In this business, one does a lot of writing and pontificating on things one has never seen or felt. Take the Bay Bridge — please. When I want to go to the City by the Bay, I nearly always take BART. You avoid having to park and you avoid that bridge.
Yet the week I started this job, I was compelled to write about the bridge I had crossed maybe twice in my entire life. In fact, I did the story about opening the low bid of $1.43 billion for the self-anchored suspension span in Sacramento, where you can cross the most impressive bridge in 30 seconds.
This week I managed to come down from my ivory tower and experience some of the things I’ve written about but never truly understood.
To begin with, on Thursday I had to attend a meeting about planned ferry service from Berkeley (or somewhat less likely, Albany).
I figured I could take my bike on BART, get off at North Berkeley, ride seven blocks, cover the meeting, ride back, take BART to Richmond and catch the next-to-the-last Capitol Corridor train home.
Of course, I knew that unless you have one of the odd-looking folding bikes, you can’t take bicycles on certain BART trains during rush hour. I got on www.bart.gov and checked to find out which train would have me.
None of them would. The prohibition was total until a half-hour after my meeting had started. Luckily, my monthly pass on the Capitol Corridor allowed me to take that from Oakland to Berkeley and I just had to pedal for an extra few miles to get there.
Not only did this experience help me understand bicyclists’ frustrations with this rule, but it also lent relevance to the topic of the meeting. Even though ferries don’t “Spare the Air,” as it were, they at least provide cyclists with a way across the water when BART is off-limits.
Today I was in for a much more painful epiphany.
After scrambling to finish the ferry story, I rushed off late to hear Caltrans Director Will Kempton and other notable transportation officials talk about how many great highway construction projects would be built with the bond money voters approved in November with Proposition 1B.
I’ll come clean. I should have left early. But I figured, it may be the end of the week, but it’s still not even 2 p.m., so how long could it take to get to the near end of Livermore?
One hour, 10 minutes. Most of that spent sitting on I-580 in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting from Dublin to the El Charro Road exit. I knew this corridor was bad. I had written about it, about the need for congestion relief that is so much greater in the Livermore Valley than it is, say, in Willits, where the California Transportation Commission staff had proposed spending $177 million for a bypass on U.S. 101.
But I didn’t commute this way. I didn’t truly get it. I know I-80 has more minutes of delay and can be similarly backed up, but my commute tends to be on the late side, and I often dodge that bullet when I am forced to drive.
But today I was one with the denizens of Tracy, of Livermore and Manteca. As I watched the minutes tick by and called to find out if any of those officials would still be there by the time I arrived, I thought, this could not suck any more than it does.
I had pangs of guilt when Willits lost its bypass money, having participated in the brow-beating frenzy that led up to the Feb. 28 vote. Today all I could think was, Willits has got nothing on this.
MediaNews photo by Jim Stevens