Waving signs and chanting "BRT, BRT" a group of community members, including Fresno City Council Member Oliver Baines, hailed a proposed bus system during a news conference Thursday.
Bus Rapid Transit has been a hot issue for City Council, with some critics saying dollars should go instead to existing Fresno Area Express buses.
But standing outside the transit center at Manchester Center, Baines said BRT is crucial to bolstering Fresno's economy.
The Blackstone corridor is "primed" for development, Baines said. Now is the time to make a "wise investment" and "capitalize on the momentum that we have" to upgrade transportation that would improve neighborhoods and promote a "better quality of life for people."
Thursday's conference was held in Council Member Clint Olivier's district, who is staunchly opposed to BRT. The location was chosen in part to send a message to him, said Christine Barker with Fresno Building Healthy Communities, which organized the event.
"We hope Clint Olivier will support Bus Rapid Transit because his district covers most of Blackstone," Barker said. "His residents have a lot to gain from having better access to jobs and other parts of the city."
BRT would be funded with $50 million in federal and state grants. The first phase would handle two major corridors: Blackstone Avenue from the River Park shopping center in the north to downtown, and Kings Canyon Road/Ventura Avenue in the southeast to downtown.
Sophia DeWitt, co-interim executive director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, stressed BRT is "key to the success" of Fresno's general plan update.
"Residents said they want improved and efficient public transportation," DeWitt said. "Residents also said that they wanted healthy air and food. One of the goals of BRT is to improve our region's poor air quality by reducing vehicle miles traveled from so many private cars on our roads."
Olivier has contended BRT is being pushed by state bureaucrats and that its buses would only stop every half mile to mile, instead of every eighth of a mile to quarter mileas regular buses do.
But Espino Yolanda, 61, who lives in southeast Fresno, said she'd rather walk a little further in exchange for quicker service. BRT buses are supposed to stop every 10 minutes. Wait times for FAX buses are too long, Yolanda said, especially for children. It sometimes takes her an hour via bus to get to work, the grocery store or doctor, she said.
Along with quicker travel time, another plus of BRT is more space and easier boarding, Yolanda said, including for strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles.
Martha Cornejo, an organizer with Centro la Familia, said she doesn't take FAX buses to north Fresno because it takes too long.
Cornejo said, "It feels kind of like segregation in a sense just because you don't have that mobility, and it shows."
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