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a mile (or 20) in your shoes

By enelson
Friday, March 9th, 2007 at 6:35 pm in BART, Bay Bridge, Bicycling, Caltrans, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Carpooling, driving, Environment, ferries, Freeways, Funding.


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 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

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17 Responses to “a mile (or 20) in your shoes”

  1. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    First bikes on BART. I’m not anti bike but bikes take up a lot of room on BART. Even if a biker stands with his/her bike, it’s taking up the room of about three standees. Add to that, a lot of bikers are happy to take up as many four seats as they splay themselves and their bikes across seats by the doors. If BART had a way to store bikes or dedicate one car to bikes (like Caltrain), it wouldn’t be such a problem.

    Secondly about Willits, it’s about priorities, it’s about land use. I know everyone is tired of hearing about suburban sprawl but this is what we have and we have the congestion to go with it. Congestion happens in the urban core but at least you have a fighting chance of mitigating it with effective public transit. If you are sprawled, there just isn’t enough money for people in Lafayette to have frequent and convenient bus service so they don’t have to drive to work or even drive to BART. Not to mention the fact that people in Lafayette don’t WANT bus service anyway.

    There isn’t enough money. There isn’t enough money. It’s like global warming, people ignore warnings until it hits them where they live and then they want what they want right now. The Bay Area failed to plan for this congestion nightmare and most politicians are in denial about congestion. There is still a significant constituency that wants to abolish diamond lanes so that they can be filled up with single occupancy car. I lived here when carpool lanes were introduced and you would have thought we were being invaded by the Soviet Union. MTC is dominated by suburban representatives, you do the math.

    There are more people than available services. There are too many people who can’t afford to live near where they work. There is insufficient transit even for those who want it. There are too many people who believe it is their constitutional right to commute alone in a car for whatever reason. There are too many people who believe public transit is part of the communist manifesto and is a social service they don’t care to pay for. They would have transit pay for itself out of the farebox. Public transit is seen as social engineering and if we know anything about Americans, it’s that they don’t like to be told what to do even if not doing it is against their self interest.

    Getting back to Willits, there isn’t enough money. It’s congested everywhere and the congestion in the Bay Area affects more people. It might not be fair, but it’s a way to set priorities by deciding to spend money where it will benefit the most people.

    Or we could raise taxes.

    That’s my story and I”m sticking to it.

  2. Doug Faunt Says:

    I must be confused about your departure point for the meeting in Berkeley.

    If you were in Oakland, you can take your bike on the Richmond-Fremont line at any time, either direction but you’d have to board at Lake Merritt, if you were downtown. Or you could have taken AC Transit, with your bike. The 43 goes to north Berkeley and Albany.

    And as for “odd-looking folding bikes”, it may be funny-looking, but I love my Bike Friday. And still have my Brompton.

  3. Brian T Says:

    I too have driven across the Bay Bridge only a handful of times. It was
    always something to avoid, just the toll plaza itself is a monstrosity and
    a bit overwhelming. When Caltrans closed the bridge on labor day
    last year there was all this hoopla, but people took BART.

    As a bicyclist on BART I consider myself very considerate of other
    passengers. I would stand next to the doors and would move from
    one side to the other on fuller cars. A hanging bike rack in the
    wheelchair space would be a big improvement. I don’t see how can
    a bike take up the space of 3 standing riders. Unless they’re thin and
    very cozy with each other.

    there’s the Caltran bike shuttle from the MacArthur station.

  4. david vartanoff Says:

    1. most bikes do not take up three standee spaces
    2. unlike many BART riders most cyclists do not drive a single occupancy car to/from BART stations the “last mile.”

  5. Aaron Priven Says:

    According to this page, from a Madison, Wisc. bicycle rack planning document,

    typical bicycle length is 68 inches, handlebar width is 15-24 inches and pedal width is 16 inches. Sounds like about three standee spaces to me. But the problem needs to be looked at as “BART’s infrastructure is inadequate” rather than “Bicyclists take too much room.” Sadly, BART does not have the capability of running quick shuttle trips through the tube. The shortest possible trip is MacArthur – 24th St., and my understanding is that it requires a longer-than-usual 5 minute pause in service to allow a train to turn around at 24th St. Otherwise they have to go as far as Daly City.

    Figuring out better alternatives — such as a Caltrans bike shuttle that runs on shorter frequencies than 50 minutes — would be a good idea.

  6. K. Lichten Says:

    It was curious to me to read the story and comments about problems with I-580 congestion. The lack of linkage between land use and transportation planning is an old story. And it was clear to anyone moving to the Tri-Valley or Central Valley–at least within the last 15 or 20 years–that growth would bring significant congestion to the 580 corridor (indeed, increased traffic has been the foundation of many anti-growth actions). In essence, anyone moving to these places was buying bad traffic along with their property.

    Potable water issues aside, the development potential of greater Tracy is not yet fully realized. For that matter, Dublin and Livermore are still building, and Alameda County is about to adopt a septic ordinance that will allow further development in the unincorporated areas. So why would we encourage further problematic development by spending money on projects likely to provide only temporary reductions in congestion? It seems like a fool’s errand. Perhaps it is as foolish to suggest more significant structural change in the system that could address some of the underlying problems, without simply putting them off. The idea that freeway capacity can be viewed as a standalone issue (also advanced by George Will in a recent column) seems wrongheaded and likely to perpetuate existing problems.


  7. david vartanoff Says:

    Aaron et al, while quibbling over precise dimensions of specific bikes is pointless, few of the persons complaining of same will leave their rolling briefcases/luggage home when they think they need these “space wasters”.
    That said, your BART data is imprecise. There is a scissors crossover just west of Embarcadero which is used for short turns, and the switches just west of the portal between West Oakland and the downtown wye could be used if they wished. Five minutes to turn a train demonstrates the incompetence of the computer control system as NYC subway turns train at T Sq on the Flushing line in closer to two minutes with signaling built decades ago.

  8. Capricious Commuter Says:

    I just spoke to BART spokesman Linton Johnson about the bike issue, and he had this to say:
    “We’re already in the process of configuring cars where weve removed some of the seats to make room for bikes,” and a bunch of those cars are already in circulation. The system is also in the process of redesigning cars to hold more people and find better ways to accommodate bikes and luggage.

    As far as a bikes-only car, he said that cyclists only make up about 5 percent of BART ridership and “there arent that many to justify having an extra car at the end of each train just for bikes.” Contrast BART’s packed-to-the-gills ridership with Caltrain, which “all day carries just as many passengers as BART carries during two hours of the commute.”

    I can’t attest to the average Caltrain trip, but I know that on Capitol Corridor’s big double-deckers there is lots of room downstairs for luggage and bikes in addition to the three-bike rack at one end of each car. The bike/luggage car, which I used this morning, usually has room for plenty of both when I ride, but I suspect that it can get pretty full on the earlier trains.

  9. Doug Faunt Says:

    The Portland MAX streetcars have pegs a bit above my head height that allow hanging a bike by a wheel, so it takes much less floor space. I’ve seen people on BART actually hold their bikes vertically to make more space, but I personally don’t feel stable enough to keep me and the bike vertical, and falling over wouldn’t help matters at all.

    Perhaps something like those hangers could be added to the bike space to allow more capacity.

    Perhaps because I can and do stack my luggage vertically, even the extreme case of two large rolling pieces of luggage, a backpack and a briefcase seem to occupy less space than a bike. But I’ve also seen people occupy three seats with themselves and their luggage, on commute-hour trains- you know, the ones they don’t allow bikes on.

  10. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    There is a little bit of denial going on here about how bikers take up both disabled seats on BART cars for themselves and their bikes. I’ve even seen bikers take up to four seats, but that is not typical. Rolling luggage doesn’t compare to a bicycle. They just dont’ take up as much room. I’ve watched bikers get on trains, take up two seats with themselves, their bikes, then they unload their backpack on the seat next them. Anyone disabled would have to stand up because I’ve never seen a biker yield to disabled persons or seniors. I’m sure some have, I’ve never seen it.

    Also, I’m not as likely to stand as close to a bike with a greasy chain as I would be to stand by another person. That’s why I maintain that bikes take up the room of three people. No one wants to cozy up to a bicycle. I’ve also had a bike fall on me when I was standing and bike wheels bump against me when I was sitting. I’d be less concerned about the bumping if bike wheels weren’t dirty.

    People coming from the airport offer up the same problem as bikes. People get into the seats that have a pair facing each other and just take up the whole section with luggage and maybe two people.

    I’m glad to hear that BART is looking at this issue about bikes and luggage. The luggage issue was raised when SFO was in the planning stages and BART didn’t want to deal with it. People should be able to bring bikes on BART but the trains need to have appropriate accommodations for them.

  11. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    By the way, I’m talking about BART travel during the commute hours, not midday travel.

  12. Brian T Says:

    I concede the point that bikers can take up two seats with themselves and
    their backpack. On fuller trains they should stand next to the door
    opposite the station platform. That’s what usually I do, but then I think of
    myself as more courteous than most.

    Bikes on trains during rush hour shouldn’t even be an issue. They aren’t
    allowed on trains in the peak direction (from/to SF). Though the Fremont/
    Richmond trains can get pretty full.

    In general, the tires are not “dirty” or encrusted with dirt and mud,
    unless the rider was doing some serious off-roading right before getting
    on the train. The seats are just as dirty when people put their feet on
    them (but that’s another issue). You would have to get real cozy with a
    bike to get grease off the chain. A solution to this, or another common
    courtesy tactic, is to turn the bike around to face the chain side away
    from the aisle.

  13. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    I hate to pick nits but having a bike tire rub against you is like having someone wipe their feet on your clothes. I’m really not anti bike but the bikers who insist on riding during the commute and sprawling all over the place give bikers a bad name.

    It’s nice to hear from someone who is courteous. I’ve seen courteous bikers on BART, the ones who aren’t make the lasting impression.

  14. murphstahoe Says:

    First – Frequent Amtrak Commuter – please do not let a rotten apple spoil the whole basket. I will take the seats and spread out if the train is empty, if the train is full (rare when I am on BART) I try to be as inocuous as possible. That cyclist on BART is part of the solution – he’s not using up those precious parking spots that people whine about, and he’s not driving. There are definitely jerks with bikes, they are probably jerks when they are not using their bike as well. Last time I was hit, the driver said “You cyclists are always breaking the rules of the road”. I asked her “What rule did I just break? Running a green light? Please hit any cyclist you see run a red light for me, but don’t hit me because you saw someone else run one.”

    Anyway, I always do my personal best to be courteous. Next topic.

    How typical of BART to not know if the chicken came before the egg or vice-versa.
    Cyclists make up only 5% of BART ridership – and that has a lot to do with the fact you
    cannot use BART with your bike during rush hour! The cyclists on Caltrain are the most loyal riders Caltrain has – there are racks for 32 bikes on the majority of cars and unless it is piss pouring rain, the 7:59, 8:11, 8:44, and 8:59 trains will see cyclists turned away to await the next train. Build it, and they will come.

    I typically only use BART to go to the East Bay on the weekend to ride (Why do they insist on running FOUR CAR trains to Dublin on Saturdays, and NINE CAR to Pittsburgh! Why not spread the load – I know the Pittsburgh trains are not filled, and if I want to go to Dublin I have to board at the Embarcadero instead of the Mission – the cars are too full to even imagine taking a bike on – then they empty out at Powell).

  15. david vartanoff Says:

    Why four carss to Dublin?–because they will be nearly empty once they leave Bayfair–maybe five riders per car. The other reason of course is that they are rarely full beyond Daly City either.

  16. Aaron Priven Says:

    I stand corrected re: the additional crossover tracks. I think a dedicated commute-hour bike train between MacArthur and Embarcadero would be a good idea, but only if it could be done without impacting the rest of the service, which I’m pretty sure it could not given BART’s current infrastructure.

  17. murphstahoe Says:

    i understand the dublin train will empty out (getting pretty empty after
    the embarcadero really). but when i instead hop on a pittsburgh train it’s
    fairly empty past the embarcadero as well. Instead of 9 and 4, why not 8
    and 5. The other issue (perhaps hard to solve with downstream connections)
    is that the Dublin train shortly preceeds the Pittsburgh train by a few minutes – such
    that the bulk of Daly City to Powell/Embarcadero traffic gets on the 4 car train. The
    majority of riders on early Saturday, from my anecdotal observation – is from Daly City
    to Powell to get to Chinatown, or to Embarcadero for the Farmer’s Market.

    The other effect is that the airport train is 4 cars – making the “luggage effect” more

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