Thursday, November 15, 2007

Visiting the Land of Punctual Trains

I'll be travelling the next two weeks--watch for me here!

Sausalito/Mill Valley Trolley

This has recently been proposed by a new group. Here's some articles:

North Bay Business Journal, Oct 29th, "Marin Group Exploring Trolley System".

Marin Independent Journal, Nov 12th, "Trolley Proposal Intriguing".

Here's a proposal of my own: bundle this project with SMART; that way, the trolley will get funded, and SMART will pick up some much-needed votes in Marin.

Walking to School, Riding the Bus

The other day I left my bike at work--my family met me with the van, and it was too full of Girl Scouts Fall Sales stuff to fit a bike.

So the next day, I walked with my daughter to school. Along the way, we've gotten to know a couple of cats that come out at the right time for kids walking by. We petted "Athena", a fluffy calico.

I caught the 295--keepin' it real! This route wanders through posh parts of RWC and Menlo. Most of the other passengers looked to be domestic help on the way to work. I was definitely the only rider using a laptop.

CalTrain/SamTrans connections are not terribly well timed. It actually got me to work quicker to take a long ride to Menlo Park than a short ride to Sequoia Station, since at Sequoia, I would just miss making a train. Might as well be moving as sitting on a bench.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Puddles were Stomped

For an upcoming trip to Switzerland, we are buying presents for a couple nephews and some other little ones we'll be visiting. It occurred to me--how about some cute, touristy, San Francisco F line shirts? The Market Street Railway has a nice little Museum/Gift-shop at the foot of Market. So my daughter and I decided to pay them a visit.

Since we were getting a late start, my plan was to drive (quickly!) to Millbrae, take CalTrain to the City and BART back. We've done this plenty of times before. The itinerary has the advantage that for the trip in you get the speed and scenery advantages of CalTrain's bayshore line (plus with my monthly pass, it's a free ride for me), but on the way out you can just go to BART at your convenience--the unpredictability of Muni combined with CalTrain's hourly service on weekends makes getting home on CalTrain sketchy.

It was not to be this time--an accident (it just started raining, so no surprise) shut down the 101. Stuck in traffic, I mused that having been let down by CalTrain last week, and now unable to get anywhere by car, I am probably up for a flat tire on my bike next. Eventually we got to Millbrae and took BART.

I'm still annoyed that the Peninsula BART Extension was built as a subway, underneath a perfectly serviceable inherited railway right-of-way. Mostly, it was a colossal waste of money. It also deprives passengers of scenery--some one it bucolic. Apparently, in what may be the most ridiculous case of NIMBYism ever, BART was undergrounded through Colma to avoid disturbing residents--of cemeteries, that is! Mostly, it's just annoying because riding BART trains through tunnels is loud (can't they spray something on the walls to dampen sound?). We invented a new game--cover your ears, mouth words, and try to lipread!

The Market Street Ry's museum is small, but nice. My daughter got expert instruction in operation of vintage streetcars:

And was soon ready to start work as a Motorette:

There are also some nice large scale models of various vintages of streetcars and cable cars, and we peered at a collection of transit tokens under a magnifying glass.

With T shirts bought, we ventured out into the rain. The Bay Bridge and downtown buildings were spookily disappearing into the clouds. What to do? It was a little bit too soon to head back, but I didn't want to take on any really big adventures (Pier 39 was suggested) at the end of a rainy day. We decided to cross the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, to pick up coffee and hot chocolate a Peets (a cinnamon twist was added to our order). More practically, we bought some produce from one of the organic vendors in the Ferry Building Market. Along the way, puddles were stomped.

Then we headed home.

Using BART TVM's--an important skill for every Bay Area kid to learn!

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Bit of a Long Commute, Both Ways

Wednesday we went out for fondue at Crepes Cafe in Menlo Park. It was fully of cheesy goodness!

The next morning, I was determined to work that off. I biked to work, with a bit of a detour. I went up Alpine Road a bit, realized it wasn't really heading the right direction for me, and turned back, and ended up on a poorly marked bike trail that leads to here:

To be clear--it started out as a bike trail, labeled as such, but apparently you're not supposed to bike up to the dish. Or so I was told by the Stanford campus security. I'm pretty sure there was no sign at the entrance I used.

Well, I enjoyed my one and only ride to the dish.

After that, I felt entitled to an easy, conventional, ride home on the train after work. It was not to be. I noticed that the express, which leaves Mountain View just ahead of my local, kind of limped away from the station. My own train arrived on time, but poked along, until after leaving Cal Ave, they announced that the train ahead had broken down, and that we'd be pushing it.

After a few minutes, we proceded, crew got off, we carefully nudged up, and pretty soon there was that big clanking sound of couplers.

Not what you normally expect to see out of the front window.

So far, OK. But apparently the recovery plan went awry at this point. I think they had mechanical problems making all the electrical and brake-hose connections that need to be made for a bunch of cars and engines to actually function as a train. It appeared they even brought in some guys from the shops in San Jose to figure it out.

I think we were stuck there for about 90 mins, with the lights out a lot of that time. One door was open, and a conductor took a "don't ask don't tell" approach to letting passengers escape via a hole in a fence that lead to Alma (a dark stretch with no sidewalk and lots of traffic).

Plenty of trains went by in both directions on the SB track. So our two stuck trains did not bring the system to a halt--it was just us stuck out there.

Their original plan seemed to be to get the broken train to Palo Alto and leave it there, operating single track all night, I supposed. The pusher train I was on was supposed to back up to get around it. Passengers were advised to get off and cross over to the SB platform where another NB train would probably arrive sooner than the one we were on would be able to make that move.

By the time we reached PA, the plans had changed--the whole double-length train would run express to SF, anyone wanting to get to a destination closer than that needed to get off and wait for a following train.

Probably the best thing to do, really--just get the disabled the train off of the line.

A few suggestions to CalTrain:

  • Trains shouldn't break down!
  • If they're going to, maybe you should stash an extra engine somewhere at the middle of the line, like Redwood Junction.
  • Creative solutions like coupling up trains are fine, but maybe need to be rehearsed a bit more!
  • It a train's going to be stuck for an hour or more, why not stop another one next to it, and let passengers walk over (carefully!).

CalTrain passengers are a polite bunch, it seems. Most people took it pretty well. Only at the end did a few of the "I'm mad and I'm going to let everyone know it" types that you expect to see and hear in transit delays start to make their presence known.

I got off at Palo Alto and made the rest of my trip home by dependable, two-wheeled transportation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Slow Sales at Sequoia Station

It's Fall Sales time for the Girl Scouts. Last spring, we tried selling cookies to commuters on CalTrain. Business was great, but eventually the transit police told us we weren't allowed to do that (though we made a last, few, whispered sales on the way to the door).

So this time, we got official permission to set up stationary shop at Redwood City's Sequoia Station. We brought folding chairs and a good supply of chocolate covered raisins, gummy berries, etc, and waited for business.

Charming and professional!

Despite jumping through the official hoops, a Securitas guard working for CalTrain was pretty sure we weren't supposed to be doing this. He called somebody in charge, and they confirmed that, despite our attempts to be on the level, Girl Scout sales are not allowed on CalTrain property--but he never actually told us to leave.

The message on the electronic sign was apparently apropos.

We had a few customers.

I really should get a high-visibility-color jacket like that.

But not as many as we hoped. I blame it on the fact that it was dark and cold (darn time change!), that we were on the the southbound platform where people were mainly getting off the train to go home (instead of waiting for trains), and that most people have been snacking on leftover Halloween candy all week.

I was hoping that our position between the CalTrain platform and the SamTrans bus circle would get us some good cross traffic, but doesn't seem to be that much transfering between systems. It's a bit like two parallel but separate transit universes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Ride Downtown - MiMe's Cafe

My daughter and I rode SamTrans route 271 to downtown Redwood City.

We met Mom at MiMe's cafe. It was Halloween, and a lot of the staff was in costume. We were greeted at the door by Old Scratch himself.

Mime's Cafe (we pronounce it Mimi's--though I admit we never asked about that) is run by young people in a culinary arts training program. They're very nice and it's really good (only open for breakfast and lunch).

My daughter got to help make her own pizza:

We also got free dessert--I guess somebody's learning how to make chocolate cake (and has learned pretty well, too)!

It's all very yummy. Definitely a place to add to my transit-accessible restaurants list.