Posts Tagged ‘ buses

Infrastructure

When Nextbus says that the 31BX is 5 or 6 minutes away, that’s when I should be out the door. When it says it’s 4 minutes, I have to hustle, but I can still make it if I leg it. Otherwise, I may as well plan an alternate or wait for the next bus. Yesterday, I left when it said 4 minutes, made it down to the bus stop, and proceeded to wait another 14 minutes for the bus. By the time it came, there was another 31BX immediately behind it. At least my ride wasn’t overfull as I got on the second one and waited to get to the Financial District. After 9 am instead of before like usual. It’s not like I’ve got anyone watching the clock telling me I have to be there at a certain time (though some people do), so it doesn’t matter which of the morning buses I hit in that regard. And yeah, I have my phone, so I can see what everyone’s been saying all morning on Twitter instead of just standing around. While it’s not how I plan to use 14 minutes, as a now-everyday rider, I know I am going to get lots of chances to use small bits of time like that. For me, the challenge has been deciding what to do with those small spaces. Mostly, I’ve decided to use them to read and write since I have the time and technology to do that.

There aren’t many other buses that I always try to catch at the same time, so it’s less pronounced. But at least once a week, I spend 10 minutes longer at 6th and Balboa than I had any intention to. I understand that is currently part of being a bus rider. What I also understand is if, as a society, we truly want people to embrace the use of mass transit, that needs to change. It seems to be a paradoxical situation, with ridership being hard to come by if one can’t count on the bus and transit systems and tax payers not necessarily excited about pouring more money into a system that people aren’t taking advantage of. That certainly felt like an issue in the Twin Cities with the buses unless you had the fortune of taking the right route. I rode them on occasion, mostly after I lived in Saint Paul and lived, but I never depended on them like I currently do in my carless state. Technology has made it easier, for sure, as I can actually check on the times, but it just seemed like a lot of the buses I wanted in the Twin Cities were every 30 or 60 minutes. And while there inclement weather could make a frustrating ride even worse, here in San Francisco, we don’t have that excuse. So what do we have?

While I was dealing with my normal morning commute, some Google employees in the Mission were getting ready for theirs. In San Francisco, that means quite likely getting on one of the large charter buses that ferry people from San Francisco where they have more of a desire to live down the Peninsula to towns like Mountain View and Sunnyvale where many of the tech companies you’ve actually heard of are, some 35 to 40 miles away. Except, at least at 24th and Valencia yesterday, they were held up by protesters. Protesting what? I am still not entirely sure what the overall effect of the gentrification protest was given the false umbrage that some entity tried to generate with the too-perfect, not real Google employee-protester spat that they just happened to catch on camera. I believe the overall point, though, was to protest the sharplyr raising costs of living and to intimate that these Google employees (and by synechdoche, all techies and tech culture) are destroying the real San Francisco and its spirit, etc as if they somehow single-handedly also influence zoning laws in addition to making money.

Now I have some problems with this because false umbrage is certainly not the way to deal with it. I’m hard pressed ot think of situations where misdirection helps. As annoying as my bus ride is at times, I know I am going to be at work in 35-40 minutes most mornings and I have several different routes I can take if one experiences an issue, all paralleling each other by 2 blocks. I could hop on my bike and be there in 25-30 minutes. Hell, I could even walk to work in a little over an hour if I hustled. Not saying I am about to. Just that I can. I both have the fortune and the desire to live fairly close to where I work, and it still takes a ton of time.

When I was looking at places, I had in mind what I wanted. I like a walkable neighborhood, with amenities and bus stops nearby. BART would have been nicer, because it tends to be a bit more regular, but that’s not a lot of the city when you get down to it. Civic Center, Mission, Glen Park, Balboa Park are the locations I could affordably see finding something near, and any closer in and I am walking distance anyway. I’d previously lived in a moderately walkable area downtown Saint Paul (you need grocers) and a highly walkable area in Uptown in Minneapolis (you I didn’t quite appreciate until the end). I know I like it.

The thing is, I am not alone in that. A lot of people here in San Francisco want similar amenities out of where they live. Not everyone here has the fortune of having a job that’s also located in the city. A lot of those jobs are across the Bay, down the Peninsula, miles away. Now I am a big proponent of living close to work. It’s something I’ve always angled for in my jobs. So I get the argument that people could just live in those cities that dot the Peninsula. But that means giving up a lot of the gains here in terms of walkability and proximity to events and random things that happen because this is San Francisco, dammit. Plus, at least out here, it’s not any cheaper to rent or buy in Mountain View than it is here in the city, which is one of those arguments that exists for suburbs (that I don’t really agree with).

But what about the cost of transit? Short of Caltrain, there’s not a lot of great options for getting south. And I don’t know how that would be for a commute versus a leisurely ride which is what I was in for the last time (and first time) I rode it. Certainly driving down to Silicon Valley isn’t a great option. I know people who do it. But that’s a lot of gas. And a lot of miles sitting in a car, alone, getting stressed as I imagine just about any driver gets. I know I do, and I know I have seen most people I have ridden with in my life have a moment or two, especially in rush hour traffic. So while I get that there are still issues to navigate in terms of where those corporate shuttles pick people up, and whether Muni sees some money back for use of their space (though isn’t that an allotment of civic space?), the actual idea behind the shuttles isn’t really what bothers me.

What bothers me is that those shuttles are the best option for Google or Genetech or whatever other companies use them in a lot of cases. They have a lot of employees who might take a public mass transit option if it were a bit easier, a bit more timely, had less transfers, etc. They are already taking mass transit. Is the umbrage that these companies are doing something to help make it more possible for their employees to live where they want to because our infrastructure, designed for cars, most of them single passenger rides, has let them down? The problem isn’t that Google thought to get a coach. The problem is our society has failed us in the promise of delivering options of getting around almost any way than by car in most of our major cities and greater urban areas in the US.

I know the bus is going to be late some days. Because it’s at the whims of traffic. And I know there’s not really a great dedicated bike route for me. Those are my two realistic options currently. But why aren’t the roads designed to better serve those modes of transit as well? Roads existed well before cars. People still had vehicles to park, though the vehicles were different. They were not invented for cars, though they have certainly been geared toward them in the last century. It does us all a disservice to continue to view them as such. A roadway for cars is a way of getting people from on point to another. So is a train line. So is a bike lane. So is a sidewalk. What seems unique is that when we talk about changing those paths in our cities, it seems to be about what the car has to give up, like it just earned those parking spaces or extra lanes or direct routes. It didn’t. As a society, we allocated that. I, for one, would love to see society allocate a bit differently.

People don’t like buses because they are crowded and late. People don’t like biking because it’s not safe in a lot of places. People don’t like trains and rail cars because it seems unless you live in the right spot they aren’t useful or they’re too infrequent, though they certainly seem to prefer them to buses. People don’t like walking because there’s nowhere to walk to. People don’t like all of those because they take too long. Driving can be faster. Driving can be more direct. Driving can be the best option because there’s nothing else in between. Driving also offers comforting illusions of control. I can try another route. I can leave whenever I want. I don’t have to wait for anything. I get all of those thoughts, I’ve thought all those thoughts. And I like driving when it’s not bumper-to-bumper traffic and non-stop stress. There’s nothing quite like rolling down the open highway, stereo blazing as you head toward wherever. I don’t think there’s a big problem with roads.

But there’s a discussion to be had about how we use our space, especially in denser urban areas where the default assumptions are toward cars and driving and have only recently started to shift back toward other uses. I don’t think corporate buses are an end-all solution to that by any means. Driving is the best way to get from point A to point B if we keep making decisions at a municipal level to support that over other means of transit. Buses might get someplace faster if they had dedicated lanes. Biking would be easier with direct protected bike lanes and might be a more alluring option. As cities, we have options about how we approach that. Personally, I’d like to see some different ideas on the table other than adding a lane to a highway because it’s congested. Why are people on those highways in the first place? What are some options to ameliorate that? Those are more complicated issues that touch not only on road use, but zoning and land use. If more people want to turn toward more urban environments that are more compact and provide the kind of amenities that cities do provide, how can we help create that?

I get that’s not what everyone wants. I personally don’t see myself ever moving back to a suburb. I just don’t see the point for me. I fail to see how they provide the things that I appreciate most out of where I live. If the calculus were skewed such that my job were out in the suburbs, I would still try to live in a city. I’m an urban girl. I know I’m not representative of the whole, though. But it does seem there are a lot of aspects to life in the US that are geared toward a certain way to live. Suburbs haven’t been around forever any more than the roads that wend their ways through them. They were a product of the times. Times have changed. I hope we are changing with them. It’d be nice to live in a city where the buses are on time.

 
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