I was on my way to work on the I-80 yesterday, calling 511 to find out whether it was safe to cross the Carquinez Bridge.
As anyone who comes in from the direction of Fairfield can attest, it can take the better part of an hour to get to the Bay Bridge if all is not right with the interstate. And all is rarely right with I-80 at rush hour.
According to a recent study I read, the morning westbound commute along that accursed stretch of freeway resulted in more lost hours of commuters’ lives than any other area segment. But I digress.
This is really about BART. Or maybe mudslides. Or both.
Anyway, so I was on 511, see? And the deep, authoritative 511 voice told me it would take 55 minutes to get from Fairfield to the McArthur Maze. Why? Does it matter? There was this mudslide that took out the slow lane of of the westbound 80 (ok, so they’re all slow on Monday morning; the right one).
My alternate route, 511 told me, was I-680 and state Route 24 through Contra Costa. To the Maze, that netted you a one-minute advantage. To the downtown Oakland offices of the Tribune, I saved maybe four. 511 may not have saved me much time, but at least I wasn’t sitting in slow traffic wondering if I should have gone the other way.
Unknown to me and perhaps thousands of other affected commuters at the time was that BART was riding to our rescue.
The subway service added extra cars on the Richmond Line to take on all of the smart people who knew about the weekend mudslide and took transit to spare themselves the traffic headache. BART spokesman Linton Johnson explained this to me, and I asked, “so you had extra trains on the return trip to take all those extra riders home, right?”
Wrong. BART, which has the uncanny ability to track ridership moment-to-moment, discovered that there wasn’t any increase in ridership on those extra trains.
BART threw us a lifeline, and we threw it back.
I blame 511 and 511.org, which allow commuters to know exactly how backed up traffic is. So, like the Capricious Commuter, all you folks out in the hinterlands decided 55 minutes wasn’t so bad, and many of you couldn’t resist the opportunity to rubberneck.