Government is evil.
There are people from all kinds of political persuasions who would agree with that. Berkeley-style liberals would point to our wars and restrictions on civil liberties. Tracy-style social conservatives might bring up legal abortions and public distribution of condoms and clean needles for addicts.
But both sides want goverment to do things they consider good. Some want to keep sex offenders under lock-and-key after they’ve served their sentences. Others want the government to provide universal healthcare.
But there are some who believe that nearly everything the government does is wrong, especially if it involves taxing people or forcing them to drive their SUVs slower than they care to.
Such folks are scheduled to descend on the Bay Area to highlight what they deem “local examples of wasteful state government spending.”
On Tuesday, they plan to protest in San Rafael against the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which is the Bay Area’s next best hope of providing an alternative to sitting in stop-and-go freeway traffic. It’s not an optimal alternative, to be certain, but right now, taking a bus is the only other option residents of those northern counties have.
But Americans for Prosperity is calling it wasteful pork-barrel spending. Nobody will use it (that could be true, at first) and the real problem is not enough lanes on U.S. 101 (also true).
But many traffic experts will tell you that even if you could feed six extra lanes onto the Golden Gate Bridge without creating the mother-of-all-bottlenecks, we can fill up those lanes with cars much faster than we can build them.
Sure, the majority of commuters don’t want to mess with getting on and off trains and ferries and then get stuck at work with no car. But there comes a time when traffic, parking and gas prices (in that order) conspire to force people to try alternatives.
In the six months I’ve been riding Capitol Corridor trains, I’ve watched the seats fill up until that rail authority added more trips and it’s quickly filling up again. On top of that, they’re raising fares and we’re lining up to pay it.
Why? Because many of those riders have decided that spending the extra time fussing with train schedules, tickets and connections is worth it to cure the stress of avoiding fender-benders on I-80.
But we happy band of rail commuters are lucky. I’ve spent roughly 1,560 hours of quality time with Southern California commuters on The 405, The 110 and The 101, as they call them down there, and pined for the day when there’d be a viable alternative to sucking carbon monoxide and acid reflux.
Down there, however, there will need to be another half-century of suffering before the place is criss-crossed with transit that goes faster than traffic.
Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with narrow corridors of civilization much better suited to providing these alternatives. Some of them, like the SMART corridor and e-BART right-of-way, already have old railbeds to work with.
Lots of people will stay in their cars, I’m certain of that. If some of us volunteer to stay off the freeway, why not give us a chance?
Staff photo of I-580 by Kathleen Turley