Growing by the Bay

Category: getting around

bridge worker

Good-bye, Bay Bridge

historic photo of construction workers on the san francisco-oakland bay brige


It feels like it’s taken forever, but the new Bay Bridge is finally entering its final months of construction, if reports can believed. To honor the old bridge, the Oakland Museum of California, in collaboration with Caltrans and the Bancroft Library, is compiling an oral history of the span. According to Louise Pubols, a senior curator at the museum (quoted in the SF Chronicle), “The Bay Bridge has that scrappy, underdog, proud, blue-collar identity, a lot like Oakland itself. It’s a workhorse. It gets stuff done.” According to historian Sam Redman (quoted in the same article), “People always talk about the grace and beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s the Bay Bridge that changed the way people actually live.”

Emperor Norton had mandated a bridge connecting San Francisco, Yerba Buena Island, and Oakland back in the 1870s, but the bridge was not actually constructed until the 1930s as part of an economic stimulus program. In the early years the lower deck was used for train travel (a kind of proto-BART system). Today it’s part of one of the nation’s most nightmarish commutes, and as the new bridge adds no additional lanes this will not change. Because the Bay Area has an inadequate public transit system, it will be difficult to reduce auto traffic over the congested span. It’s too bad that current stimulus money is being put into a high-speed rail system through the central valley rather than into local urban transit that might actual get some people off the roads.




Image of construction workers on the Bay Bridge via Tumbler images




How to get from SFO to the Oakland Airport

delta airlines offers flights from SFO to OAK

Most people would probably take BART and the Oakland International Airport connector shuttle. (The trip takes about 45 minutes and costs around $10.)

But Delta Airlines offers a new option. Their “Weekly Fare Specials” newsletters alerts travelers to the special fare of $69 from SFO to OAK.

You will go through Salt Lake City, where you will have about an hour layover. Your total time for the trip will be around four hours, not counting the usual air travel issues of security and the like.

Such a deal!


image from Drewski2112’s photostream



I am hereby calling for a criminal investigation of CalTrans and the Bay Bridge repair contractor, C.C. Myers Inc. It’s a miracle the failure of the bridge repair did not kill several people, less than two months after the original repair work.

Blaming yesterday’s moderate breeze — in the 20-30 mph range around the bridge — is unacceptable. The original bridge lasted for 70+ years in all sorts of weather conditions. The bridge has to be functional every day, not just in good weather.

Someone has to have been criminally negligent in this incident.


UPDATE: Go here for an excellent rundown of the problem and its repair.


Going in circles

freeway cloverleaf

Maybe it’s just because I’m familiar with it, but the freeway system in the Bay Area seems a lot more sensible than in DC, where I have been visiting.

To go left in the nation’s capital you usually have to start off to the right. Generally, to get anywhere at all you have to go in a circle first.

Something fitting in that.


Image (not acually DC) from 1Sock’s photostream.


Transbay station could soon be obsolete

slumping transbay planAnd it’s not even built yet.

Remember these transbay terminal designs? It turns out, according to “state transportation officials,” the terminal would be inadequate to serve projected travelers, and it would also pose engineering problems.

“Three sets of engineers met and they concurred that the design for the station was inadequate and useless for high-speed rail,” according to Quentin Kopp.

Another triumph for the City That Once Knew How.


Story via the Chronicle. Enjoy it, because the paper says it might not stay in business much longer.


Cable cars website

san francisco cable car website

Did you know the cable cars have their own website (separate from the rest of MUNI)? Besides route maps it offers cable car history, interactive demos, even guidelines for hopping on and off.

B in the D, when I lived in Cow Hollow near the Marina, I commuted by cable car for a while. Back then residents as well as tourists rode cables car lines. Now they are more expensive that buses and streetcars, and have become basically a novelty ride for tourists.

Biking the San Francisco Bay

Biking the San Francisco coast is a great idea (in the dry season), and Suite101 published an article about the subject a few years ago. It’s not a bad little piece, although the title, “Cycling the Coast in San Francisco,” is not very accurate. The author, Jill Florio, doesn’t bike the coast at all, but instead travels a small distance around the San Francisco Bay, from the city to Tiburon. Someone I work with (shown below) frequently commutes by bike to and from Tiburon (arriving in the office by 7:30 am), so this is clearly not a very long trip.

Still, it’s good to be reminded that if you’re traveling to the city you don’t need to bring your own bike, as you can rent one here. In 2001, when the article was published, an Elite Hybrid with front shocks for city touring could be rented for $38/day from Blazing Saddles.

cyclistFlorio also reminds us that you can bike from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and then return via ferry if you wish. (Ferries stop in Marin at Sausalito, Larkspur, and Tiburon. In the East Bay they go to Vallejo, Oakland, and Alameda). From Tiburon you can also take your bike on a ferry to Angel Island, where cars aren’t allowed (I want to do this!). The ferries contain racks for bikes.

Florio says that “San Fran traffic reminded me of driving in Mexico.” Which I can understand, but if you’ve traveled in Mexico you need to to be aware that the roads there are better. (Incidentally, to my ear the phrase “San Fran” grates worse than “Frisco,” which at least sounds either historic or trashy depending on your point of view.)

She also remarks, “The Golden Gate Bridge is a misnomer, to my thinking [can a bridge be a misnomer?]. It’s not golden at all.” You think? Maybe that’s because the name refers not to the bridge but to the entrance to the Bay, which was called the Golden Gate long before the bridge existed. Why is this misconception so common? You would think enough pictures of the bridge had been published by now that people would stop expecting it to be golden.

It was the photographer Dorothea Lange who convinced the powers that be to leave the bridge its reddish color (the color of the underpainting on the Bay Bridge). But that’s a story for another time.

San Francisco skyline from Alameda / Oakland ferry

view of san francisco from oakland ferry

The Alameda / Oakland Ferry is a good way to get into the city from the East Bay, though a bit more expensive than BART at $11.00 round trip for adults. A full service beverage and snack bar is included. Bicycles can be brought along.

The ferry’s ports of call include Jack London Square, Alameda, the San Francisco Ferry Building, Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park, and Angel Island. At present there are 13 trips a day between Jack London Square and the Ferry Building; the full schedule is here.


LINK: A quick guide to SF Bay ferries


Pelli Clarke Pelli / Hines: “a sense of lightheartedness”

pelli clarke pelli san francisco transbay terminal design

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority board approved the proposal of the Houston-based Pelli Clark Pelli / Hines group for the design of the new Transbay Terminal. (See photos of the three finalists here.) The tower envisioned in the group’s design soars to 120 stories high. The PCP/H proposal had previously won the favor of by a recommending jury not only on its design merits but committing $350 million to the authority (the second-ranked team only $145 million).

In keeping with the project’s general tone of excess, the jury’s report is available as a 5+ MB pdf download. (Which makes me cranky –why is it that us ordinary bloggers learn to optimize our graphics for the viewer’s convenience but as soon as your start throwing millions of dollars at something even the most fundamental things can’t be handled properly?) Here’s a portion of the jury’s report:

The Transit Center fits beautifully as part of the urban form of San Francisco both from an aerial perspective and at ground level. The Tower works as a marker on the skyline of the Transit Center below. The Transit Center edge is well scaled and retail is visible and inviting. The proposal expands the program of the Transit Center beyond a transportation hub to add value through a wonderful urban “City Park.” As a catalyst for development in itself, the park has the potential to link to new adjacent buildings as redevelopment proceeds, further defining the urban form. Design of the Transit Center structure and rooftop park conveys not only a sense of light heartedness, but also a concern for the environment, wholly in keeping with the San Francisco spirit. “Mission Square” provides a great room or hall as a civic space and grand entry to the Transit Center and City Park. The design also addresses and lessens the “tunnel” effect on First and Fremont streets. Overall, the design is not as much about itself as a single building as it is about its role in the neighborhood and City, providing new usable open space and vibrant street life as the focus of a mixed-use, dense neighborhood.

The photo is from the City Hall presentation. 

Stuck in second

san francisco traffic photo

Again this year the Bay Area is ranked second in the nation for traffic congestion by the Texas Transportation Institute. And highway 80 is the worst of a bad lot. Do you think maybe BART should expand in that direction?

How do you pass the time in traffic?

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger gets pay raise to $322,500 a year.

BART plans


BART leadership has announced a change of strategy that will see it abandoning the expansions of recent decades in favor of running more trains more closely together and adding more stops on existing lines. There is talk of adding an earlier train to the airport (though just a train or two scarcely sounds enough to make much of a difference).

Early trains to the airport are a good idea, since BART strangely went to the trouble of expanding there and then failed to provide the trains that would enable travelers to catch the peak early morning flights. But if BART really wants travelers to use it to connect with flights, it needs to add luggage ranks to the trains. And it needs to provide a shuttle to the Oakland airport that is not sheer misery, like the current packed cattle cars.

While it’s true that expansion has been a bit precipitous, BART should nonetheless expand along the I80 corridor, which is an idea that it dropped twenty-five years ago and never picked up again. Highway 80 is consistently ranked as the worst or second-worst commute in the nation. Yet BART has preferred to expand to places like Pleasanton and Pittsburg, rather than do something to help alleviate the worst traffic problem in the entire country.

image of BART station from SF Travel

Toll Drive

Plans are in the works to fix the “antiquated and unsafe viaduct” known as Doyle Drive. Doyle Drive is the scary, narrow strip of road that leads from the Marina through the Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge. It serves as a handy drag racing roadway for top-heavy extrawide trucks barreling hellbent for Marin. As part of the plan, control of the drive would be turned over from Caltrans to San Francisco. San Francisco would like to make it a toll road with a sliding fee based on congestion, “using sophisticated overhead sensors.”

Clearly this area has a serious traffic problem. What a great location for building a huge museum.

Transbay Terminal designs

I got over to City Hall yesterday to see the models and visualizations of the new Transbay Terminal (on view for that one day only). The general outlines of this have been reported elsewhere, although we still seem to be waiting for a full and careful consideration of the plans. The plans were commissioned by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, a regional group established with an eye on creating a new transit center to rival NYC’s Grand Central Station (San Francisco has had a bad case of Apple-envy for as long as I can remember). The three plans under consideration all feature an extremely high tower — about the height of the Empire State Building. That would make it the tallest building on the West Coast.

But there’s “no guarantee” any of the designs will be built. San Francisco has traditionally opposed very tall buildings. Still, almost everyone agrees the current Transbay Terminal is squalid and depressing, and the new mostly yuppy population of the city seems more sympathetic to the concept of big buildings as validation of civic esteem than used to be the case. In other words, well, we’ll see.

I hope to find some time to comment on these a bit more later on. For now, some photos:

1. Skidmore Owings Merrill (whose mark is already all over the city) proposes a tower with a twist (don’t we already have one of those in the park?). The rooftop would be accessible to the public and enclosed in glass.

skidmore transbay design

2. Pelli Clarke Pelli (they’re Houston-based, which is a strike against them right there) propose a tower that sort of, well, peters out as it rises. It’s said to have “a sleek skin.”

pelli transbay design

3. Rogers Stirk Harbour ‘s design has been called “muscular.” It rises straight up and is capped with a giant wind turbine framed by metal structural extensions. Jim Leftwich has noted that it would be more complete with a giant eye.

rogers transbay terminal design

More to come …

Virgin Airlines

VA’s new domestic airline is based in San Francisco. Right now they’re only flying to LA and NYC, but more destinations will be added. Introductory one-way fares are $44 to LA and $139 to NYC; Jet Blue has said it will match Virgin’s fares.

I flew Virgin nonstop to London from San Francisco once, and it was a very civilized experience, as these things go nowadays. I’m happy to have them in SF.

RELATED: How to Book a Cheap Flight (Mahalo)

Taxi fare finder

Want to know how much your ride will set you back? At taxiwiz you can get an estimate by entering your starting and destination addresses, or even just by clicking the map.

Bay Area Maps Online

san francisco region mapsBay City Guide has posted a selection of useful Bay Area maps in pdf format.

Included are:

  • San Francisco street map
  • San Francisco MUNI map
  • Bay Area / Northern California map
  • Golden Gate Park / Union Square map (interesting concept)
  • Fisherman’s Wharf map
  • BART map
  • Ferry map

Third Street Rail

3rd street rail mapSF MUNI (Municipal Railway) opened the “T-Third,” its new Third Street light rail line (on weekends only for now, with full service beginning in April) on January 13. (The new service is about a year behind schedule and $120 million over budget.)

In the early 20th century this was a busy streetcar route, so the new line restores a historic aspect of San Francisco. The route runs down the eastern side of the city, past the ballpark and along Third Street through the Bayshore Corridor. The northern end of this route is one of the up-and-coming areas of the city today, with a good mix of funky old buildings and new gentrification that has not yet killed the old flavor.

The 5.6-mile line also runs through some of the city’s poorest (and most isolated) neighborhoods, and it is hoped that improving public transit connections may bring a little help to these areas. As part of the project, Third Street was repaved, and new streetlights were added. Nineteen stations — high platforms similar to those along the Embarcadero along the N-Judah line — were also constructed.

Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters

If you’re driving in San Francisco be aware that the city issues some two million parking tickets a year, contributing something like $85 million to the municipal coffers.

When I was editor-in-chief of Mercury House in its Sansome Street location I had on my wall a prayer to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of parking spaces. (Others have been nominated for this honor, including Saint Jude, Saint Antoine, Saint Therese, and, of course, Saint Rita, but since Mother Cabrini lived out her days in New York City I think she is probably best qualified).

Traffic is the curse of the Bay Area, since the peninsula on which the city sits is small in size and most of the region’s traffic must be funneled over a handful of lanes on a few bridges. (Why will the new Bay Bridge have no more lanes than the old one?)

But parking is nearly as bad a problem. As a result, many people have given up attempting compliance and instead simply rack up hundred of dollars in parking tickets, which they put off paying as long as possible. But now the city is fighting back with cameras, mounted atop unmarked cars, that scan license plates — at a rate of about 250 plates per hour — to find vehicles that have accrued five or more tickets. Once the offending vehicles are located they are quickly fitted with boots that render them undrivable.


link: I-80 in East Bay is nation’s 2nd-worst commute
link: chaos and the everyday traffic jam

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