; bicycles allowed on board; and functionally integrated public art at all of the 51 stations along the BRT routes. One amazing component is that buses will have priority at traffic lights via queue jump lanes (check out the video to see how this works). Also, passengers will pay the same fare as a regular FAX bus. For more information, you can read up on Fresno’s Bus rapid transit plans here.
Plus, we aren’t even being asked to pay for it locally. The City of Fresno has received almost $50 million in grants to build a bus rapid transit (BRT) system along Blackstone and Kings Canyon, an “L” shape centered on Downtown. This will make it easier for people from throughout Fresno to get downtown and walk to businesses and cultural amenities. For more information on what BRT is, visit the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s Blog: Why BRT is so cool… and Critical to Stop Sprawl. Just watch this video depicting what bus rapid transit will look like in Fresno.
Why do we want BRT?
Last year, the City of Fresno passed its “general plan” that called for 45 percent of new development to be “infill,” or built in already developed areas. BRT is a key part of realizing this infill development, saving precious farmland, building in a more sustainable way, filling in vacant properties and using less resources. In a time of such drought, it should be ever apparent why we need to embrace infill and BRT. The general plan relies on beefing up transit service as well. The proposal the city settled on calls for two bus rapid transit lines — one running north-south and the other running east-west. About 60,000 people make their homes within a quarter mile of the proposed routes.
Studies show that more and more Americans, especially millennials and retiring baby boomers, value communities that are walkable, bikeable, and with plentiful transit. Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, has many features of light rail, but at a fraction of the cost. BRT has proven to be a model of success in cities throughout the U.S. and the world. For example, the Institute for Transportation Development and Policy cites that the Cleveland BRT is a 7-mile route, which cost a modest $50 million, while spurring nearly $6 billion in development. This project is succeeding in bringing jobs to a once lifeless city center. Cities such as Boston and Chicago are currently working on long-term BRT network plans.
What happens if Council votes against it?
If the city refuses to support BRT, it will lose the $50 million in funding — which included three years of operating money — as well as some $7 million that was spent developing the general plan. Plus, it will cost millions to develop a new plan.
Is there a case against it?
Bus rapid transit is a major part of the City’s approved General Plan, which was created with expertise, lawmakers and community input. Streetsblog writes, “The city’s major real estate developers, however, never liked the proposal to limit sprawl, and now they’re threatening to derail BRT and the general plan. Those plans — representing almost $60 million in spending — are on the line in a City Council vote tomorrow. Will local officials vote to proceed with the BRT proposal, as required by state law?” “The fears raised and the arguments made by BRT opponents don’t withstand scrutiny,” the Bee editorial board wrote, accusing opponents of employing a “political trick.” Even the Streetsblog planning blog (quoted above) is following the story: “Fresno BRT Threatened by Last-Minute Smear Campaign.”
What can you do?
Please email your council member right now or come to City Hall this Thursday at 5 p.m. and help our City Council say yes to making Fresno better with non-Fresno money. The business proposition for BRT is solid. What’s risky would be continuing status-quo service deeper into the 21st century and expecting to be a competitive city. This is a test of our community’s ability to invest in its future.
Email your council member ASAP. It can even be a quick note, like this: “Please say yes to Bus Rapid Transit. It is a key part in creating an economically vibrant, sustainable, and livable city. As a Fresno resident, I strongly encourage you to support bus rapid transit. Accept the $50 million. Help make Fresno thrive.” Email now to let City Council Members know that you support BRT!