Thursday, December 6th, 2007 at 8:22 pm in 511, AC Transit, Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Bicycling, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Fare systems, Freeways, Misc. Transportation, rail, technology, Transit vs. driving.
After getting the most vigorous response to date for my Nov. 30 post, I shouldn’t dwell too much on the positive aspects of taking public transit.
But I believe in fairness, and today was a good day for transit; at least it was for this and a few thousand other commuters.
I made it to the train station with five minutes to spare and had the wisdom to avoid taking my bicycle because of the wet forecast. That left me with the dilemma of how to get the last 1.7 miles from the Oakland Coliseum Amtrak station to work on Oakport Street.
No worries, the 98 bus was there, waiting for me. It left about five minutes later, leaving some leeway in case the Capitol Corridor had been late. I made it to work in good time, which is more than I can say of my usual driving day. When I control the mode of transportation, it’s sooo much easier to procrastinate…
I’ve said repeatedly that even when traffic is bad, driving beats the train to my Central Valley enclave of peace and civility.
An hour ago, that wasn’t true.
I looked down from my 9th-floor perch at the Nimitz Freeway, I was moved to call 511 and obtain the driving times to get to Fairfield from Oakland International Airport, which is right in our backyard.
The free-flowing traffic time is 48 minutes. At 10 ’til 4, it was one hour, 36 minutes going up I-80 and crossing the Carquinez Bridge and only eight minutes faster taking the Caldecott Tunnel, I-680 and the Benicia Bridge.
By the schedule, the Capitol Corridor only takes one hour and 43 minutes. In 15 minutes, I can ride my bike home, getting me there very close to two hours.
This was theoretical, of course, because I’m still at work and will continue to be until 6:30 or 7, or 7:30 as I do most days. But at the moment I got that miserable traffic report, I considered it a victory for public transit.
Still, I didn’t factor in the first leg of the trip, actually getting to the Amtrak station I can see from my desk. That’s about seven minutes by bike, which makes driving and public transportation about dead even.
Even if the times are the same, you can’t beat sitting on the train watching a movie on your laptop while sipping a microbrew. You can also work, as I was last night with a borrowed Sprint PCS aircard, but I was attempting to get home early.
One of the comments on the prior post urged me to relate a good transit commuting experience, like her commute on the Altamont Commuter Express to Great America.
I prefer to use transit, with little regard to how much longer it takes than driving. It’s easier to take a longer trip when you’re not worrying about running into the car in front of you or whether the next text message you send will be your last.
But I can’t overlook the obvious advantages of driving and how they inform the thinking of the 70 percent of the Bay Area’s commuters who drive alone to work. There is a lot more allure in riding a train for two hours when the alternative is clutching a steering wheel for 1:20 or two hours on bad day.
Summing up this caveat to my otherwise transit-friendly outlook was a piece on transit vs. driving by LA Times opinion writer Matt Welch. I found it referenced in my weekly mailer from the Transit Coalition, an LA-based group:
People who can take their cars will take their cars, particularly if they’re in a hurry or need to make multiple stops. As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa explained his non-transit commuting to The Times in November 2006, “I’d like to do more, but my problem is I have to go all over the city. It’s very tough because of my schedule.” Sure. And it turns out many of us have hectic schedules as well.
And Welch’s assertion that “there’ll never be a lack of stories about how almost none of the region’s public officials who have the most effect on transportation actually take the damned bus” also rings true here in the transit-happy Bay Area.
Our new BART general manager drives to work. I know of certain MTC lobbyists who drive non-hybrid cars to Sacramento on a regular basis. There are plenty of non-profit staff who practice what they preach, but no one elected them and they don’t decide our transportation policy.
I think Welch’s conclusion is a bit narrow, but it reflects a lot of the thinking by the Bay as well. He supports expensive new rail projects like Villaraigosa’s “Subway to the Sea”
no matter how many billions it takes.
But as long as my drive to work is less than 15 minutes, you will not get me out of my 1986 car until traffic gets at least three times as bad. Or unless the engine craps out.
In the meantime, transit should be seen — and supported — for what is: A way for poorer people to get around until they become rich enough to buy a car. And an option for if (or when) the 101 ever really does become a parking lot.