Long have I dreamed of the days of giving up my car and subsisting on bicycle and mass transit alone for my transportation needs. When I moved to the Bay Area, my experience with transit in the area was through San Francisco; an American model of great (well, at least functional) public transportation. Sadly, all is not so great.
I live in the South Bay and I have a 10 mile drive to work and 80% of it is on the highway. There are days when my commute has been known to take up to an hour (yes, that a 10 mph average speed). And there is no way to quantify the resulting Rage after sitting in traffic that long. The burning, burning Rage.
So I tried mass transit. There are lots of options in the South Bay, and not all entirely bad. But it is a patchwork of systems run by different agencies and they don’t all play well together. But progress is looming. Here is how it went on my first attempt to make it to work sans car.
- Walk to train station, 10 min.
- Train is already at stop. I rush to buy my ticket. Train leaves stop 5 minutes EARLY and I miss it. Trains run every 15 minutes, next one is late, 20 min.
- Ride train, 30 min.
- Change trains. Interchanges are not timed. 15 min.
- Ride train, 10 min.
- Train only gets within 2 miles of work, walk the rest, 40 min.
If you’re counting along with me, that a two-hour commute for something that takes about 15 minutes to drive. Sad. A few other options can take me right to work but it takes up to 3 buses and a roundabout route for a much greater than 2-hour transit time. However, my time is not entirely wasted. Time on the train is valuable reading time, and the walk is refreshing. But the big bonus is that I get to my destination and I feel relaxed. I’m not shaking with The Rage and flinching when I catch a red light out of the corner of my eye. I am, in a word, still sane.
Perhaps my sanity alone is enough reason to pursue this route, but a depressing realization came to me. I found a route to work that avoids the highways and even has some nice off-street paths to take. It is about 13 miles door-to-door. 13.1 miles is a half marathon. I have been known to run this distance comfortably in less that two hours. Let me re-iterate that. My frail human form can propel itself to my place of work faster that this city’s best mass transit solution. Shameful, indeed.
There are other options. Just this week, I found out I can game the free shuttle associated with a Sacramento commuter train and get from the train stop directly to my work building. One-way transit time 1h 10min. Not bad. (bonus: making the last shuttle requires my to leave work no later than 5pm. Oh darn) I can bike the 13 miles each way; ~1h. I can take the train, bring a bike, skip the last transfer, and ride; 45min. Getting somewhere. However the biking options bring with them other issues; sweaty at work, riding in the dark, possibility of breakdowns, fighting for your safety in an automobile-dominant world, and, lastly, helmet hair.
So what to do? For now, I try to do my best to support a solution to this chicken-egg problem (“we can’t upgrade transit until we get enough riders” – “we won’t get more riders until transit improves” – waaaaah) and take the transit a few days per week. It may take me considerably more time, but the time has positive returns; reading, exercise, and sanity-preservation. Possibly worth it.
I came upon this great shot of a billboard on flickr the other day which read
You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.
Sadly, it was not an ad promoting bicycling, but a new GPS device with traffic-based routing. If only the space I’m freeing up on the road by removing a car were not going to just be filled by another commuter looking for a quicker way to work…