I know the right wing pundits said that San Francisco values would burn bridges with the American people, but this is ridiculous.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the news, a portion of the ramp connecting eastbound Interstate 80 and eastbound Interstate 580 in Oakland collapsed early Sunday after a tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline crashed onto Interstate 880 connector below, causing a huge fire. That’s a lot of damage, and a whole lot of 80s.
Meanwhile, the media demands we ask ourselves how the eastern half of the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to cope without freeways. Will traffic snarl all the way to Tracy? Will any repairs be able to be completed before the end of the year? As you read this, both of those claims are proving to be vast exaggerations. Now Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, proposes an even bigger, bolder question: Will this be the final push for the Bay Area to switch to mass transit?
Let’s examine his argument that it will. Gasoline prices are again on the rise. Everyone except the White House and Michael Crichton concedes that auto pollution contributes to global warming. Traffic congestion on California’s highways gets worse every year, even before 880 dropped it like it’s hot. BART ridership has been breaking records all week.
Not so fast. BART is one of the best commuter rail systems in America, but you know how many Bay Area commuters ride it to work? A lousy 11 percent, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments. MUNI use has been declining for years, and its cable cars are tourist attractions. The “MacArthur Maze” intersection that this accident affected sees over eighty thousand vehicles crawl through per day.
Note also that Diridon is the man asking this question. Plans to extend BART into San Jose were announced last November. The proposed station? Diridon Station, naturally. Hmm.
The problem is that we’re incurably, helplessly, head-over-heels in love with cars. Did you know that both the Bay Area and Los Angeles used to have extensive networks of electric streetcars and suburban trains? The explosive population growth and introduction of interstate highways in the ’40s and ’50s nipped those in the bud.
Meanwhile, BART’s inaugural voyage wasn’t until 1972, and it took two more years for the first service from Oakland to San Francisco. By that point there were already several different freeways that performed the same task.
The wide availability of great roads and the sheer joy of playing pilot make our four-wheeled cocoons a tough habit to quit. There’s no reason for us Isla Vistans to have one, for instance. Yours truly will get frothing-at-the-mouth angry thinking about finding parking, about as intuitive as stuffing Babar into a mouse hole. Or the minutes – hours! – spent waiting at the Pardall intersection at noon for the entire Comm. department to amble by on their bicycles.
But come on, taking the bus is, like, so much trouble.
We’ve made significant strides at curbing vehicular emissions in the past 30 years, but traffic isn’t just an environmental burden, it’s a psychological one as well. Tell me you don’t want to strangle a goat after driving from San Jose to Berkeley on 880.
Somewhere in this gasoline-stained cloud, however, are perhaps some noteworthy silver linings. Word on the street is that a super-fast train modeled after France’s TGV is being planned to connect San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. There goes the time issue.
Here’s another talking point: The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 damaged freeways both on the peninsula and in the East Bay, along with emancipating a generous portion of the Bay Bridge. Then too, did commuters turn temporarily to BART for refuge from traffic snarls.
But you know what happened? They won some converts. Not a lot, but some. Transit ridership has remained higher now than it was 18 years ago.
There was a 3.0 earthquake in the Oakland area on Wednesday afternoon, too.