Transit expert: Cast out autos
With the fervor of a preacher inciting his fallen flock to turn away from their addictions, Enrique Penalosa told a crowd of adoring alternative transportation advocates Wednesday at Oakland City Hall that shunning their cars and SUVs could bring happiness to East Bay cities.
Published June 5, 2007 by Inside Bay Area
By Erik N. Nelson, STAFF WRITER
OAKLAND — With the fervor of a preacher inciting his fallen flock to turn away from their addictions, Enrique Penalosa told a crowd of adoring alternative transportation advocates Wednesday at Oakland City Hall that shunning their cars and SUVs could bring happiness to East Bay cities.
Continuing to cater to our dependence by building more highways and allowing cheap and easy parking would lead to more traffic, more misery and cities that few people would want to live, work or play in, said Penalosa, who served three years as mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and now proselytizes for the way of the foot, bike and wheelchair.
"A great city is not one with great highways," he told the forum sponsored by AC Transit, "but one where any child with a bicycle could safely go anywhere."
Although he said he was not a "car-hater," Penalosa posited that "cars are to children today what wolves used to be in the Middle Ages," taking young lives with society's resignation.
The salt-and-pepper bearded New York University visiting scholar was interrupted several times with enthusiastic applause from the group, gathered ostensibly to hear about the advantages of AC Transit's new Bus Rapid Transit project. Planned to start construction as early as late next year and open by 2011, the line would pick up prepaid passengers from raised platforms, similar to a light rail line, and serve an estimated
25,000 riders in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro.
Penalosa's administration in Bogota rallied the city to buck consultants who urged new eight-lane highways and instead built wide, brick-paved promenades attached to bikeways away from car traffic.
The city also built the TransMilenio, a bus system much like AC Transit's BRT, which serves 1.4 million riders in a city about the same size as the metropolitan Bay Area.
But most controversially, Penalosa declared virtual war on private vehicles in his teeming Third World metropolis. Each day, half of all cars, alternating according to odd- or even-numbered license plates, were prohibited from driving during rush hour, cutting peak-hour traffic by 40 percent. The first Thursday of every year became Car-free Day, forcing Bogota residents to turn to buses, bikes, taxis and their own two feet for mobility.
"This is very difficult, because those that have political power have cars," he said, relating his uphill battle in freeing sidewalks from parked cars.
"I was almost impeached for getting tens of thousands of cars off sidewalks and making sidewalks bigger," he said.
By the same token, he urged his audience to stand firm for such changes in the Bay Area, which he said would make it more livable, make housing more affordable and promote a more egalitarian society.
"Let us not be terrorized by shop owners who say, 'Oh, we'll go broke if we don't have parking.' I don't see many shops going broke in Manhattan," Penalosa said.
Although it is more of a baby step toward societal transformation, the AC Transit plan would use dedicated lanes along Telegraph Avenue from the University of California, Berkeley, and run south into downtown Oakland, then turn southeast, running mainly along International Boulevard and East 14th Street to reach the Bayfair BART station in San Leandro.
The line would incorporate some of the ideas Penalosa preached Wednesday, such as providing a parallel bikeway, easy pedestrian access and a revamped streetscape with landscaping to make the route more inviting to pedestrians.
Contact Erik N. Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 208-6410. Read his Capricious Commuter blog at InsideBayArea.com.