What I Did Over Thanksgiving Break (or San Francisco vs LA from a Transporation Perspective)

Finals, the holidays, bicycle repairs, and my day job have intervened but I’m finally back at the keyboard after all these weeks.

Over Thanksgiving my girlfriend and I got to spend several days in the Bay Area. Naturally (given my special interests) we spent a lot of time checking out the local transportation systems. My notes follow. The main conclusion I reached is simple however: It’s not just me. Los Angeles really sucks compared to San Franscisco.

Wednesday: The Trip Up

Just making the trip posed some difficulties. We rejected plane travel almost immediately. I read Ed Begley’s book Living Like Ed a couple months ago and he makes some damning points. Not only do jets get horrible millage per person, but they release all sorts of nasty pollutants into the upper atmosphere. I didn’t want that on my conscience.

A train ride would have been ideal, but when I entered our times on the Amtrak site I was horrified. The only trip I could find in our time window involved multiple bus transfers and would have taken at least 10 hours. What is WRONG with Amtrak these days? Maybe things will get better some day if we manage to build the high speed rail. I know I’ll ride it.

In the end we settled on driving my girlfriend’s VW. Even after wrestling with the moral objections to driving an automobile almost 900 miles, we ran into trouble on I-5 (hardly unusual on our ridiculously ill-designed interstate freeway system). A truck ahead of us tore down power lines and shut down all four lanes. It took us three hours to detour around it on a series of muddy farm roads. Several other cars tried to pull off onto the shoulder and got stuck. For all I know, they’re still there.

We finally approached the city just in time to be stuck in rush hour traffic. We did finally reach our destination-a few blocks from the BART station in San Leandro. We badly need good rail service between LA and SF. I don’t want to have to do this every year.

Thursday: Thanksgiving Day in San Leandro

While dinner was cooking I got to spend some time walking around the town of San Leandro (we had to do some last minute grocery shopping). Small houses, close to rail transit, plenty of stores and restaurants within easy walking distance…its my kind of place. Of course, the clerk at Von’s was completely flabbergasted when we asked to put our purchases in a day pack instead of a plastic bag, but you get that everywhere.

My girlfriend’s family lives right next to the Zap electric vehicle dealership. No one hates cars more than I. If you’re going to have them, though, they might as well be small, electric, and chartreuse. I was a little puzzled by the presence of a Hummer in the used car part f the lot. A trade-in, one hopes?

Friday: Marin County

Marin County is one of the few places in California where life actually makes sense. By this I mean that there are more trees than buildings, more bike trails than roads, and when you go to a coffee house you’re encouraged to bring your own cup. We spent most of Friday getting a complete tour from some friends of ours who moved up there earlier this year. Leave it to me to be in Mill Valley without a mountain bike.

The only drawback I can see to the town is the lack of a rail connection. Then again…you can ride your bike right to the fairy and head to the city, so I suppose it really isn’t a problem.

If you every make it to Mill Valley I would unreservedly recommend Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos, which makes some of the best Indian fast food I’ve had in years (and I live in LA so I know).

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