The journey is part of the fun

One of my favorite things about not having a car is that it reminds me to think of my journeys as part of the fun of my trips. Journeys take more of my time than they do of most people’s, so if I don’t enjoy them and look for ways to spice them up, I’d be much more annoyed by their duration, and I might as well just give up and buy a car.

This weekend I had several long-journey adventures.

First, I decided that instead of taking the Capital Corridor train all the way from San Jose to Davis, I would shorten (and save money on) the journey by taking BART to Richmond. (It’s not really shorter, but the weekend afternoon CC and Caltrain schedules don’t mesh very well.) There are two options: Caltrain to Millbrae to Richmond, and bike to Fremont to Richmond.

Fremont beckoned. In the three years that I’ve lived in the Bay Area (I moved here on the second weekend of November in 2005, so this was my anniversary weekend), I’ve never been to Fremont, only through it on CA-84 and I-880. And I’ve never biked over the Dumbarton Bridge (CA-84) which is one of the four bridges in the Bay Area you can bike over, and the only one that’s within my normal bike area that I have never biked over (since I crossed the Golden Gate for the first time during Waves to Wine).

I mapped out a route using Fremont’s bike map, aiming for roads with bike lanes because I’m not familiar enough with Fremont’s roads to know which non-laned roads would be comfortable for riding. The route I chose was scenic, but not short:

Willow > CA-84 Bike/Ped sidepath/sidewalk > Marshlands Rd > Thornton Road > Paseo Padre Parkway > Mowry Ave > Civic Center Pl > BART Way

The total distance was 17.8 miles, so my roundabouting added about six extra miles (Fremont is about 12 miles as the crow flies). Luckily, I planned for the extra time, leaving around 1pm for a 2:30 BART train. I got to the train just in time to board without being in a desperate hurry, but not without being worried. Thank goodness for having a tailwind most of the way, and for my leftover W2W fitness.

The route, despite involving bike lanes for nearly the entire way, was not entirely what I would call pleasant riding. To go about it backwards, Paseo Padre is a bit like Central Expressway (something I suspected from its Parkway appellation) only the bike lanes are even more poorly lined at intersections even though they are official bike lanes and not shoulders. The intersections were poorly designed overall, with bad pavement and short lights, and the intersection of Thornton with CA-84 and surrounds (yes, you get off 84 and then have to cross it again) was seriously the most terribly-designed intersection of a bike-laned road with a major highway I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen lots. Fremont? Not a terribly bike-friendly town, based on what I saw.

Before you get on Thornton, Marshlands Road is a two-lane road with “bike lanes”. The lack of real bike lanes rather than gravelly, terribly-paved, nearly unpainted imitations isn’t a serious problem because there’s almost no traffic, but the paving in general is very poor, although the scenery is quite nice: marshy areas, with hills arising out of them.

The bridge bike-ped path, and the path leading up to it (it starts at Bayfront Expwy, where the road gets wide and the speed limit high) was for most of its length fine except for having a lot of debris, which is basically par for the course for sidepaths. However, it also had two inset plates which were so inset that had I hit them unawares, I could easily have lost control of my bike. Note to self: find out who is responsible for that crap, and get it fixed. And then there was the flooded road. Yes, really. The road up to the bridge, itself, of course, was not flooded. Can’t have that. Cars must get through. But the sidepath/road to the recreation area (which you’re supposed to use until you reach the sidepath for the bridge itself) was under several inches of water.

No thanks. So I rode a short distance on the shoulder of the bridge approach, then carefully took my bike down a small embankment and over to the bridge path proper.

Riding over the bridge was pretty awesome though. The temperature was in the upper 70s and it was as clear as a bell. I watched the blueish water of the bay, and seagulls flying along below me, as I took in a view of the contrasting pinkish-tan East Bay hills ahead. It’s a longish climb but shallow, and an equally nice descent.

I enjoyed my BART ride too: conversation with a fellow bike enthusiast, reading and people-watching, and an unexpected view of the city and the bay when the train came up out of the Oakland subway portions. Transfer at Richmond was fairly painless (this was also the first time I’ve ever been north of Berkeley or south of Bay Fair on BART — now I’ve been to all the line termini in the inner Bay Area!), and the views began again. The Capitol Corridor runs along the edge of the North Bay there and I’ve never seen it in full daylight before, so it was a treat.

As we approached Davis, the sky pinked and the sun slanted prettily over the green fields. I rode around downtown Davis for a while as it got dark (sporting my new MiNewt light so I could actually see — amazing). It’s a pretty town, lots of trees and big houses, perfect for just tooling around going nowhere and enjoying it.

Today Mike and I went on another long-journey adventure: a ride over to Winters for lunch. It’s a 28-mile roundtrip, so neither long nor short by ride standards (mine anyway), but certainly longer than you would usually take just to have lunch. But the ride was part of the point, which is my point: when you ride, the journey is fun too.

It’s an interesting area to ride in, very different from the Bay Area. Out in the farmlands, you wouldn’t know you’re in California except that when you look west, you see mountains — that, and the fact that it’s in the 70s in November! But the farmland is amazingly like every other farm landscape I’ve ever seen, except flatter than some. Green, brown, and tan fields, distant lines of trees and small buildings.

It’s very, very flat, and so windy that it’s almost like having hills, though today was not as windy as the last time we went riding. Also, no tomatoes to avoid, but plenty of cracks in the asphalt. Does anyone know why asphalt cracks horizontally in that weirdly regular way? Or why fruit trees are painted white in the middle of their trunks, but not at the thicker lower part? Such are the mysteries that arise while enjoying the journey.

Electric squid, metal gorilla

I enjoyed MetroRiderLA’s series of posts on transit in the Bay Area.

My most-used system: Caltrain

Best line:

The January 17 journey on Train 362 was very fast.
Then again, this trip didn’t cover anything south of Millbrae. Had
there been more time, this 10-part miniseries would have been a Greek
epic, with the transit odyssey including entries on the Santa Clara
Valley Transportation Authority’s bus and barren light rail and the
ruins of the once vast samTrans duchy. Any transit agency rebellious
enough to begin its name without capitalization is worth a write-up.

The system I hate to love: BART

This is a really excellent analysis of the pros and cons of BART. A few excerpts:

BART focuses its primary trunk service on San Francisco, with it
forming the head of a squid. The four endpoints on the east side of
the Tube form its tentacles, with a secondary trunk formed through

In the East Bay, this squid service also took on the characteristics
of a gorilla. It was very burdensome to maintain both San Francisco-
like train and bus service. BART had something that AC Transit
didn’t: funding primacy.

When counties buy in to BART by joining the district, they take on
the responsibilities of funding both their construction and and
operations within their jurisdictions. This solved the problem of
the who’s-subsidizing-whom issue, but there was always a threat of a
county chiseling its obligation. So the BART service obligations were
the first to be paid. It sounded like a fiscally upright arrangement.

The burden would then fall on bus riders. Since BART only had to
be concerned with its trains and would get first dibs on money, it
didn’t have to worry about local bus service. AC Transit bore the
brunt of service cuts, even though there was very heavy demand for
local East Bay bus service….

The Bay Area’s biggest loser has to be samTrans. San Mateo County bet
it all on a massive BART extension and watched it backfire bad. San
Mateo opted out of being a charter member of the BART district, but
it still got service as far as Daly City, on the northern edge of the
county line, and then Colma, the city where the dead outnumber the
living. The line kept creeping southward, going in as far as Millbrae
and San Francisco International Airport. The county paid for these
extensions by pawning samTrans service. The massive service expansion
southward proved to be a colossal failure. Airport ridership had been
abysmal, plus BART was largely duplicating the service of the more
culturally ingrained Caltrain commuter rail service. The saddest part
of all: samTrans lost more bus riders than BART gained rail riders.

Now the squid-gorilla is coming after Santa Clara County, with a
long-term vision of forming a ring around the Bay. The Valley
Transportation Authority is grappling with paying for an excessively
expensive BART extension, all while being infamous for having an
extensive but unproductive light rail network. It also already has
service along both sides of the bay by the more antiquated technology
known as conventional rail. BART would be astronomically expensive,
redundant and if light rail has been any indication … Santa Clara
County should know what the First Rule of Holes is.

Just yesterday I was reading an editorial that used San Mateo County BART as a success story. <game show eeeeennnnnnnt>

I haven’t read the whole series but I suspect it’s worth reading.

In the meantime, tonight I’m off to Sunnyvale City Hall to tell the City Council that that all road users deserve safe accommodation.

More later: I’m planning a letter to the Menlo Park City Council telling them I think they have their heads in the sand (or somewhere else, perhaps) if they really think opposing high-speed rail on the Peninsula is a good plan.