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2007 was a gas, gas gas … or was it?

By enelson
Monday, December 31st, 2007 at 7:26 pm in BART, Bay Bridge, Buses, driving, Environment, ferries, Freeway collapse, Freeways, fuel, Retrofitting, Safety, Transit vs. driving.


Today I accosted several of my colleagues and asked them if they’d miss 2007.

The answer was pretty much “no” all around, with the most convincing story coming from a person who’d bought a house with a sub-prime mortgage.

In the area of transportation, especially in the Bay Area, I’d have to say 2007 was a very good year, the Cosco Busan oil spill notwithstanding.

On the local level, we learned in early May just how responsive Bay Area commuters can be when it comes to finding their way around a major traffic disruption. On April 29, when the ramp connecting eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 in the MacArthur Maze collapsed, I was sure that congestion Armageddon was upon us. I even said so on the radio.

Luckily, I was dead wrong. People shifted their commutes to BART in such great numbers that the vehicle traffic that was left could easily negotiate the detours without major backups. BART had the best week in its 35-year history, up to that point.

Then came Labor Day weekend. This time, I kept most of my predictions to myself, muttering secretly, “Now they’ll see: The hot ash will rain from the skies, the evil will be cast into the fiery pit …”

That was the weekend Caltrans had decided to close the Bay Bridge, demolish a 350-foot-section of upper deck viaduct on Yerba Buena Island and move a pre-built replacement on rollers into its place.

“So many things could happen,” I said to the pigeons in the park. “Someone will screw up and they will fail. Three days will come and go, and they’ll be giving excuses as to why there’s no bridge to cross to get to work.”

In the test of faith in Caltrans, I got an “F.” For two hours in the middle of the night, I watched as the massive slab of concrete moved a few inches at a time into place. I expected it to be like watching grass grow, but I was transfixed, agog. It all went pretty much according to schedule, and no one was killed or maimed in the process.

If that weren’t enough, my cynicism didn’t stand a chance against the third blow that weekend: Again, Bay Area travelers used BART, ferries and buses to get around that weekend. BART scored its biggest day ever the Friday that the closure started, and its biggest week ever ended with the Sunday of the closure.

It’s getting to the point where a guy can’t cast a dark shadow over everything anymore. Maybe I oughta switch to PR.

Now it’s the end of the year, and an even greater miracle has come to pass.

And lo, the economists fortold, there beith one sector of the economy that noeth not the law of demand-and-supply, which beith in its pure form elastic and supple, bending to the whims of consumers.

That sector neither riseth nor falleth based on high or low prices is fuel. So greatly do the multitudes desireth the essence of automobile that they will pay anything the oil companies are wont to charge.

Just today, I got this press release from the state Board of Equalization:

fuel-consumption-release.bmp

I’ve been getting similar releases all year,  but this one further cemented my repeated contention that high gas prices have brought us to what at least one expert calls the “elasticity conversion point,” i.e., the point at which even gasoline consumption becomes subject to the laws of supply and demand.

That minor miracle, combined with the would-be disasters on April 29 and Labor Day weekend, helped push Bay Area Commuters into a place some thought they’d never get to.

That is, people have been flocking to BART, and presumably other modes of transit, in numbers even higher than seen while the MacArthur Maze was crippled. Christmas week saw BART’s SF Airport numbers also setting records.

Now that my foul perspective has been repeatedly chastened, I’ll have to make this prediction: A decade from now, we’ll look back upon 2007 as a turning point. This was the year we, as a society, finally realized that we had a choice.

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11 Responses to “2007 was a gas, gas gas … or was it?”

  1. Doug Faunt Says:

    BTW, I think the new BART schedule and routes will help.
    I think the BART management is right, the shorter waits in the non-commute hours will make a substantial difference in perception.

    And 11 minutes, Millbrae to SFO, every 15 minutes is comparable to 6 minutes every 20 minutes, so even having to do the wye at San Bruno shouldn’t be a problem.

  2. miked Says:

    I also think the new schedules are good.

    One thing tho (although I guess this is not new)- what is the best way from SFO to San Bruno BART if your plane is late and BART is closed for the night?

    I ask because this just happened to me; the Taxi’s all refused to go to San Bruno BART (where I had parked the car) and told me to go upstairs, where I ended up paying $16 for a seat in a shuttle. There has to be a better way; who knows it?

  3. murphstahoe Says:

    Mike -

    The answer is to use SFO long term parking if you are coming in on a late flight. Sorry, can’t feel sorry for ya as I can’t stomach the fact that BART has built these huge parking garages that are now serving not to service transit users, but instead as long term SFO parking.

    Now that I have that out of my system – you might try having them take you to a private residence down the street from BART and walking a couple of blocks to the station. I’m guessing the Taxis don’t want to be a proxy shuttle from long term parking instead of getting longer hauls to SF, but I don’t think they can refuse a fare to a residence in San Bruno.

    If you live in SF, take the KX to downtown and a cab home, then BART back to your car the next morning.

  4. miked Says:

    I live in San Mateo so I suppose I could take the KX the other direction, but this trip I had a lot of baggage so that was not appealing.

    Regarding your thought about commuter parking- do you know if the peninsula stations (Milbrae and San Bruno in particular) fill up on most days? If so, I think you have a valid point; if not, then why not let BART get some extra revenue?

  5. murphstahoe Says:

    At this point they might as well use those white elephants, but…

    The point is that BART should have been capable of figuring out that the garages would go unused, and not built them in the first place. The argument that “eventually” they will get more use so it’s good that they were built is one I don’t buy – for most starting points and destinations by the time you drive to the BART station most people decide to just drive the whole way – given the circuitous route BART takes through Daly City which is 2x the travel time of a Caltrain Baby Bullet to downtown. But the garages are not convenient to the Caltrain tracks.

  6. miked Says:

    The Milbrae parking garage is quite convenient to the Caltrain tracks, since it is a BART and Caltrain station. The other stations, not so much. Sadly, BART passes underground below the San Bruno Caltrain station and you can see the San Bruno BART station from Caltrain, but their stations are a mile apart.

    As for the route, I don’t think it’s so much the length as it is the number of stops. Right now, getting to Civic Center from Milbrae for me is about the same time using either train (and a Muni bus connection from Caltrain). It’s too bad BART doesn’t have extra track to run express trains, though I guess that may cost a lot more than it is worth.

  7. Doug Faunt Says:

    “Right now, getting to Civic Center from Milbrae for me is about the same time using either train (and a Muni bus connection from Caltrain).”

    Yep, and since not all of the CalTrain runs stop at Millbrae, it often makes time sense to walk or take Muni between CalTrain and BART in SF.

  8. DensityDuck Says:

    I’m a bit confused about the BART to SFO thing. Will I have to change trains at San Bruno to go between Millbrae and SFO?

    I hope they don’t eighty-six the whole service, because it works out great for me. CalTrain from San Jose to Millbrae, then BART to the airport; there are more direct flights from SFO than from SJC (which is more an overgrown local airport than an actual international terminal.)

  9. Doug Faunt Says:

    to Density Duck:
    Yes, you now have to change at San Bruno to get between Millbrae and SFO on BART. At most times, it’s about as quick, counting wait time at Millbrae, because the BART trains are now on a 15 minutes schedule, and there’s a very short wait at San Bruno. Late at night, or on Sunday/holidays, it can take noticeably longer to get from Millbrae to SFO, but that only effects a small number of CalTrain connections.

    OTOH, the East Bay and even San Francisco is significantly better served to and from SFO and Millbrae.

  10. DensityDuck Says:

    Doug: Thanks for the reply, but…meh. Not so good for SanJo->SFO travelers, then. Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to deal with it. (At least the overall system is improved–it’s not like they’re just screwing with it for kicks.)

    I guess the fundamental problem is that SFO isn’t in a place where the BART (or CalTrain, for that matter) can run by it continuously. It will just always have to be a branch line, and will just always therefore be less efficient.

    If only they’d built the big CalTrain-BART interchange _NORTH_ of SFO instead of _SOUTH_. That would have worked a lot better, actually, because then SFO could be the end-of-the-line for BART. I wonder why they decided on Millbrae?

  11. Doug Faunt Says:

    “I wonder why they decided on Millbrae?”

    So that they could build that enormous parking garage.

    It’s not all bad- there’s a good dim sum place diagonally across El Camino from the Millbrae station.

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