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Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Rage on the road: How do we avoid the ghost bikes?

I felt a shiver when I saw Doug Oakley’s front page story and photo today about “ghost bike” memorials to cyclists killed in collisions with cars or trucks.

A recreational cyclist and occasional bike commuter, I like to think of cycling as healthy and refreshing. But reading Oakley’s story reminded me how vulnerable humans on a 25- to 30-pound bicycle are when sharing the roads with a ton or 2-ton vehicle that can squash a rider like a bug.

I’ve seen cyclists do unsafe things like riding on the wrong side of the road.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
Under: Bicycling, driving, Environment, global warming | 3 Comments »

happy trails

One of the nice things about doing a blog is that it can travel with you wherever you might end up.

I have a pen-pal, if I may use an anachronism, who ran an airport security consulting business in the Midwest and previously worked as a manager at both SFO and OAK airports. He did an excellent blog on that and other airport management matters.

He still does, even though he’s now working in Afghanistan.

Alas, the Capricious Commuter doesn’t have that choice. Even if this wasn’t a newspaper-based blog, my next home (hint: My pen-pal and I will finally get to meet face-to-face) would be a silly place from which to stir up discussion about transportation in the Bay Area.

As many of you may have heard, the newspaper business is doing a little better than Afghanistan. Nobody’s getting blown up and I’m confident that most of my 29 colleagues who got layoff notices last week will get jobs in some facet of the modern information industry.

At my request, over the last several days, union and management reps worked out a deal for me to leave our newspaper group and one of the 29 could keep her job. No one on either side asked me to do this nor hinted that I should. I merely concluded that it was a good reason to head for the door sooner than I might have otherwise.

Perhaps someone here, or a group of people concerned about transportation and gas prices and the like, will keep the blog going. That would make me happy indeed, knowing that I’d started something that didn’t stop when I left the room.

Whatever happens, I’ve really enjoyed doing the blog and I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and sparring with some of you on the great issues of transportation around here.

As I’ve said before, transportation is more than just wheels and heels. It’s what links us and makes our civilization possible (along with, say, food and water, which are also important).

Those issues cross a lot of boundaries, as my recent stories on a federal rule proposal that threatens to cut off public transit that takes kids to school in both Oakland and Minot, North Dakota.

The issues of poverty and race come up whenever I hear people talking about whether our society should invest billions in steel-wheeled mass transit systems such as BART or save our millions to bring better bus service to the poorer and largely black and Hispanic populations that don’t have cars.

And of course there’s business, economics and government, which play into discussions on how we ended up so car-and-SUV-dependent in the first place. Developers want to build sprawl because it sells, they exert huge pressures on local governments that control land use. And the state government, which might in some parallel universe be inclined to control sprawl, can’t tell the local governments what to do with the land they control.

And ever since coal-fired steam train passengers had to hold their breath while chuffing through tunnels, environmental and transportation issues have gone hand-in-hand.

And of course some may conclude that all of these things are a function of people like me.

I, after all, wanted a house with a yard but not in unaffordable Orinda or crime-plagued Oakland. Plus, in a two-income family, I ended up living closer to my wife’s work in Sacramento. Thus I ended up with a 74-mile commute from my quiet enclave in the Central Valley. I try to take the train as much as possible, but it’s quicker to drive.

But my wife no longer works in Sacramento, chasing after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with a skinny notebook and a pen. She’s instead scrambling over the rocks and dust of Afghanistan with a long furry microphone interviewing those who live with war and those who are sworn to prosecute it.

As a result of these recent newspaper troubles, and the fact that our son is now old enough to fend for himself, I’ve decided to join my wife overseas. I may freelance or get a full-time job; it’s unclear at this point.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll start a blog.

Posted on Wednesday, July 9th, 2008
Under: AC Transit, air travel, Amtrak, BART, driving, Environment, fuel, Planning, rail, Security, transit equity, Transit vs. driving, walking | 23 Comments »

closing the record on high-speed rail

Some of you may be wondering why I went to the California High-Speed Rail Authority board’s final hearing on its environmental impact documents and didn’t write a story. There will be a story, but only when the board votes to approve the final EIR-EIS tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

Of course, if they vote it down there will also be a story, but improbable tale will be on page 1.

But here’s the scoop on high-speed rail, which I found in a British newspaper article today, which describes the crush of passengers trying to get to Paris through the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station in London:

The airline industry has been crushed by the price of kerosene and deserted by passengers fed up with delays. After decades of disappointment, false dawns and virtually bankrupt Channel Tunnels, we have finally arrived at the age of the train and the evidence is in the crowd at St Pancras.

Only eight months after Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2008
Under: driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, Transit vs. driving | 13 Comments »

the battle for Proposition 1 begins

Tomorrow I’m planning to cover what is likely to be the last public hearing on the environmental impact documents for the California High-Speed Rail enterprise, or at least the part that connects the San Joaquin Valley “spine” to its Peninsula extremity.

It should be, but I’ll be careful about saying this because of past history, the last word on the whole Alamont Pass-Pacheco Pass debate, which was largely settled in December in favor of a Pacheco Pass route and a stop in Gilroy.

I’m not even sure why anyone needs to go to this thing, so certain is the outcome. On the other hand, the history of journalism is littered with cautionary tales of assumptions that turned out to be wrong.

Today I had a conversation somewhat more illuminating with Adam Mendelsohn, who recently joined the ungainly monikered “Californians for Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2008
Under: driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving | 10 Comments »

there’s no such thing as free parking

There is very little that is free in this world, and that is especially true of parking. Somebody had to build the structure, somebody had to pay off the loan and somebody has to pay to clean and police the place as long as it’s in use.

A new 1,547-space parking garage opened in Pleasant Hill June 30, next to the existing garage and ostensibly a substitute for surface parking that will be developed into a “transit village.”

Parking is free there, but that may soon be remedied.

I’ve always straddled the fence on the issue of parking at BART stations. On the one hand, hardcore transit advocates don’t Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008
Under: AC Transit, BART, driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, parking, rail, transit equity, Transit vs. driving | 18 Comments »

McCain on the tracks

Being a political junkie, I watched the Democratic primaries for any sign that transportation might become an issue. It never did and thus my career as a political blogger never got off the ground.

But today I see that the confluence of the general election, $4.50-a-gallon gasoline and John McCain’s legislative record have given me another chance to give the Daily Kos a run for its money (OK, so I’ll start with Political Blotter and work my way up).

An op-ed piece by Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson calls attention to the fact that America’s suburban commuters are giving a significant boost to commuter rail, and that should make McCain very Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, light rail, rail, Transit vs. driving | 5 Comments »

News flash: now it’s an 800-mile bullet train

I was somewhat surprised to see that overnight, California’s high-speed rail enterprise had grown by 100 miles.

Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s governing board, penned an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee responding to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, June 23rd, 2008
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Environment, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail | 13 Comments »

riding the wave

This week was a disharmonious convergence of most things I love about transportation in the Bay Area.

There was Spare the Air, which refused to be discredited as it died with a “yee-ha!” yesterday, racking up nearly 400,000 BART rides in one day, which happened to be the day after I blogged about what a futile gesture the final day of “Spare the Air” free transit was going to be.

As I watch the glare of the lights over the Coliseum, I can safely assume that more A’s fans will take BART home than in any previous year. No matter how much they complain about fares, they know that gas is more expensive. There may even be one or two fans who have already seen their personal scales tip in favor of selling their only Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, June 20th, 2008
Under: BART, Bridges, Buses, Caltrain, driving, Environment, Fare systems, fuel, Funding, global warming, rail, tolls, Transit vs. driving | 7 Comments »

Spare the Air, we hardly knew ye

It seems fitting that tomorrow, what will probably be the area’s last Spare the Air free transit day, is planned to be a public relations, or, if you prefer, consciousness-raising event.

Like so many others in the Bay Area, I was excited about the expanded 2006 free summer transit program aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that cause smog. In fact, “Spare the Air” became synonymous with free transit that summer to the point where I had to constantly remind people that they weren’t the same thing.

Spare the Air will Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
Under: BART, Buses, driving, Environment, ferries, fuel, Funding, Safety, Transit vs. driving | 7 Comments »

traffic congestion is sooo 2007

After three weeks of on-again-off-again vacation and quality time with my intercontinental marriage, I am back and promise to keep the blog from getting stale. I am also somewhat ashamed that when my colleague next door is writing haikus and quoting Lao-tzu for his blog, I’m doing the sound of one hand clapping.

And as luck would have it, my overflowing e-mail box contained a pitch for me to talk to a company that provides traffic data for navigation services.

It said that San Francisco/Oakland area has the nation’s ?-worst traffic congestion and seemed to imply that this should make me stand up and take notice. (I can’t tell you Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, June 16th, 2008
Under: 511, AC Transit, Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Buses, driving, Environment, Fare systems, Freeways, fuel, global warming, Transit vs. driving | 3 Comments »