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ok, i’ll say it: stay home on Labor Day weekend

By enelson
Friday, August 17th, 2007 at 6:33 pm in 511, AC Transit, BART, Bay Bridge, Bridges, Buses, Caltrans, connectivity, driving, ferries, Freeways, Funding, Retrofitting, Safety, Transit vs. driving.

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We journalists are fond of disseminating news, or information that is new or previously unknown.

But today I’m going to tell nearly every one of you something that we’ve known for some months now, on the theory that one or two of you will be backing out of your caves on Labor Day weekend with the intention of driving somewhere.

Just to get your attention, I’ll put it the way Caltrans does on its variable message signs on all routes leading into the Bay Area:

The Bay Bridge is closed.

On Labor Day weekend.

Got that?

One more time:

The Bay Bridge is closed.

On Labor Day weekend.

Don’t laugh. Better minds than mine have determined that you can’t repeat that message enough.

Last year, only the eastbound deck of the bridge was closed, and messages like this managed to cut road trips by 40 percent, and widespread gridlock was avoided and the weekend was considered a success. This year, the entire bridge will be closed and transportation officials readily admit that success won’t be nearly so easy this time.

This will be the first time since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake shook loose a 50-foot section of deck and killed a motorist. Now we’re trying to fix that whole earthquake-worthiness issue by building a new eastern span (the West Span, in all its suspended glory, has been retrofitted already).

There are several alternatives available to those who have no choice but to cross the Bay after 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31 and before 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Log onto 511.org or call 511 for details.

One, you can try driving over one or more of the other bridges. (NOT recommended). Despite last year’s success, people were cursing at Golden Gate Bridge toll takers because of the massive backup caused by the huge numbers of drivers who ventured out in spite of all the warnings.

Two, you can take Bay Area Rapid Transit, (highly recommended) which will be running 24 hours, although here’s another warning: I spoke to a very angry late-night BART rider from last year’s closure who found out the hard way that the wee hours service was HOURLY. I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on waiting at any transit stop for longer than 15 minutes. She then found out that the trains didn’t go to all stops, and a long wait for a bus capped off an already awful all-night ordeal.

And one key distinction between this year and last is that Caltrans is going to be ripping out a 350-foot viaduct that connects the end of the 1936 eastern span with the Yerba Buena Island Tunnel. That totally rules out the periodic bus trips across the bridge to the Transbay Terminal that were possible last year. BART is your only alternative.

Even if you’re traveling in the middle of the day, when the trains will be longer, there’s a really good chance that the trains will be very full and you may not even get on the first train that comes into the station. BART will be doing all it can, but that may not be enough.  There’s only one tube, and only so many trains can go through during any given hour. After midnight, all bets are off.

Alternative number three is expanded ferry service, which might be a very good bet. I was facing the prospect of having to go to San Francisco from my Oakland office to get access to Treasure Island to watch progress of the viaduct work. Even though it would have involved hitchhiking, I had already decided that I’d cling to the side of one of the ferries rather than try to squeeze onto BART or sit in traffic for three hours.

One of the most curious things about the media blitz is that Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is paying for the bulk of the $5.6 billion bridge replacement, are studiously avoiding mentioning Option No. 4: Stay at home. Play with your kids. Take a walk. Re-connect with your neighbors across the cul-de-sac.

No one wants to be the one to suggest that they shouldn’t be participating in all those great activities going on that weekend. Funny, last year they made a big point of the fact that along with Labor Day weekend having lower-than-average bridge traffic, there were hardly any major events scheduled.

Not so this year. There’s a Cal game against the Tennessee Volunteers. There’s the Oakland Art & Soul Festival and the Sausalito Art & Wine Festival as well as other festivities at which the region’s civic leaders don’t want to discourage attendance.

In the words of Caltrans Bay Bridge spokesman extraordinaire Bart Ney, “We don’t tell people to stay home, we work hard so Californians can safely travel.’’

“It’s critical that people not use their cars that weekend for obvious reasons. The motorists of the Bay Area are smart and adapt quickly when they expect something,’’ Bart told me in an e-mail today, after mentioning several events people might want to attend.

Ok, so take it from the Capricious Commuter: If you can, STAY HOME. Grill something. Get a tan. You’ll be glad you did.

Brochure excerpt from www.baybridgeinfo.org.

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7 Responses to “ok, i’ll say it: stay home on Labor Day weekend”

  1. V Smoothe Says:

    I don’t know about this. I took BART last Labor Day weekend from Oakland to SF on two days, and neither time was my train anywhere close to as crowded as your average weekday morning commute hour. And the Oakland Art & Soul Festival and the Sausalito Art & Wine Festival are long standing civic events. Both happened last year. So I’m having a hard time seeing what is so different.

    Honestly, I also have a hard time finding sympathy for people who planned to take transit but didn’t bother to check the schedules beforehand. That’s pretty basic.

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    VS, the main difference between then and now is that the entire bridge will be closed, both ways. That will create problems on other bridges in both directions and thus more congestion radiating out in all directions.

    You have a point about the festivals, although Caltrans and MTC people said there are more regional events this time.

    I totally disagree about the scheduling thing. The reason that BART works so well is that many people ride it knowing that at some point soon, there will be a train, regardless of whether they check a schedule or not. I’m a transit junkie, so I obsess over schedules. On the other hand, I’ve often arrived at a BART station clueless and just looked up at the scrolling next train announcements.

    Clearly, people who use transit need to consult schedules most of the time, but a rapid transit system like BART should have frequent enough service so that those who don’t can still get by without too much inconvenience. A system needs to cater to those people or we won’t get them out of their cars.

  3. Doug Faunt Says:

    “VS, the main difference between then and now is that the entire bridge will be closed, both ways. That will create problems on other bridges in both directions and thus more congestion radiating out in all directions”

    Err, How many buses did AC run across the almost closed Bay Bridge last time? Not many. And yes, Greyhound and a few chartered buses also got across.

    But in reality, the difference between the previous closing and this one is pretty trivial.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    I sincerely hope you guys are right, and that everything goes as well or better than it did last year. One of the other factors is that people who saw things going well last year may think it’s ok to venture out this year.

    Also, do you think ignoring the option of staying home is appropriate as the official line?

  5. Doug Faunt Says:

    Re: staying at home- I think many people will do that anyway (or go far away- Japan in my case). I see enough warnings about the closure so I think people will still be cautious.

    As far as frequency of service, if it’s frequent enough, schedules are unnecessary.
    Nobody even thinks about schedules for the tube in London, except for last and first trains. 15 minutes between service is about when I stop looking, I think, but that also depends on how likely I think the service is to be on schedule.
    But service like CalTrain require checking the schedule.

    I’ve now got BART, AC and CalTrain schedules on a PDA, and they are very useful.

  6. Bart Ney Says:

    Our Capricious Commuter has done his homework explaining the Labor Day Bay Bridge closure scenario. We at Caltrans, the Bay Area Toll Authority and the California Transportation Commission are conscerned that this year regional traffic will be affected because there are more regional events and the entire bridge will be completely closed. Last year Westbound traffic could use the bridge and busses like AC transit could cross eastbound hourly. Bay Area motorists are smart and do change their behavior to avoid regional gridlock when they know about changes to the system and what their options are. We have attempted to put that information out months in advance and in every possible location. Individual motorists taking action is the reason why we did not gridlock the system last year or during the Maze repairs this year. While staying at home and BBQing or visiting neighbors is a fun option that can help regional traffic, we have done everything we can to provide increased alternative options to driving so people can take part in great regional events like the Oakland Art & Soul festival and the Sausalito Art & Wine festival. I would urge people to explore public transit over Labor Day weekend. Who knows you may find it a better way to move around the bay. Have fun over Labor Day weekend and know that the Bay Bridge will be back in service by Tuesday at 5 AM.

  7. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > yeah. stay home. you got a problem with that? Says:

    [...] the area — Caltrans in particular — have been avoiding my favorite recommended response to Friday’s three-day closure of the Bay Bridge, she has brazenly included it on her [...]

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