Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pains, Trains, & Bicycles

Whenever I travel by bike over the hill to San Jose, I am reminded of something author James Howard Kunstler once observed about the United States having a railroad system Bulgaria would be ashamed of.

Now, though I can't speak for Bulgaria, I've lived in California my whole life (so far) and can testify that our railroad systems indeed sucks, badly. The fact that most folks aren't aware of this and more than likely don't really care, is yet another testament to how seriously Americans are taking Global Warming and Peak Oil, even on the "eco-groovy" West Coast.

My plans for a day trip up to Berkeley illustrate this point:

Lacking a car, I have two options: From San Jose's Diridon station, take Cal Train up to SF, ride a mile to the nearest BART station (why these two locations aren't connected is a mystery), and BART it to Berkeley...


Take Amtrak directly to the East Bay for $14.00

(This is after I've already spent approximately 15 minutes riding to the local bus station, loading my bike on the Greyhound, and spending another hour going over the hill).

Here's the catch - While Amtrak is a more direct route, albeit a few bucks more expensive than a Cal Train ticket, the Amtrak trains are ill equipped for passengers with bicycles. Unlike Cal Trains, which at least have the occasional "bike" car where you can carry it on, latch it down, and find a seat nearby, Amtrak treats bicycles as cargo, and therefore they must be dismantled and put in a "bike" box.

If you've never seen a "bike" box, you're in for a treat.

For about $10-15, plus an additional $5 "convenience" fee for freight, Amtrak will sell you a large cardboard box and instruct you to remove the front wheel of your bike, turn your handle bars sideways, unscrew/remove the pedals, spread your cheeks and give em' two good coughs. Wrench and pillow for muffling your screams of frustration are not included.

Obviously, the folks who came up with this have never tried to take off bicycle pedals inside a train station with a small wrench. Obviously, making it easier for people without cars to travel is not a high priority for lets face it, a method of transportation that is woefully under funded by the federal government.

This is all to say riding Amtrak from San Jose to Berkeley is out of the question. This leaves riding from San Jose to San Francisco via Cal Trains - Not the worst option but as stated earlier, this would be the 2nd of 3 separate bus/train rides in less than 6.5 hours just to travel approximately 80 miles. In the same amount of time, I can drive to Los Angeles and meet my parents for lunch at our favorite taqueria.

Then it hits me. This entire process of weighing all the variables...the pros and cons - the time to read a book on a train vs. the time to read billboards while sitting in traffic on the 880; waking up at 7:30am on a Saturday to ride a bike to catch a bus vs. leaving the bike at home and waking up at 7:00am on a Saturday to catch an earlier bus to catch an Amtrak train vs. the stress of trusting the trains and buses to actually arrive within 10 minutes of their stated schedules, this whole line of reasoning is fucking ridiculous.

Why? Because creating an itinerary for a simple day trip up to Berkeley shouldn't be this complicated. At least not in a region full of well-to-do tech-savvy people who believe they can solve any problem with technology.

If I do make it up to Berkeley this weekend, I'm staying the night. At this point, I'm considering leaving the bike home and just walking.


ariel said...

You could always bike the whole way up there! I once biked from Santa Cruz to SF in about 10 hours. Or you could drive... but maybe thats the LA in me talking now.

thomas said...

Oh, man. This used to be my commute! Well, Berkeley to Mountain View anyway. Seems a little daunting I know, but it can be done. And you can get some good reading in on the way. Don't cross town in SF though. Just transfer from CalTrain to Bart in Millbrae. It's all pretty bike friendly - although I don't know about the bus ride over 17.

CalTrain and Bart can always use the dough, too.

nathan said...

which Amtrak train did you take? I've taken my bike on the Capitol Corridor train, which has bike parking in all cars.

You can also use the Santa Cruz Metro 17 bus to get from downtown SC to SJ Diridon Station.